OXFORD, Miss. (WCBI/Ole Miss) — Ole Miss prepares for its SEC home opener against #1 Alabama.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
• Ole Miss continues its three-game home stand this week when it hosts Alabama to open SEC play.
• Ole Miss is 33-48-3 all-time in SEC openers … This is the fourth straight year the Rebels have faced Alabama to open up SEC play.
• This is the 66th meeting between Ole Miss and Alabama … The Crimson Tide hold a 49-11-2 series lead.
• The last time the Rebels faced the nation’s No. 1 team was Alabama last season … Ole Miss is 1-12 all-time versus the top-ranked team in the land.
• No. 1 Alabama is the Rebels’ first ranked opponent this season … Ole Miss went 1-3 against top-25 teams last year.
• Ole Miss is 164-87-7 (.649 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September.
• Ole Miss is 103-32-3 (.757 winning pct.) in September home games (including home contests played in Memphis and Jackson), including a 77-19-2 (.796 winning percentage) mark in September games played in Oxford.
• Ole Miss has averaged 61.5 points per game through the first two games this season, third in the nation.
• QB Jordan Ta’amu leads the SEC and is ranked second nationally with 392.0 yards passing per game.
• Ta’amu recorded a career-high in yards (448), total offense (446) and touchdowns (five) vs. SIU … It was the third-best passing performance by a Rebel in school history.
• Four Rebels players recorded their first career touchdowns vs. SIU: Matt Corral, Vernon Dasher, Elijah Moore and Isaiah Woullard.
OLE MISS HEAD COACH MATT LUKE
Matt Luke (Ole Miss, 2000) is in his 11th season at Ole Miss and second season at the helm, taking the reins of his alma mater as the 38th head coach in program history. He was born a Rebel as his family has ties to Ole Miss that span three generations. During his 24 years as a player and coach at the collegiate level, Luke has risen through the ranks while learning from a number of successful veteran coaches. He has worked alongside national champion Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer, Duke head coach David Cutcliffe and former Ole Miss head coach Tommy Tuberville, among others. On the field, he has mentored 20 all-league selections as well as All-Americans and first-round draft picks Laremy Tunsil and Laken Tomlinson. Luke, a four-year center for the Rebels (1995-98), spent five seasons as the team’s co-offensive coordinator and offensive line coach before being promoted to interim head coach for the 2017 season. During his first stop in Oxford (2002-05), he served four seasons coaching the Ole Miss tight ends and offensive line under Cutcliffe.
ALABAMA HEAD COACH NICK SABAN
Nick Saban (Kent State, 1973) is in his 12th season at the helm for Alabama and has tallied a 134-20 record during his time in Tuscaloosa, including five national titles since 2009 and been named National Coach of the Year seven times. Saban has compiled a 225-62-1 (.781) record (220-62-1 after vacations) as a college head coach and has gone 127-14 (.899) in the past 10 seasons in Tuscaloosa, which is the best of any major college school over a 10-year span since Bud Wilkinson and Oklahoma in the late 1940s through the late 1950s. UA’s 127 wins over the past decade are the most for any FBS school during a 10-yard span in the Associated Press poll era (since 1936). Alabama has not lost to an unranked team since 2007 and have lost just one game to a team ranked outside the top 15 in the AP poll in the last 10 years (No. 19 South Carolina in 2010). For perspective, no team in the FBS has lost fewer than 10 games to teams outside the top 15 in that same time frame.
ALABAMA SCOUTING REPORT
Alabama is 2-0 on the season and is ranked No. 1 in both the AP and coaches polls this week. The Crimson Tide has won every game by at least 37 points, including a 51-14 win over Louisville to open the season two weeks ago. Since losing to the Rebels in Tuscaloosa during its 2015 national championship run, Alabama has won 41 of its last 43 games. The only two setbacks occurred vs. Auburn last season and the 2017 College Football Playoff National Championship to Clemson. The Alabama offense is led by sophomore QB Tua Tagovailoa, who has thrown for 455 yards, with six touchdowns and no interceptions. Tagovailoa is completing over 71 percent of his passes. RB Najee Harris is Alabama’s leading rusher with 165 yards and two TDs, averaging 7.9 yards per carry. The Tide has limited opponents to 94.5 rushing yards per game, while racking up 250.0 yards per game on the ground on offense. Alabama has only returned one kickoff all season, but it was a 77-yard TD return from Josh Jacobs against Louisville.
OLE MISS IN SEPTEMBER
• Ole Miss is 164-87-7 (.649 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September.
• Ole Miss is 104-32-3 (.759 winning pct.) in September home games (including home contests played in Memphis and Jackson), including a 79-19-2 (.800 winning percentage) mark in September games played in Oxford.
