Both Ole Miss and Missouri are coming off stellar defensive efforts last week in their respective wins over Vanderbilt and Troy. The Rebels (3-3, 2-1 SEC) got out to a quick start with a 10-0 lead in the first quarter while holding the Commodores to just 20 yards in the frame. They would cruise from there to a 31-6 pasting which included stacking up 512 total yards along the way.
The Tigers (4-1, 1-0) faced the overmatched Trojans and came away with a breezy 42-10 win. The Trojans gained 75 yards on their first 12-play possession, but the Tigers held them to just 136 yards on their next 54 plays. But the big news coming out of that game was injuries to QB Kelly Bryant and LB Cale Garrett. Bryant sustained a sprained left knee and left the game but all indications are that he will be back in the starting lineup on Saturday. Garrett appears to be gone for the season.
Ole Miss at Missouri
Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 12 at 7 p.m. ET
Spread: Missouri -12
When Ole Miss Has the Ball
The new playmakers. Head coach Matt Luke and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez made the switch from Matt Corral to John Rhys Plumlee at the quarterback position, and so far it's getting rave reviews. Like the Energizer Bunny, Plumlee threw for 99 yards and ran for 165, including runs of 54, 33 and 30 on keepers. Fellow freshmen Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner ripped off 78- and 84-yard runs as part of a 413-yard day on the ground. The skating won't be so easy this week but look for the Rebels to try to establish the run once again and get Plumlee going early.
Keep an eye on the red zone. The Rebels need to keep scoring on big plays because once inside the red zone they've hit pay dirt just nine times in 18 trips and have doubled down the futility by missing four field goals as well. Not to be outdone the Tigers have notched just 11 touchdowns in 21 visits inside the opposing 20. So you have to figure somebody will step up... or keep scoring from midfield.
A tougher mountain to climb. Let me state the obvious here, this ain't the Commodores D they'll be facing this weekend. Mizzou might be missing its defensive anchor, but as a whole, the Tiger D ranks in the national top 10 in scoring defense, total defense, passing defense, red zone defense, and lead the nation with five defensive touchdowns (three scored by Garrett). The Rebels will have their work cut out for them.
When Missouri Has the Ball
Positive yards on first and second down. Kelly Bryant is an accomplished quarterback and he'll have his chances (more on that in a bit), but if the Tigers are going to be effective, they'll need positive gains from RB Larry Rountree and the short passing game to get their yards behind that veteran offensive line. Last week, the Rebels held Vanderbilt to 0-for-11 on third-down chances of more than six yards, so staying out of long down-and-distance situations could be a huge stat to watch.
Attack the youngins. Ole Miss was forced to start a pair of freshmen for the first time last week in safety Jay Stanley and cornerback Deantre Prince. Look for Bryant to go after these guys early and often as the Rebels rank at No. 109 in the FBS in defensive passing efficiency and have given up the most yards through the air (1,572). Look for tight end Albert Okwuegbunam to get a lot of work and if Bryant is locked in, the prognosis is not good for the Rebels.
Can the Rebels get pressure on Bryant? Against Vanderbilt, the Landshark Defense was able to get pressure on the QB by simply rushing four and dropping seven. The Rebels recorded nine tackles for a loss in the VU game, their fourth time doing that this season. Nose guard Benito Jones was a whirling dervish, collecting three sacks and four QB hurries, so keep an eye on his upfield push.
Missouri has been a different team since that face plant at Wyoming to start the season and have designs on making an SEC East title run. The youthful Rebels are sitting at 3-3 right now and have a tough road ahead if they are going to earn their first postseason bid since 2015. They'll still have to face Texas A&M, Auburn, LSU and Mississippi State, so getting wins where they can will be paramount. This is a winnable game, for sure, but I just see that Missouri defense being too tough.
Prediction: Missouri 38, Ole Miss 20
— Written by Eric Sorenson, who is part of the Athlon Contributor Network. He is a college football, college baseball and college hockey addict... and writer. Follow him on Twitter @Stitch_Head.
(Top photo courtesy of Missouri Athletics)