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Rebels Must Make The Most of Tune-Up Opportunity Vs. UT Martin

Photo by Walter Lyle

The last time that the Ole Miss Rebels and the UT Martin Skyhawks met on the gridiron, the Rebels kept their foot on the gas and walked out of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium with a 76-3 win in 2015. If the Ole Miss offense plays like they did in week one’s victory over South Alabama, and the defense improves, the Skyhawks may be up for another long day in Oxford.
Before the season began, many believed that the Rebel receiving core could be something special, and while the Jaguar defense isn’t on the level of SEC defenses the Rebels will face, the “nasty wide outs” of Ole Miss showed that they are here to play. A.J. Brown set the Ole Miss single game receiving record with 233 yards and two touchdowns, Damarkus Lodge added two touchdowns, and D.K. Metcalf caught 8 passes for 84 yards. 
The Skyhawk defense shutout their week one opponent, Clarion, but the Rebel offense will bring a much more significate threat to the table. The Rebels have won 12 of their last 13 games against FCS opponents, so while the completion level may not be high, the Rebels can use Saturday’s game to improve the areas of their team before entering a stretch of away games including trips to California, Alabama and Auburn.
Shea Patterson threw for a career-high 429 yards and 4 touchdowns in week one. Patterson’s style of play lends itself to capitalizing when the play breaks down, but in week two look for Patterson to focus on making good decisions and trying to play from the pocket. When Ole Miss gets into the thick of their schedule and SEC defenses put a spy on the young QB, he won’t be able to run away. Working within the pocket against teams like UT Martin will serve Patterson well in the long run.
Last week, the Rebel running game totaled just 102 yards. While OC Phil Longo noted that his offense is all about taking what the defense gives, it would allow Rebel nation to take a collective sigh of relief if we can see a dominant effort by the Rebel running game, regardless of the opponent. Longo also mentioned that the tempo is only going to get faster as the players get a better grasp on the playbook. Matt Luke picked up a win in his head coaching debut, talked about UT Martin’s defense ahead of his second game at the helm.
“They’re a very good defensive football team,” Luke said. “Offensively, they get the ball out quickly, and they don’t take a whole bunch of sacks. They use a lot of motion in the run game to try to take your eye. So we’re going to have to be very disciplined with our eyes in the run game. This week is about us trying to create a standard of how we want to prepare and how we want to practice, and we’re looking forward to the challenge.”
On the defensive side of the ball, DC Wesley McGriff was pleased with the energy and effort in week one, but he was disappointed in the ability to bring down ball carriers on the first attempt. CB Ken Webster and LB Detric Bing Dukes will return from their one-week suspensions to help bolster the Rebel defense. Webster will play for the first time since a knee injury against FSU ended his season in 2016. South Alabama was able to move the ball against the Rebels but two goal line stands showed grit from a group that needs to improve after a disappointing 2016 season.
UT Martin put up 36 points in week one while totaling 457 yards with over 260 yards coming from their ground game. Ole Miss allowed 170 yards on the ground to South Alabama. McGriff’s focus on improved tackling should cut that number down, and if it doesn’t, the Rebels may have trouble when it comes time to face the likes of Bama’s Bo Scarbrough or Auburn’s Kam Pettway in the coming weeks. 
All that being said, the Rebels aren’t in a place where they can afford to overlook anyone this season, so the Skyhawks deserve Ole Miss’ full attention. Kickoff for Saturday’s game is set for 11 a.m. at Vaught Hemingway Stadium.
The game will be televised on the SEC Network Alternate and can be heard on the Ole Miss Radio Network and Sirius 138/XM 191.

Steven Gagliano is the managing editor HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at steven.gagliano@hottytoddy.com

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