If you are questioning what Mike Williams was thinking scheduling a home and home with Mississippi and North Carolina in the same football season, that may make two of us. So what does the westernmost trip in Mississippi program history mean for the Golden Bears? Very little as far as Cal’s likelihood of success is concerned.
By most accounts, Ole Miss figures to play a big role in the western division of the SEC this season. The Rebels are flush with talent and are looking to explode onto the scene after disappointing 2016 campaign. The Rebels visit Berkeley looking to ride the Shea Patterson hype train to victory and potentially much more after an electrifying debut by the #3 overall recruit in the 2016 class. In just three games last year as a true freshman, Patterson racked up 880 yards passing with six touchdowns against three interceptions. He led the Rebels to a win against then #8 Texas A&M while totaling 338 yards through the air with two touchdowns and an additional 65 yards on the ground. Check out his escapability below and be sure to scope out the 1:35 minute mark.
It’s almost like watching the perfect nightmare come to life: a young dynamic quarterback with a team behind him that has everything to prove and a Cal defense that has been devastatingly bad at finding the quarterback in recent years.
Yet all is not lost for the Bears, Ole Miss has replaced both their offensive coordinator and defensive coordinator from last season after lackluster results. Moreover, the Rebels defense was shockingly bad last season, finishing 111th overall. The Bears should be able to find a lot of success on the ground and Tre Watson has to be licking his chops over this matchup. The Rebels offense will feel similar to the Bear Raid we experienced over the last four years, scary fast. That being said, the Rebels offense last year found itself on the sidelines too often, once again quite similarly to Cal’s. This left the defense exhausted beyond repair and almost every opponent made them pay. If the Bears defense can find a few stops early, it might be enough to rattle the confidence of the Rebels however that task is much easier said, or written, than done.
Players to Watch
Shea Patterson, QB
What else can I say, the guy is elite. Outside of attending the same high school, there isn’t much we have in common. He is incredibly fast, has a live arm and made a big impact year one at Mississippi (shockingly I share none of those same fun traits). The bigger question is how quickly can new offensive coordinator Phil Longo utilize Patterson’s skill-set. Longo directed the best offense in the FCS last year at Sam Houston State and figures to bring a lot of new wrinkles into the fold at Ole Miss. Patterson now finds himself at the center of an offense that wracked up 547.8 yards per contest and averaged nearly 50 points per game last year in the FCS. All signs point to Patterson thriving and being a matchup nightmare for the Bears come mid September.
Marquis Haynes, DE
Listed as 6’3, 222 pounds, Haynes passed on the NFL last year to come back to school and build on a very productive junior season. Haynes played in 12 games last year racking up 53 tackles, 11 of which were for a loss and seven sacks. The guy has been nothing short of consistent since playing immediately as a freshman, totaling 7.5, 10 and 7 sacks in each of his first three seasons. He also finds himself introduced to a new coordinator with Wesley McGriff taking over the defense. McGriff most recently served as Auburn’s co-defensive coordinator and spent a few years in the NFL coaching defensive backs. The Bears should have their hands full on the offensive line with Haynes all game long.
What to look for against Cal
Let’s start with the positives. Cal will be facing a team that has to travel over 2,000 miles just to play the game and isn’t used to spending time on the west coast. The Bears also face two coordinators that are in their first stints leading the show on both sides of the ball and the jury is still out on that transition. Cal has a real chance to dominate on the ground, something rarely seen last year, while also winning the time of possession battle.
There are however real concerns about the Bears ability to slow down what figures to be a potent offensive attack for the Rebels. Patterson is a serious threat and outside of losing a few targets last year the Mississippi offense bring back some top level talent.
What is potentially even more interesting is that the matchup should play out to be in direct opposition to many games we witnessed at Memorial stadium last year. The Rebels will most likely run their form of a bend not break defense paired with a potent offense. While Cal, still loaded offensively, will attempt to run more of a 3-4 or a 5-2. If the Bears can walk out of September at 3-2, or heck even 2-3, they deserve a big pat on the back. The road ahead is not easy and Ole Miss marks the start of an increasingly challenging schedule for the Golden Bears.