WEEK 2: Fresno State Bulldogs (1-0) vs. Ole Miss Rebels (1-0)
WHEN: Saturday, September 12 -- 12:30 PM, PST
WHERE: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium; Oxford, MS (60,580)
RADIO: Fresno's two ESPN affiliates, 940 and 1600 AM, will broadcast the game in English and Spanish, respectively. Those with satellite radio can find the broadcast on Sirius channel 157 or XM channel 191.
SERIES RECORD: The Bulldogs and Rebels have met twice before, and Ole Miss owns a 2-0 advantage. In the last matchup, the Rebels held off Fresno for a 38-28 victory on October 1, 2011.
WEB SITES: GoBulldogs.com, Fresno State's official athletics site | OleMissSports.com, Ole Miss's official athletics site
Fresno State's grace period is over.
Following a relatively comfortable win over Abilene Christian last Thursday, the Bulldogs will crank up the difficulty level with a rare trip back east. Ole Miss has plenty of talent and high expectations after experiencing heartache a year ago, and though the Rebels have a monumental SEC showdown in Tuscaloosa on the horizon, they cannot afford to look past the 'Dogs at home.
Both teams have just enough intrigue to make Saturday's tilt a fascinating one, so I reached out to Red Cup Rebellion, SB Nation's Ole Miss blog, where Juco All-American was kind enough to help me get answers about some of the Rebels' most pressing questions this weekend.
Mountain West Connection: What kind of feelings did the RCR community have seeing star wide receiver Laquon Treadwell back on the field against Tennessee-Martin? What is his greatest strength as a pass catcher?
Juco All-American: I think everyone breathed a sigh of relief when Treadwell caught his first pass and was tackled. The entire stadium applauded when they announced his name over the speakers as having made the catch. He's not just an incredible receiver -- I'll get to that -- but also a crowd favorite. We all saw him break his leg and fumble what would have been the game-winning touchdown on the one-inch line against Auburn. As much as fans can be, we were a part of that. It happened at home. Treadwell received thousands of get well cards from Ole Miss fans. To see him out there abusing cornerbacks again is pretty special.
As far as Treadwell's strengths and weaknesses, he has more of the former and less of the latter. He's huge (6'2" 220), sure-handed (despite a couple of drops in the opener), and he uses his body well. He will dominate against lesser corners. Alabama struggled to cover him last year. As far as weaknesses, he's not a burner at the position. He might have gotten a little bit faster, having lost about 15 pounds since last season, but he's never going to be a guy who just blows the roof off the defense.
MWC: I noticed that the Rebels played three quarterbacks in the season opener, which gave me pause because Fresno is working through a similar situation. Are we likely to see that many signal-callers again on Saturday? Who do you think deserves to win the job and why?
JA-A: I would guess you will see all three quarterbacks unless the score stays close. The coaches know that their best quarterback is Chad Kelly, a junior college transfer who started his career at Clemson. They just seem to want to keep the backups happy. They have a difficult (even if enviable) job on their hands. Chad Kelly appears to have won the job outright. Shea Patterson, the country's #1 quarterback, will enroll in January. The current backups have to see the writing on the wall as to their futures at Ole Miss, and the coaches have to manage that.
Kelly deserves to win the job because he has the best arm. He throws tight, fast balls that stay on a rope. He showed great deep accuracy against UT-Martin, something Ole Miss lacked under Bo Wallace. He also appears to be a capable runner. Essentially, he just doesn't have the physical limitations of those ahead of whom he is playing.
MWC: Not only will linebacker C.J. Johnson make his season debut against the Bulldogs, he'll do so after spending a few productive years along the defensive line. What can you tell us about him and that transition?
JA-A: Johnson was recruited as a five-star inside linebacker but seemed to gravitate towards rushing the passer at defensive end (where he has started for 2 1/2 years). He suffered a knee injury and hasn't ever completely recovered, but he's still very good.
It's tough to know how Johnson will play at linebacker. I do think he's likely to struggle a bit in terms of sheer speed. I imagine he will wreck teams that run between the tackles, though, since he essentially gives the team a fifth lineman. Ole Miss faces several teams like that this season, namely Alabama, Arkansas, and LSU. If Johnson can make a difference in those games, it will go a long way toward overcoming those teams.
As far as what the transition means for the rest of the defensive line, I'm not too concerned. The starting defensive ends are Marquis Haynes, a sophomore who earned Freshman All-American honors last season, and Fadol Brown, a junior who is a 280-pound freak of nature that led the unit in tackles last year. Backing them up is senior Channing Ward, a former five-star recruit. Ward hasn't lived up to his billing, but he's huge and shows flashes of excellence. At defensive tackle, there's Robert Nkemdiche, among others.
MWC: How will Ole Miss compensate on offense for the (probable) continued absence of star left tackle Laremy Tunsil?
JA-A: They have moved the starting right tackle, Fahn Cooper, to left tackle. He's alright there, but there's definitely a drop-off from Tunsil. On the other side, they're trying a number of options but went with redshirt freshman Sean Rawlings against UT-Martin. It was a hit-or-miss day for him, but it went better than many Ole Miss fans expected.
If you don't get to see Tunsil play, it's a shame. He's the best collegiate offensive lineman I've ever seen in person. I'm sure that, historically, there have been better, but Tunsil has started every game of his career at left tackle (other than the first) and has allowed two total sacks. He routinely makes first-round defensive ends look like they don't know how to play football. It's a thing of beauty.
MWC: Since the season is still young, I want to ask about expectations. What is the community's perception of head coach Hugh Freeze? What do RCR's readers and writers believe this team's ceiling to be?
JA-A: It seems that most rational fans see Freeze's strengths and faults. He's a fantastic recruiter who is good at energizing his team. He brings an interesting offense and leaves the defense in the hands of someone he trusts in defensive coordinator Dave Wommack. His playcalling leaves something to be desired at times, but he has done a great job overall both with what he walked into and what he has built. The year before he arrived, Ole Miss went 2-10. His three records so far have been 7-6, 8-5, and 9-4. That trajectory is headed in the right direction.
If you're asking me what I think Ole Miss will do this year, I've predicted them to go 9-3 in the regular season and win a bowl. As far as their ceiling, though, I'm not sure they have one assuming Tunsil is on the field. They won't win every game, but they have the capacity to do so. There isn't a team on the schedule they can't beat.
MWC: What do you think will happen on the field this Saturday, and what's your prediction for the final score?
JA-A: I honestly went into this week expecting an Ole Miss win by 17 to 20 but, after learning about Fresno's difficulty stopping the deep pass, I think it could get really ugly for the Bulldogs. There are just too many weapons all over the field. The top six receiving options for the Rebels are all 6'2" or taller, and they're really good.
Of course there's Treadwell, but Damore'ea Stringfellow (the other starter) was the #6 receiver in the country that same year. Senior Cody Core is probably the fastest receiver on the team and is 6'3". Quincy Adeboyejo was a top 15 receiver. Damarkus Lodge was top 10. It's an embarrassment of riches at a position built to exploit mismatches. I don't want to oversell them, because I think people get too caught up in recruiting rankings, but.... They're pretty good. That, could with Kelly's deep accuracy could be problematic for Fresno State.
If I have to predict a score, I'll say Ole Miss 49, Fresno State 17.
For more Ole Miss coverage this weekend and beyond, be sure to bookmark Red Cup Rebellion or follow both Juco All-American and the blog on everyone's favorite 140-character social media platform!