• Ole Miss is 117-40-6 (.736 winning pct.) all-time versus non-conference opponents during the month.
RB Scottie Phillips has quickly burst onto the scene for Ole Miss and has been a key component in an Ole Miss offense that ranks third nationally in scoring (61.5) and eighth in total offense (596.0). Phillips, a junior college transfer from Jones County CC, leads the SEC and is ranked top five in the nation in rushing yards per game (155.5) and rushing touchdowns (4). Phillips followed up his historic 200-yard game against Texas Tech, with a 107-yard and two touchdown performance against Southern Illinois. His 204 rushing yards during week one were the second-most during College Football’s opening weekend and are the most by an Ole Miss running back making his debut. Phillips became just the eighth running back to run for over 200 yards in a game.
• Freshman linebacker Kevontae’ Ruggs (LB) will go head-to-head with his brother and Alabama WR Henry Ruggs III Saturday when Ole Miss and Alabama square off.
• Ole Miss DB A.J. Harris and Alabama players Mike Bernier (P) and Kendall Randolph (OL) were teammates at Bob Jones HS in Madison, Ala.
• The Rebels’ LB Jacquez Jones went to Hillcrest HS in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, with Alabama’s Brandon Bishop (DB) and Brian Robinson, Jr. (RB).
• RB KeShun Wells was teammates with the Tide’s Saivion Smith (DB) and Isaiah Buggs (DL) at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College.
• Ole Miss’ Peyton Cox (OL) and Alabama’s Bryce Musso (WR) were teammates at Jesuit High School in New Orleans.
• Ole Miss co-defensive coordinator/safeties coach Jason Jones played at Alabama from 1996-99 and graduated in 2001. He was a graduate assistant with the Crimson Tide in 2004 and earned his master’s degree in sports management from Alabama in 2005.
• Ole Miss defensive line coach Freddie Roach played at Alabama from 2002-05, earning All-SEC honors twice to go along with collecting National Freshman of the Year honors in 2002. He was a strength and conditioning coach with the Crimson Tide from 2008-10 and served as UA’s director of player development for the last two seasons (2015-16) under head coach Nick Saban.
• Alabama tight ends coach/special teams coordinator Joe Pannunzio hired Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke to serve on his staff at Murray State, Luke’s first full-time coaching job; Pannunzio was the Racers head coach from 2000-05 with Luke serving as the team’s offensive line coach for the first two seasons. Pannunzio was the Ole Miss tight ends/special teams coach from 1995-98, while Luke was a center for the Rebels.
In 2017, Ole Miss’ average touchdown drive was 99 seconds, the fastest in the nation; the Rebels wasted no time trying to repeat that stat in 2018. It took Ole Miss only two plays and 33 seconds to record its first touchdown of the 2018 season Sept. 1 vs. Texas Tech. 12 touchdowns later, Ole Miss is just off last year’s torrid scoring pace and is averaging just over 101 seconds per TD drive. The Rebels are currently just one of three teams in the nation to have five scoring drives under one minute.
Ole Miss lit up the scoreboard Saturday against SIU, putting up 76 points vs. the Salukis, including two defensive touchdowns. The 76 points were the most points by Ole Miss since 2015 when the Rebels scored 76 against Fresno State and were the fifth-most points in school history. The 629 total yards of offense was the sixth-most in school history. Ole Miss’ 479 team passing yards were the second-most in Ole Miss history. Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu finished the night 23-of-33 for 448 yards and five touchdowns, both career highs for the senior from Pearl City, Hawaii. Four different Rebels recorded their first career touchdowns.
SEVERAL NEW FACES OF nWo SHINE IN WIN
With Ole Miss wideout DaMarkus Lodge out due to injury, several new names from the Rebels’ receiving corps emerged Saturday night against SIU. Making his first career start, sophomore Braylon Sanders hauled in four catches for a career-high 133 yards and one touchdown; just his second career TD. Elijah Moore made the best of his first career catch as the freshman from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, hauled in a 50-yard reception and found the endzone for the score. Not to be outdone, senior Alex Weber made a highlight catch on the back of an SIU defender that earned him ESPN’s No. 1 play on SportsCenter’s Top 10.
BROWN RAISES NEARLY 50K FOR ALS
When he was in seventh grade, Ole Miss punter Mac Brown had a modest goal of raising $500 for a childhood friend’s dad who had been diagnosed with ALS. Along with a group of neighborhood friends, Brown started a lemonade stand, Awesome Lemonade Stand, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, to help his friend’s family. Seven years later, that $500 goal has ballooned to nearly $50,000 raised by Brown and his friends for ALS research. The Awesome Lemonade Stand is held on a late day in June and this year’s fundraiser raised more than $15,000 alone.
