There’s nothing better in college football than a good, old-fashioned east-west matchup. Cal and Ole Miss look to give the country the second great Pac-12/SEC game of the season and hopefully the same outcome (minus the whole 35-point comeback thing). As the flagship universities of California and Mississippi come together for the first evening game of the season, let’s take a look at the Rebels’ defense.
2017 Defensive Highlights (To-Date):
Weeks 1 & 2 Opponents: South Alabama (47-27, W) & UT-Martin (45-23, W)
Total Yards Allowed: 708 (389 rush, 319 pass)
Sacks: 2 (25 yards)
INT: 1 (0 yard return)
Falling into the tried and true SEC tradition of booking very winnable early-season games against small-conference programs (but hey, after a Week 2 squeaker against Weber State, we’re not ones to talk), our visitors from Oxford, MS have nonetheless been able to put up some respectable defensive numbers in their first two matchups.
Led by A.J. Moore (10 tackles, 3 TFL of 26, 1 sack) and Victor Evans (8 tackles, 3.5 TFL of 13), Ole Miss has been able to hold their first two opponents to only 319 passing yards. However, it has been Mississippi’s rush defense that has been the thorn in their side, allowing teams like UTM to stay in games in which they had no business staying.
Ole Miss is looking to dramatically improve defensively in their first Power 5 opponent based on coaches interviews and impassioned fan comments. Much like Cal, their performance against an overmatched non-conference team left much to be desired and also much like Cal, performances like that harbor doubt as to the true ability of the team.
Keys to Cal Success
The clear opportunity the Bears will need to exploit is the Rebels’ rush defense. Ole Miss has allowed nearly 5 yards per run and 5 rushing touchdowns in it’s first two games. With the loss of Tre Watson in the back field and the emergence of Patrick Laird as an electrically effective halfback, Beau Baldwin and company will have quite the catch-22 in producing a balanced offensive attack.
The Bears will absolutely need the run game to be consistent throughout the contest if they want to successfully face this season’s Ole Miss defense. Heroic efforts from Laird may not be enough to propel us past the 1,000 pounds (1,096 pounds if you want to get technical) of defensive linemen staring us down. And there’s the rub. Down a running back to injury, leaning perhaps too heavily on the athleticism of Laird, and trusting a mostly untested yet talented young QB, Cal’s offense may have their hands full with the Rebels.
On the subject of scouting Ole Miss, I have to give a shout out to the media depart at the University of Mississippi (it feels weird saying it that way) for producing their web-series called “The Season.” I have often had my quiet wishes for some truly high-quality sports productions from Berkeley. So to those in power, take note! We need more of this out west! I’ve embedded their video below for your viewing.
Let’s face it, the Bears are still feeling the recruiting and systemic effects of the Bear Raid schema both offensively and defensively. But for some reason, I love this year’s team. Everywhere you look, analysts are picking them to fall on their faces. Commentators eyes focus on the glimmer of the other “shiny” programs in the Pac-12 North, labeling this season as a rebuild for the Bears after Dykes. All the while, Justin Wilcox and his scrappy band of brothers in Berkeley look to shock the world.
What are your thoughts on the defensive matchups against Ole Miss? Will the Bears stand victorious on Sunday?