Scouting the enemy: Texas Tech and Ole Miss appear to be exact opposites

OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 14: Wide receiver A.J. Brown #1 of the Mississippi Rebels escapes a tackle by safety LaDarius Wiley #5 of the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images)
OXFORD, MS - OCTOBER 14: Wide receiver A.J. Brown #1 of the Mississippi Rebels escapes a tackle by safety LaDarius Wiley #5 of the Vanderbilt Commodores at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on October 14, 2017 in Oxford, Mississippi. (Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images) /

In our first edition of “Know Your Foe” for 2018, we take a look at Texas Tech’s first opponent Ole Miss, which looks quite a bit like some past Red Raider teams.

Saturday in Houston, a Big 12 / SEC showdown will pit one of the nation’s most potent offenses against a big, physical athletic defense.  That is nothing unique.  But in a reversal of the normal order of the college football universe, it is the SEC team that has the offensive firepower and the Big 12 team that will be relying on its defense.

By now, every Texas Tech fan is familiar with the question marks surrounding the offense and the optimism surrounding the Red Raider defense.  If you flip those sentiments, you will get an idea of how fans in Oxford, Mississippi feel about their Ole Miss Rebels.

Let’s take a look inside the 2017 statistics to see what we may be able to expect from Ole Miss.

The Ole Miss Offense

Make no mistake, Mississippi will hang its hat on a high-powered offense this season.  Playing in the rugged SEC West last year, Ole Miss had one of the best offenses in the nation despite changing quarterbacks early in the season.  And unfortunately, the Rebels return virtually all of their firepower.

Ole Miss ranked 33rd in the nation in scoring last year with 32.8 points per game.  Its passing offense put up 328.4 yards per game, 11th in the nation.

The offense begins with senior QB Jordan Ta’amu who did not take over the offense until half-way through the 2017 season.  But over the final six games, the dual-threat QB completed 66.5% of his passes while throwing for 1,682 yards, 11 touchdowns and 4 interceptions.

Ta’amu passed for at least 368 yards in his first three starts before slowing down a bit in the season’s final two games.  But overall, the Rebels averaged 35.8 points per game with Ta’amu leading the offense.

He is also a threat to run racking up 165 yards and 4 touchdowns on 57 carries last season.  But while he is dangerous on broken plays, his main job is to distribute the ball to what many believe is the best wide receiver group in the country.

That group is headlined by projected first round draft pick A.J. Brown.  The explosive 6-foot-1, 230-pound junior had 75 catches for 1,252 yards and 11 touchdowns last year.  Considering that he was the weekly focal point of opposing SEC defenses and that he played in an offense that had a quarterback change mid-season, those numbers are even more exceptional than they may appear to be at first glance.

Complimenting the 2017 third-team All-American is 6-foot-2, 204-pound señor DaMarkus Lodge.  As the second option a season ago, the Cedar Hill, Texas native had 41 receptions for 698 yards and 7 touchdowns.

As if that was not enough, 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore D.K. Metcalf is also a dangerous weapon.  As a freshman, he had 39 receptions for 646 yards and 7 touchdowns.

So with all that firepower, one may wonder how Ole Miss managed to go just 6-6 overall and 3-5 in the SEC.  But Texas Tech fans know all too well that a potent offense is not all a team needs.

The Ole Miss Defense

The 2017 version of the Ole Miss defense was comparable to the 2015 and 2016 Texas Tech defenses.  The Rebels finished the season ranked No. 116 in the country in total defense giving up 459.5 yards per game.

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The good news for a Texas Tech team that wants to run the ball this year is that Ole Miss gave up 245.3 yards per game on the ground, 124th overall.  That number jumped to over 270 yards per game in SEC play.

To fix that problem, Ole Miss is looking to add some size in the middle of their 4-2-5 scheme.  The Rebels are expected to start two linebackers that check in at over 245 pounds in Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler in hopes of beefing up against the run.

But ironically it has been a rail-thin freshman linebacker making the most noise in fall camp.  6-foot-2, 202-pound Kevontae’ Ruggs has exceptional quickness and athleticism and will see the field quite a bit against the Red Raiders.

Like Texas Tech, Ole Miss expects its secondary to be a strength.  Returning both starting corners and three-year starter Zedrick Woods at free safety, the Rebels are confident in their ability to defend the pass.

Last year, Mississippi allowed just 212 yards per game through the air but that was likely due more to the fact that SEC opponents were more than content to run the ball all day long.  And while the Rebels recored an impressive 29.0 sacks last year, they lost their top two defensive linemen in tackle Breeland Speaks and all-SEC end Marquis Haynes.

Replacing them will be tough but look for massive tackle Benito Jones (6-foot-2, 315-pounds) to be a tough matchup for the Texas Tech offensive line. With five returning upperclassmen from last year’s rotation, the Rebels feel like their defensive front is more than capable and they will look to put significant pressure on McLane Carter.

In all, the Rebels return eight starters on defense and will supplement that group with a nice haul of JUCO and freshman additions.  But as Texas Tech fans know all-to-well, turning one of the worst defenses in the country around in just one offseason is virtually impossible.  Even if the Ole Miss defense is better, it still does not figure to be a classic shut-down SEC defense.

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What makes this game fascinating is the fact that Ole Miss and Texas Tech are exact opposites.  In a game pitting strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness, it will be odd to see the Big 12 team rely on its defense and the SEC team try to win with offense.