By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com Ole Miss soared across two time zones en route to its first road game and undoubtedly its biggest test of the season against a 2-0 Cal team.
The Bears have a good bit of speed on the perimeter at wide receiver and will be a large test for a young Rebel defense. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff is certainly aware of this.
"They’ll spread the ball, get as much grass as they can to get their playmakers the football,” McGriff said. “We’re going to have a big challenge of tackling in space, and also stopping the run game. Right now, they throw the ball more than they run, but I can promise you, their first period in practice this week will probably be the run game. So we have to pay attention to that and correct that, because they certainly have some good running backs.”
Cal’s running game took a hit when it lost tailback Tre Watson for the season against Weber State. Patrick Laird will see the bulk of the carries for the Bears against an Ole Miss defense that has been challenged to stop the ground attack
“They have Patrick Laird who had a great run in the last contest in the four-minute offense, 73 yards to close out the game,” McGriff said.I” can see them featuring that guy in the run game, trying to run inside to move the chains. That’s what we have to stop against this offense to be successful.”
Points are likely to be at an abundance in this late kickoff. Both offenses can be explosive, particularly in the passing game. Offensive coordinator Phil Longo has been vocal about the Rebels playing with more tempo. He hopes that will be on display on Saturday night. Cal’s defense has struggled early on this season, but Longo thinks the unit is much better than they are credited for.
“Statistics are helpful sometimes,” Longo said. “But you can skew them in any direction you want to. Regardless if they are last in the country in pass defense or first, if that’s what they are giving up, that’s what we are going to attack. I think sometimes stats are deceiving just because they may have had two teams that run the ball a lot against them or two teams that threw the ball a lot against them.”
The Rebels have the edge at inarguably the most important position on the field: quarterback. Shea Patterson has tossed for 918 yards in two games and is blossoming into a star in Longo’s system.
"Shea though excited me Saturday because there were five plays where I think in January he might have told you he would not make the decisions that he made Saturday,” Longo said. “But he progressed so much through the spring and camp. Instead of having to check a play and change it or scratch it from the playlist, we were able to carry it and execute it on Saturday because he made a really good decision at quarterback.”
This will be the Rebels biggest test of the season, and an accurate measuring stick as to where this team stands as it turns the page on the first quarter of its season. Matt Luke is confident his team will be ready in its first road test of the year.
“This is a really big game for us going on the road for the first time with a young team,” Luke said. “We've just talked about enjoying this time together and going out on the west coast. After this game, our season is already a quarter over. We just talk about having a sense of urgency, playing fast and just enjoying this time together.”
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