Start Time: Saturday, September 2nd, 7:30 PM EST
Announcers: Anish Shroff (play-by-play), Ahmad Brooks (analyst), Roddy Jones (sideline)
Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
Series: First ever meeting
Odds: Ole Miss (-23.5) 59 total
South Alabama Outlook
The Jags became a full-time FBS member back in 2012 and entering their sixth season they are still searching for their first winning season. Joey Jones has been at the helm for the entire run and he needs to get the Jags over the hump soon. With significant losses to replace from last year’s Arizona Bowl team, the Jags will have their hands full this fall.
In a surprising move, Jones and offensive coordinator Bryant Vincent named Cole Garvin the starter over Dallas Davis last week. Garvin started three games for South last season and he only completed 54.7% passes to go with a four-to-one touchdown/interception. Meanwhile, Davis started the other nine games and I have a feeling we’ll be seeing both players get snaps in the opener. But who will they throw to?
The top four receivers from last season are no longer on campus and the Jags are searching for answers on the perimeter. Maaseiah Francis has shown potential at tight end and Jordan McCray flashed big play potential as a true freshman in 2016. But it seems that this group will go as junior college transfer Jamarius Way goes. The south Florida native has been a pleasant surprise during fall camp and he’ll likely be USA’s top target.
The strength of this offensive attack will be Xavier Johnson. The senior running back only needs a little more than 300 yards to become the program’s all-time leading rusher and he should break that before week three. Because of the huge questions at quarterback and wide receiver, look for Johnson to get a ton of touches and he has proven to be an effective receiver in his career. He’ll be running behind a solid offensive line led by center Dominic Esposito and tackle Noah Fisher. Here lies the bread and butter of the offense.
USA runs a 4-2-5 scheme on defense and the alpha dog of this unit is senior safety Jeremy Reaves. Last year, Reaves posted 85 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss, seven pass breakups, three interceptions, and two forced fumbles. He’s a nightmare for opposing offensive coordinators. Reaves will have a very good running mate in senior Neiko Robinson. From his rover position, Robinson posted 64 tackles, two tackles for loss, three pass breakups, one interception, and a forced fumble. This is a tremendous duo and they’ll need them to play at a high level with an inexperienced corner group.
The secondary has the best players, but the front seven will be the strength of the defense. The defensive line is a legit two-deep at each spot and they’ll be led by sophomore tackle Tyree Turner and end Finesse Middleton. Darrell Songy is a very solid inside linebacker and he led the Jags with 100 tackles last season. This group should be very stingy against the run.
Ole Miss Outlook
Matt Luke takes over this program as the interim head coach in 2017 as the Rebs are facing a bowl ban and some significant NCAA penalties due to actions of former head coach Hugh Freeze, members of his staff, and a few friends of the program. It’s going to be an intriguing season in Oxford, but man is this a talented roster.
Shea Patterson takes over as the full-time starter at quarterback and the sophomore from Shreveport, Louisiana flashed a ton of playmaking potential in limited playing time last fall. Patterson reminds a lot of people of Johnny Manziel with his playing style. But Patterson will not have to do it all as he’ll be surrounded with a ton of talent.
The Rebels could have the best wide receivers corps in the country. Under new offensive coordinator Phil Longo, these guys are going to get a ton of touches. The sophomore trio of A.J. Brown, Van Jefferson, and D.K. Metcalf will be a difficult match-up for any secondary on their schedule. The running game was something that Ole Miss consistently struggled to establish under Freeze, so time will tell if Longo can find some answers on the ground.
The offensive line returns all five starters and the expectations are high for the the big guys. However, this group underperformed last season so we’ll see what they can do in the new scheme. Greg Little was a can’t miss prospect out of high school and the Rebs will need the left tackle to take a huge jump as a sophomore.
The defense was just bad for Ole Miss last season as they gave up over six yards per play and opponents posted an average of 246 yards on the ground. Wesley McGriff takes over as the defensive coordinator and Ole Miss must find some way to stop the run. It all starts with the front seven.
Ole Miss will be leaning on two hight touted defensive tackles in Benito Jones and Breeland Speaks. Marquis Haynes is one of the best pass rushers in the country from his end position and the USA tackles could be in big trouble on passing downs. DeMarquis Gates returns as Ole Miss’ leading tackler and the Rebs will need the senior to be a rock in the middle of the defense.
In the secondary, some are down on Ole Miss this year but there is some serious talent there. Zedrick Woods is a stud at his strong safety position and will be one of the better safeties in the SEC. Ole Miss will be young at corner with sophomores Jaylon Jones and Jalen Julius. Expect South Alabama to gameplan to attack the Ole Miss defense here.
In the kicking department, Gary Wunderlich is very good and the senior went 22-for-23 on field goals last season with his only miss coming from 50-plus. Oh, he also averaged just under 44 yards per punt but was replaced by Will Gleeson who put up a 44.1 average. That’s a strong kicking department.
It’s a very tough match-up for a South Alabama program that has played spoiler quite often in the past. The Jags are breaking in some young corners against what should be one of the best passing attacks in the country. With super fast tempo Ole Miss is going to use, look for that USA defense to be gassed in the second half.
The Jags are going to need their offense to put up a lot of points to compete on Saturday night. However, there are just way too many unanswered questions to feel confident they can keep up with a Shea Patterson led Phil Longo offense. Ole Miss rolls and I’m not sure it’s ever close.
Prediction: Ole Miss 48, South Alabama 21