Last year, I was not a big fan of Dexter McCluster. I thought he was only so-so; that he fumbled in key situations; that he was predictable. I thought that Ole Miss's offense ran better when they let Jevan Snead do his thing. Not this year. If you were making up a list of offensive players of the year in the SEC, this list would not have to be very long to get to McCluster. Let's see. Ingram, McCluster, Green, Tate. Am I missing anyone? See, you don't have to go very far at all, and Jevan Snead is not on that list.
McCluster's last 3 games in which he played any appreciable time (he mostly sat out two weeks ago against Northern Arizona), he has rushed for 123, 186, 282. He has received for 137, 17, and 42. He's scored 6 touchdowns in that time.
Meanwhile, Jevan Snead, who was one of the Big 3 quarterbacks in the conference before the season started, is not in the top 10 in the conference in passer rating.
To be honest, we don't really match up very well against this Ole Miss team. We struggled last week to catch and tackle small, shifty running backs, and McCluster is the smallest, shiftiest around. Jevan Snead can be taken off his game with a strong pass rush, but we don't really bring a strong pass rush very often. I wish I could say more, but that's about it.
Jevan Snead's favorite target is Shay Hodge, who I think is a terrific player. He's had three 100-yard receiving games this year. He's not a speedster, but he gets open and catches everything. I don't know if he's the kind of receiver who will get the dreaded Peterson Shadow, but maybe he should.
Defensively, Ole Miss is a surprisingly good team, 4th in scoring defense, 5th in total defense, 3rd in passing efficiency defense, 3rd in sacks, 3rd in 1st downs against, 1st in 3rd down defense. They do it with a defensive line that gets after it, though they are now missing Greg Hardy who is their best defensive player, though he's been limited for weeks before he was finally finished for the year. They've mostly done it without Greg Hardy all year. Jerrell Powe and Kentrell Lockett headline this group, and they can both play.
The key is that our defense will have to step up and defend against McCluster. If we can keep Dexter McCluster from running all over the place, we will have a very good chance of winning. If we can get a pass rush on Snead, we can take him out of his rhythm. Expect to see a lot of blitzing on passing downs, but blitzing is dangerous with McCluster back there. They could very well give him the ball on 3rd and 8, and if there is a blitz, he could be gone upon getting through the first level.
On offense, we will have to stay out of 3rd and long situations. Ole Miss is a very good 3rd down team, and their defensive line can bring a lot of pressure. I would mix a lot of run and pass on 1st and 2nd downs, trying to be unpredictable but at the same time having a logic to the plan that is often lacking in our offense. Our offensive line has been a lot better of late, and we will need that to continue, so we can avoid negative plays.
I will really be looking to see if we can ramp up the intensity level, or if the La Tech game was a sign of things to come. Really, I expect us to come out a lot stronger this game than we did last week.
This is an abbreviated preview today, because time is an issue for me this morning. I'll be back with more later.