Early look at Ole Miss, State, USM

What we learned from the first week of Mississippi’s college football season (and what we didn’t)...

• If there’s a better group of wide receivers in football than the one at Ole Miss, it resides in the NFL. Seriously, the blend of size, speed, leaping ability and sure hands borders on ridiculous. Texas Tech doubled A.J. Brown on the Rebels’ first possession, which left D.K. Metcalf in single coverage. Boom! Touchdown. Had they doubled Metcalf, the same might have happened on the other side. And then you have DeMarkus Lodge and Braylon Sanders, as well. It is the old proverbial embarrassment of riches. Brown and Metcalf are chiseled like linebackers, extremely physical for wide receivers, making it hard to knock them off their routes. Both will make a fortune playing this game.

• Scottie Phillips, the Rebel transfer running back from Jones Junior College, is another blend of speed and power, the first Ole Miss player in history to run for more than 200 yards in his first game. With such a running threat, opponents will want to crowd the line defensively, only they can’t because of those afore­­mentioned wideouts.

• OK, we knew the Rebels would be explosive offensively. The question mark was – and is – the defense. Ole Miss still needs vast improvement there. Texas Tech lost its starting quarterback early, went to a true freshman and still torched the Rebels for 31 first downs and 484 yards total offense. And, with that true freshman at quarterback, Texas Tech committed no turnovers. I am not sure we see a serious upgrade there, at least not yet.

• Not sure what we learned at Starkville other than Stephen F. Austin will not be applying for SEC membership any time soon. State romped, 63-6, without its starting quarterback. If Ole Miss is Wide Receiver U., then State is Defensive Front U. The Bulldogs had 17 tackles for losses including three and a half each from Jeffery Simmons and Montez Sweat. It really was like men and boys.

• Other takeaways: Backup quarterback Keytaon Thompson is a splendid athlete but needs to become more accurate as a passer. He threw for 364 yards but that could have been 500 or more. And, Joe Moorhead’s first State team appeared sharply focused and ready to play. When you are a 48-point favorite and cover easily, that’s a good day.

• We will learn much Saturday when the Bulldogs play at Kansas State. Well, at least I think we will. The Wildcats had to rally from a 24-12 fourth quarter deficit to beat South Dakota State 27-24 in their opener. (It was not a good day for State-of-Kansas football. Chase Fourcade led Nicholls State’s upset Kansas. Chase is Keith Fourcade’s son, John Fourcade’s nephew.)

• At Hattiesburg, we learned first and foremost that USM appears to have found another quarterback in Jack Abraham, who looked a whole lot like Nick Mullens, who now plays for the San Francisco 49ers. Said USM coach Jay Hopson after Abraham completed 21 of 27 for 242 yards and four touchdowns: “I’ve made that comparison … they remind me of each other. Jack is a little better athlete. I don’t mean to say that against Nick; he’s an NFL quarterback, but Jack’s foot speed is just a hair better. They remind me of each other. When you talk about Nick Mullens you talk about one of the all-time greats who ever put on the black and gold, so we’re not going to give Jack that status yet.”

• Seems like every year USM has a break-out receiver. Last year, it was Korey Robertson. Before that, Allenzae Staggers. Before that, Michael Thomas. This year, that guy appears to be Quez Watkins, who caught three touchdowns and also ran back a punt for a long touchdown against Jackson State.

• At this point, Southern Miss is much bigger, stronger and faster than Jackson State. The Tigers’ new Air Raid offense, guided by Hal Mumme, is a work in progress.

• These intrastate rivalries, even when so one-sided, still provide some nice moments, such as when USM fans gave JSU’s Sonic Boom band a standing ovation and when Jackson State and USM players – many of whom were high school teammates – posed for photos, all smiles, afterwards.

Contact syndicated columnist Rick Cleveland at rcleveland@mississippitoday.org.

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