Time: 10:30 p.m. ET/7:30 p.m. PT
Watch Online: WatchESPN
Spread: Ole Miss opened -4. Most books have dropped to -3.5 as of the evening of 09/13
O/U: 72 (via OddsShark)
Ole Miss meets a Pac-12 team for the first time as they travel to Berkeley to meet Cal for a #SECMeetsPac12AfterDark matchup.
Both teams enter the game at 2-0 with Ole Miss having beaten South Alabama and UT Martin while Cal won on the road at North Carolina and Weber State. The Rebels have had a distracting week with Matt Luke appearing Monday and Tuesday at the university’s hearing in front of the NCAA Committee on Infractions while new coordinators Wesley McGriff and Phil Longo ran practices in preparation for the trip west.
If you like high scoring games, this should be the game of the week for you! (...immediately regrets typing that with the realization the game will end 12-9...) Cal gave up 431 passing yards and 571 total yards in last week’s (probably closer than it should have been) win over Weber State. Shea Patterson is second in the country in passing yards behind Colorado State’s Nick Stevens who has played an entire game more than Patterson. Patterson is also second in the SEC in yards per attempt behind (checks and double checks, what the...) Danny Etling.
So what are some things to watch for?
Slow Start for Ole Miss?
The last two weeks, Ole Miss has slogged through the first half before coming alive in the third quarter to blow away teams they should have been dominating from the start. To date, this is largely a role reversal from last season when the Rebels offense only scored 44 points all year in the third quarter. Through two games of the 2017 season, Ole Miss has already posted 48 third quarter points.
While the Rebels have the firepower to come from behind with Shea Patterson, A.J. Brown, and co., the first road game of the season with a long trip and late kickoff would be a bad spot to have another poor start.
Running the Ball for Ole Miss
So far this season, the Ole Miss rushing game has been putrid. The season’s first two games have yielded only 156 total rushing yards for Ole Miss at a rate of under 3.5 yards per carry. The offensive line, a relative strength entering the season which has done decent in pass protection, has failed to open significant holes against C-USA and FCS competition and when the holes have been there, the running backs have not taken advantage. While the stuff rate has dropped to 13.6% in 2017 (24th in FBS, compared to 19.6%, 86th in 2016), the rushing isoPPP for Ole Miss is 103rd in the country.
Cal’s run defense gave up nearly five yards per rush on 44 carries to North Carolina and is near the bottom of every advanced run defense category bar isoPPP. Linebacker Devante Downs had 13 tackles against North Carolina and spearheads a unit which will try to limit the Rebels’ ability to run the ball to extend drives and keep their defense off the field.
Running the Ball for Cal
Like Ole Miss, Cal comes into the game with an offense tilted towards the passing game, but the Bears have had more success in the rushing game than the Rebels. New Cal offensive coordinator was previously the head coach at Eastern Washington since 2008 (including a FCS national championship in 2010). While at EWU, one of his quarterback pupils was Vernon Adams who transferred to Oregon for the 2015 season.
In the 2017 season, Cal has run slightly more running plays than passes and has had some success on the ground. Senior running back Tre Watson, the Bears’ leading returning rusher, is out for the season with a lower body injury but junior Patrick Laird racked up 191 yards and 3 touchdowns on 12 carries last week.
Given the fact that Ole Miss struggled to slow down running backs the last two weeks (UT Martin’s Ladarius Galloway picked up 188 yards), look for Cal to try to control the clock some on the ground to keep Ole Miss defense on the field. With the lack of quality Ole Miss has at the linebacker position and the lack of depth nearly across the board on defense, this could be the critical matchup to turn the game in Cal’s favor for the Bears to win.
I am an Ole Miss fan, but by my nature, I am a bit pessimistic. Given the distractions of the week, the probability of Cal’s running game having success and the travel and late kickoff time, I am less confident than I had been throughout the summer. Cal jumps out to a lead, the game swings back and forth but the Bears pull it out in the end.
Cal 44, Ole Miss 41