Preview: Memphis vs. Ole Miss

ole miss helmetComing off of a ho-hum 56-15 win over Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago and bye week last week, the Ole Miss Rebels will welcome the University of Memphis Tigers to Oxford this coming Saturday. This will be the first time these two teams have met since a 45-14 Ole Miss victory in 2009.

While being separated by only about 70 miles, this rivalry is one that has died off in recent years thanks to disagreements revolving around Memphis Basketball not wanting to play Ole Miss and Ole Miss Football not wanting to play Memphis. Personally, I see both sides’ points of view, but I do feel the Ole Miss/Memphis rivalry is a fun one for the region.

The fanbases don’t care much for one another (Read both teams’ message boards for proof.). The locations are close enough for good travel support from the visiting school. And the on-field product has been decent. With Memphis being in the American Athletic Conference now, and Ole Miss putting time, money, and effort into their typically mediocre basketball program, I think that a matchup between these two teams should happen every year in both sports. It just makes sense.

As for this weekend’s matchup, here are some of my thoughts followed by the ever meaningless prediction.

Memphis is a completely different team than it has been in years past. Larry Porter was just an awful hire as the team’s record in those years can attest to. There was absolutely nothing to get excited about if you were one of the dozens of people that gave any support to those Porter-led teams. But the Justin Fuente hire is proving to be a legitimate one that is paying off nicely for the Tigers.

In Fuente’s first two years, Memphis fans could see baby steps being taken in the right direction. I mean there were actually a couple of numbers in the “W” column, which was a vast improvement over Larry Porter.

This season the Tigers have put together their three most complete games since 2008. Big wins over Austin Peay (FCS) and MTSU have the program and all of its supporters fired up. But it was the close loss at then #11 UCLA that has given Tiger fans the most hope for the season. The team traveled across the country and stood toe-to-toe with former Heisman contender Brett Hundley, and were only a break or two away from pulling a major, major upset. The final score of 42-35 was a sweet sight to Memphians who expected a pounding from a legitimate Pac-12 opponent.

This past weekend, Memphis put more butts in the Liberty Bowl to watch the Tigers face MTSU than they had put in the stadium since the last time they played an SEC team at home. I mean for the Tigers to see 40,000+ at a football game, after instances of less than 3,000 showing up in recent years, is a big deal.

Sophomore QB Paxton Lynch leads the Tigers offensively along with a great set of tailbacks in Brandon Hayes and Doroland Dorceus. The running game is rushing for nearly 250 yards a game, good for 26th nationally. Aside from a strong running game, Memphis’ offense relies on some unique play calling to keep opponents guessing. Look for plenty of this on Saturday as a way to level the playing field. The defense is anchored by LB Tank Jakes, (Yes. His name is Tank.), and has done a decent job of keeping points off the board in the Tigers’ two wins.

While the Tigers are playing well by their standards, Hugh Freeze has the Rebels absolutely rolling right now. Since an ugly first half against Boise St., the Rebs have flat out decimated their opponents. Bo Wallace is among the nation’s most consistent QBs , connecting on 75% of his passes and limiting his turnovers after three interceptions in that Boise St. contest. And what many thought would be a great receiving corps anchored by Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram, has been absolutely incredible. Treadwell and Engram along with Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo have all had 100+ yd receiving games.

And the highly touted Rebel defense has been straight up nasty. Ole Miss, in three games, has only given up two touchdowns. They are third in the nation allowing only 10 points a game. Robert Nkemdiche and the defensive line are in a groove. But the interceptions have been the bright spot for Ole Miss’ defense. The eight interceptions tie them for first in the nation, as do the two they’ve returned for touchdowns. With Tony Conner, Cody Prewitt, and Senquez Golson, the Rebels have three defensive studs with a nose for the ball.

Hopes are sky-high for the Rebels. And while Coach Freeze will tell you that Memphis is a game the team isn’t overlooking, I can promise you, players, fans, coaches, and administrators all have started at least daydreaming about the matchup Ole Miss has with Alabama next week. Should the Rebels beat Memphis, Oxford will host its first ESPN College Gameday ever. Needless to say playing Memphis just doesn’t feel that exciting.

As far as the result of the game itself, Ole Miss is going to win. They are simply just too talented and too well coached to lose a game like this. Coming off a bye week has allowed banged up Rebels to heal, given more prep time, and given the team some much needed rest. Memphis is a good football team that very well could win the American this season. But this just isn’t a game that Memphis can win. There is a reason Vegas is favoring the Rebels by about 20 points.

Aside from the Rebels being a better team, this weekend will be spent honoring Chucky Mullins. And I just don’t see a world where Ole Miss can lose a game on a weekend dedicated to Chucky. If you aren’t familiar with his story, read it. Even the non-Ole Miss fans can appreciate it.

The game will be fun for a quarter or two. Most Memphis/Ole Miss games in recent memory have been. But the Rebels will pull away on their way to a nice, easy win and a date with College Gameday next weekend.

Ole Miss 41 – Memphis 17

Warner Russell covers Ole Miss Football for MemphiSport. Read his non-sports stuff over on The Wise Guise. Follow him on Twitter @uncle_warny.


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