Start Time: 6:00 pm CST
Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford, Mississippi
TV Broadcast: ESPN2
Streaming: Watch ESPN
Radio: 600 WREC/102.9 FM (Flagship station); 91.7 FM (WUMR/student station)
Betting Line: Ole Miss -14.5, O/U 69
Series: Ole Miss leads 48-11-2. Memphis won the last meeting 37-24.
Last year’s upset of Ole Miss was the banner victory of a memorable season for the Memphis Tigers as Paxton Lynch led the Tigers’ offense to 37 points against an SEC opponent and placed his name in the consciousness of sports fans across the country. The two programs will continue a long-standing series this Saturday as they square off during prime time on ESPN2. Memphis is 3-0 following wins against Southeast Missouri State, Kansas, and Bowling Green, while Ole Miss stands at 2-2 with losses against Florida State and Alabama and wins against Wofford and Georgia.
Ole Miss Outlook
It’s been a frustrating season for the Rebels as senior quarterback Chad Kelly continues to put the team in position to win games that they just can’t close out against top-ranked opponents. Completing 65% of his passes for 1,235 yards and 12 touchdowns, Kelly has been the best quarterback in the SEC this season by Quarterback Rating (171.03). Had the Rebels found just one more defensive stop against Alabama then Ole Miss would likely be boasting a top three AP ranking this week.
While the Rebels’ explosiveness on offense is enough to overcome most issues on that side of the ball, Ole Miss is waiting for playmakers to arise on the defense. Only two players on the Rebels’ defense (junior linebacker DeMarquis Gates and junior defensive end Marquis Haynes) have at least two tackles for loss on the season. Ole Miss has yet to intercept a pass in 2016 however they have forced five fumbles.
The Rebels are not quite a complete team but they’re talented enough on the offensive side of the ball to beat any team in the country with some lucky bounces.
The Tigers haven’t missed a step after replacing former head coach Justin Fuente with Mike Norvell. Memphis will roll into Oxford after registering the largest margin of victory in a game between two FBS teams this season after embarrassing Bowling Green 77-3 last week. Riley Ferguson absolutely torched Bowling Green’s defense as he passed for 359 yards and six touchdowns in the first half alone. Ferguson, a junior college transfer, has been outstanding all season, completing 67% of his passing attempts for 843 yards and 11 touchdowns. With 16 different players having caught passes this season the Tigers are clearly spreading the ball around and blowing their opponents out. A +42.7 point differential per game will definitely do that.
While the two teams’ strength of schedule is light years apart, Memphis has been much more disruptive on defense than the Rebels have been. The Tigers have collectively racked up 20 tackles for loss and six interceptions through just three games. Junior linebacker Genard Avery has been leading the pack for the Tigers thus far with 15 tackles, four tackles for loss, one interception, one pass break up, and one forced fumble.
Again, take this with a grain of salt due to strength of schedule, but Memphis currently has the top special teams unit in the nation per S&P+. Kicker Jake Elliot is 18-18 on point after attempts and 5-6 on field goals. Elliot is also averaging 64.8 yards per kickoff with a 78.6% touch-back rate. Punter Spencer Smith is averaging 46.8 yards per punt, forcing five fair catches and pinning the opponent inside their own 20 yard line three times. Freshman kick returner Tony Pollard has been an explosive x-factor for the special teams unit, averaging 34 yards per return on three attempts. Is this enough to spark an upset of the Rebels? Maybe not, but it certainly gives Ole Miss a smaller margin for error.
Try not to take a bathroom break during this game. You’ll probably miss one or two touchdowns if you do. We’re going to be blessed with a shootout between two explosive quarterbacks with big arms; whichever secondary can keep up with their receivers more often through four quarters will reign victorious. While I think Memphis will give the fans in Oxford a nice scare, the Rebels should pull this one out with Chad Kelly orchestrating a couple of clutch fourth quarter drives.
Memphis 38 Ole Miss 45