When Missouri head coach Gary Pinkel looks across the field Saturday night in Oxford, Miss., he won’t be able to ignore the obvious matchup problems presented by Ole Miss’ offensive skill players. What he won’t see is a big smile on the face of Rebels head coach Hugh Freeze. That’s because the Tigers’ wideouts represent an equally challenging matchup.
There isn’t a bigger game in SEC football this week. No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1) looks to win out and reach the conference title game for the first time. No. 24 Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3) aims to keep a four-game winning streak going and play its way into a marquee bowl.
And the battle in the perimeter passing game is the bigger matchup of this game – literally, both teams’ wide receivers are huge!
Missouri’s top three receivers – Dorial Green-Beckham (6-foot-6, 225-pounds), Marcus Lucas (6-foot-5, 220-pounds) and L’Damian Washington (6-foot-4, 205-pounds) – average 6-foot-5, 217-pounds. They’ve combined for 122 catches, 1,790 yards and 20 touchdowns this season.
Ole Miss’ top three wideouts – Ja-Mes Logan (6-foot-3, 183-pounds), Donte Moncrief (6-foot-3, 226-pounds) and Laquon Treadwell (6-foot-3, 215-pounds) – average 6-foot-3, 208-pounds. They’ve combined for 133 catches, 1,660 yards and 13 touchdowns this season.
It’s easy to see why these two trios present all sorts of problems for opposing defensive backs, who usually fall between 5-foot-9 and 6-foot, 170 to 200 pounds.
“It’s a scary matchup. We have good-sized receivers also, so our guys do get to practice against that some,” Freeze said on the weekly SEC coaches’ teleconference Wednesday. “Their size-speed ratio at receiver is really special, and it’s not just one of them. It’s some tough matchups all the way around. It’s been well-documented that we’re really a young team on our back end.”
Pinkel conveyed a similar sentiment.
“Their perimeter personnel is a lot like ours. They’ve got high-level wide receivers that can make plays and they’ve got running backs that are really good players. It’s easy to see why they’re averaging 500 yards and 35 points a game. They’re very, very talented.”
Both teams rank in the top 5 in the SEC in pass offense and total offense, so there is the potential for plenty of fireworks when each team has the ball. The Tigers (8th, 386.8 YPG) and Rebels (6th, 373.7 YPG) are both in the middle of the pack in total defense, but one team holds a decided advantage in passing defense.
While Ole Miss ranks 7th in the league at 223.3 passing yards per game, Missouri is dead last, giving up 274.9. Though Missouri gives up a lot of yards, that number can be deceiving.
The Tigers don’t give up many points, ranking 3rd at 20.2 per game compared to Ole Miss’ 25 (7th). More importantly, they put a ton of pressure on opposing offenses, especially in the passing game. Missouri leads the SEC in sacks (34) and interceptions (17).
The Rebels rank near the bottom (11th) in number of sacks allowed, giving up 22 this season. If defensive end Michael Sam and the rest of the Tigers’ D-line can get to Bo Wallace he could force some bad throws that lead to interceptions.
On the other side of the ball, Ole Miss is tied for 12th with just 14 sacks on the season. That inability to pressure the Tigers, who will have dynamic QB James Franklin back in the lineup, could put a lot of stress on the Rebels’ secondary.