Back 2019 SEC Preview: Ole Miss Rebels

Back To SEC

2019 SEC Preview: Ole Miss Rebels

By Matt Smith
SouthernPigskin.com
Follow us at Twitter.com/SouthernPigskin.  Become a fan at the SouthernPigskin.com Facebook Page

Matt Smith breaks down everything you need to know about the 2019 Ole Miss Rebels.

Head Coach: Matt Luke – third year at Ole Miss and overall (11-13 overall, 4-12 SEC)

Offensive Coordinator: Rich Rodriguez (first season)

Defensive Coordinator: Mike MacIntyre (first season)

2018 Record: 5-7 (1-7 SEC)

Returning Starters: 11 (3 offense, 8 defense)

2019 Schedule

Aug. 31 – at Memphis (Noon ET, ABC)
Sept. 7 – ARKANSAS (7:30 p.m. ET, SEC Network)
Sept. 14 – SE LOUISIANA (4 p.m. ET, SEC Network Alt.)
Sept. 21 – CALIFORNIA
Sept. 28 – at Alabama

Oct. 5 – VANDERBILT
Oct. 12 – at Missouri
Oct. 19 – TEXAS A&M

Nov. 2 – at Auburn
Nov. 9 – NEW MEXICO STATE
Nov. 16 – LSU
Nov. 28 – at Mississippi State (7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN)

What We Know

-Scottie Phillips is a legitimate SEC starting running back. With a junior college transfer, as Phillips was last summer, there are always unknowns about how quickly he can adapt to the highest level of college football. Phillips was a shining star in that regard for the Rebels, rushing for more than 200 yards and a pair of touchdowns in the season opener. Injuries limited him down the stretch, but he still finished with over 900 yards and an average yards per carry north of six. If he stays healthy, he should receive well over 200 carries this season in Rich Rodriguez’s running back-friendly offense.

-The defense has a long road back into Mike MacIntyre, but the journey does begin with a pair of strong defensive tackles. Josiah Coatney and Benito Jones are both seniors who arrived to a program seemingly on the cusp of greatness after winning the Sugar Bowl, but instead have yet to play in a bowl game in their three years in Oxford. They’ve held the rope through a tumultuous three years, but now hope to close their careers with an elusive bowl appearance. Getting there will require improving a last-in-the-SEC run defense from 2018, but Coatney and Jones will do their part.

-Despite only throwing 22 career passes, the offense is Matt Corral’s. Matt Luke brought the redshirt freshman quarterback (Corral played in only four games last season) to SEC Media Days, a sign that he’s not only the starter, but a leader of an offense that lost almost all of its key pieces. Corral has an edge about him, as apparent in his participation in the Egg Bowl brawl in last year’s finale, but new coordinator Rich Rodriguez likes that about him, as Rodriguez coaches his quarterbacks hard.

What We Don’t Know

-The Rebels are starting over at wide receiver. After losing two second-round NFL Draft picks, plus a third-round tight end, the Rebels are reloading on the outside. Sophomore Elijah Moore and junior Braylon Sanders aren’t completely green, combining for 52 catches last year. Both are on the smaller side, which isn’t a big deal in Rodriguez’s offense. Look for Moore, who primarily worked out of the slot last season, to be effective in the RPO game with his ability to work in traffic.

-The offensive line is full of questions. Three starters are gone, while fifth-year senior right tackle Alex Givens is dealing with a back issue and may not be 100 percent for the start of the season. Recruiting at this position has dipped since the days of landing five-stars like Laremy Tunsil and Greg Little, but Luke is a former offensive lineman and line coach, so this group is his bread and butter. Expect this group to be strong in 2020, but there’s too much inexperience and not enough pure talent to anticipate this unit becoming an asset this season.

-Is this the year the linebacking corps becomes a strength? It’s been a mess for the past three seasons, but it stabilized last year with the emergence of Momo Sanogo, whose 112 tackles last year trail only Arkansas’ De’Jon Harris among returning players in the SEC. Junior college additions are usually high-ceiling, low-floor players, but Lakia Henry and Sam Williams give the Rebels two new options to go along with seven other players who have started games. This group is mostly unproven, but the potential of this unit is as great as it’s been in years.

Ranking The Units

1. Defensive Line
2. Linebackers
3. Running Backs
4. Defensive Backs
5. Quarterbacks
6. Receivers
7. Offensive Line

Schedule Analysis

National Ranking: 12
SEC Ranking: 5
Swing Game: Oct. 5 vs. Vanderbilt
Trap Game: Sept. 7 vs. Arkansas

Ole Miss could use three lay-ups this year in the non-conference like it had a year ago, but the Rebels only get two, as they’ll be an underdog in the opener at Memphis and host a feisty Cal team in the back half of a home-and-home series that began with a Bears win in Berkeley in 2017. The rotating game is Missouri, replacing South Carolina, so not much of a gain or loss there. Starting 3-1 is imperative. This team is unlikely to defeat any of the top four in the SEC West, so a 2-2 start would mean the Rebels would have to sweep games with Vanderbilt, Missouri and Mississippi State to make the postseason. A 3-1 start gives them a great chance of getting to the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving Night in Starkville with, at worst, a postseason berth on the line.

Season Prediction

Luke’s two coordinator hires will pay dividends. Ole Miss will go to a bowl game after a Thanksgiving Night win at Mississippi State. The Rebels will take plenty of lumps, starting with an uninspiring season-opening loss at Memphis, but Ole Miss will rebound to reach that key 3-1 target before a humbling trip to Tuscaloosa. Wins over Vanderbilt and New Mexico State will get them to 5-6 before the Egg Bowl, and a series once controlled by the home team will see the visitors win for a fifth straight time, bringing the Golden Egg back to Oxford and giving the Ole Miss fanbase some much-needed good vibes after a three-year mess.

Overall Record: 6-6
SEC Record: 3-5
Final CFP Ranking: NR
Bowl: Texas Bowl vs. Oklahoma State

Matt Smith - Matt is a 2007 graduate of Notre Dame and has spent most of his life pondering why most people in the Mid-Atlantic actually think there are more important things than college football. He has blogged for College Football News, covering both national news as well as Notre Dame and the service academies. He credits Steve Spurrier and Danny Wuerffel for his love of college football and tailgating at Florida, Tennessee, and Auburn for his love of sundresses. Matt covers the ACC as well as the national scene.