WATCH LIST REBELS
Ole Miss players have garnered a bunch of preseason honors this year, including several players tabbed Preseason All-America and Preseason All-SEC by media outlets. The following Rebels have been recognized on watch lists for some of the biggest awards in college football:
• A.J. Brown: Maxwell Award, Biletnikoff Award, Walter Camp Award• Dawson Knox: Mackey Award
• Greg Little: Outland Trophy
• Javon Patterson: Wuerffel Trophy
• Sean Rawlings: Rimington Trophy
OLE MISS OFFENSE OFF TO FAST START
• Ole Miss is a perfect 9-for-9 in redzone opportunities, with five touchdowns and four field goals.
• The Rebels are just one of three teams in the nation to have five scorings drives under a minute.
• Through the first two games, the Rebels have recorded 21 or more points in a quarter three times this season.
• The 76 points against SIU were the most points by the Rebels since 2015 when the Rebels scored 76 against Fresno State … Fifth-most points in school history … The 629 total yards of offense were the sixth-most in school history.
• QB Jordan Ta’amu is coming off a career-best performance that saw him throw for 448 yards and five TDS … Ta’amu is now 15th on Ole Miss’ all-time charts in career passing yardage with 2,466.
• Ta’amu leads the SEC in passing yards per game (392) and is second in TDs (7) and passing efficiency (206.1).
• WR A.J Brown leads the SEC in receptions per game (7.5) and ranks second in the SEC and eighth nationally in receiving yards per game (125.5) … Brown is ninth all-time in career receiving yards at Ole Miss.
DEFENSE STEPS UP
After allowing 38 first half points Saturday against Southern Illinois, the Ole Miss defense held SIU to just a single field goal in the final 30 minutes of the game. The Rebels forced three turnovers in three straight SIU possessions to start the fourth quarter. DB Vernon Dasher got things started with his first career touchdown after an 88-yard interception return. It was the first interception returned for a touchdown since 2016, when Zedrick Woods returned an interception 31 yards for a TD against Memphis in 2016. On the next defensive series, Keidron Smith picked off SIU’s Sam Straub for Ole Miss’ second fourth quarter turnover. After Ole Miss pushed its lead to 62-41, Victor Evans picked up a Saluki fumble and returned it 56 yards for another Ole Miss defensive score. It was the first time Ole Miss has scored two defensive touchdowns in a game since the Rebels returned two interceptions back for six against Fresno State in 2015.
SEC NATION HEADED TO THE GROVE
SEC Network’s traveling pre-game show, SEC Nation, will be making its fifth appearance in The Grove prior to Saturday’s game vs. Alabama. The show will take place on The Grove stage from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m., and airs on SEC Network. SEC Nation’s “The Pit” open at 7 a.m. for those that want to be close to the action. SEC Nation will feature host Laura Rutledge, analysts Paul Finebaum, Marcus Spears and Tim Tebow, and reporter Lauren Sisler rejoining the SEC Nation desk. Ryan McGee, senior writer for ESPN The Magazine, comes back as a contributor for 2018. In addition, Oxford’s own Wright Thompson and John T. Edge will visit the set to talk about their new SEC Network show, TrueSouth, which follows Edge as he travels around the South, introducing viewers to tastemakers, food, culture and the history that brings it together. The show’s prior visits to The Grove were in 2014 for Ole Miss-Tennessee and the Egg Bowl vs. Mississippi State, 2015 for the Arkansas game and again in 2016 for Ole Miss-Alabama.
Nine Rebels have made their first career starts this season: (Offense) Ben Brown (OL), Scottie Phillips (RB), Braylon Sanders (WR); (Defense) Montrell Custis (DB), Jacquez Jones (LB), Austrian Robinson (DE), Kevontae’ Ruggs (LB), Mohamed Sanogo (LB), Tariqious Tisdale (DE).
A total of 28 players have made their Ole Miss debut this season: Zikerrion Baker, Miles Battle, Quentin Bivens, Ben Brown, Josh Clarke, Spencer Cole, Matt Corral, Montrell Custis, Vernon Dasher, Tony Gray, A.J. Harris, Jakorey Hawkins, Jonathan Hess, Amani Johnson, Sam Johnson, Jacquez Jones, Tylan Knight, Luke Knox, Elijah Moore, Patrick Nasiatka, Scottie Phillips, Kevontae’ Ruggs, Austrian Robinson, Ty Rocconi, Keidron Smith, Tariqious Tisdale, Isaac Way, Isaiah Woullard.