There’s a natural tendency to count this chicken before it hatches.
Don’t do that. Not because of La.-Monroe but because of Ole Miss.
This is Alma Mater U for me. We were known for football in the 1980s and early 1990s, winning the Division I-AA national championship in 1987. Not sure what the school is famous for these days, but I figure Johnny’s Pizza is still somewhere near the top of the list.
There’s a lot riding on Saturday’s game for the Rebels, and that’s good. This would be more of a trap game for a team that was in the thick of the division race and was stepping outside conference play at this late time of the season.
The Rebels can become bowl eligible with a sixth win Saturday, and that hasn’t happened since 2003. There will be “big” games in the weeks that follow, because they’ll be trying to improve their bowl standing.
The Ole Miss seniors talk about leadership and keeping everyone focused on the task at hand. The fact remains, however, that these seniors have never been in this position of leadership. They themselves don’t know what it’s like to get ready for a bowl game, save the precious few who were around in 2003 — Jason Cook, Dustin Mouzon, Darryl Harris and maybe a couple others. These guys were not playing major roles then.
Houston Nutt has done a good job of talking about focus to the point even of visual aids with the mouse traps. There’s only so much a coach can do, and while I expect the Rebels to play with purpose, no one will know whether Ole Miss will be fired up or flat until near the end of the first quarter.
This is a program that has a history of some meager success against the SEC. There are only three wins, but one of them was last year at Alabama, so there are players on the roster who remember that game. The program has also come very close but fallen short in other attempts at SEC upsets. Auburn in 1995 and Kentucky in 2006 come to mind.
When you get past the emotions and get to the matchups, ULM is a sub-.500 team and is also sub-.500 within one of the weakest FBS conferences, the Sun Belt.
The Warhawks will have some playmakers — one of them quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster — because there are lots of athletes in the South, and the SEC can’t sign them all. The SEC team will have the better athletes and more of them, but if one or two playmakers make plays at the right time, upsets happen.
The Warhawks are giving up an awful lot of rushing yards, and the Rebels appear to be coming into their own in the rushing game. Not a good matchup for ULM there.
ULM has a fairly balanced offense, but so much of its rides on what kind of day Lancaster is having. I like the Rebels’ chances to control the Warhawks’ offensive line, which then relegates Lancaster to making things happen on his own. He is capable of that.
The Ole Miss secondary played better against Auburn. Kodi Burns, an average passer, was up around 320 yards, but much of that came in the final couple of minutes when the Tigers were in frantic mode. Burns hit some big plays, but the secondary closed out some big plays of their own with three interceptions.
I maintain my belief that the Ole Miss secondary can make average players look great. Lancaster will hit some throws.
The key for Ole Miss will be bringing fire and emotion to the table and keeping a handle on Lancaster.
I think the Rebels will be fine in both areas against my alma mater.
Ole Miss 34, La.-Monroe 19