In what could be considered a cupcake game for the Rebels, Ole Miss will take on the University of Tennessee at Martin Skyhawks this Saturday morning at home. Both teams enter the week undefeated through the first week, but most would expect that to change for the Skyhawks as a result of this game.
Ole Miss opened its season over the weekend at home against Sun Belt opponent South Alabama, winning 47-27. While the offense had a field day, many considered the Rebel defense underwhelming against a weaker opponent.
Meanwhile, UT Martin shut out Division II Clarion University 36-0. While the level of competition was low, it looks to pick up exactly where it left off last season: with one of the best defenses in college football, statistically. It held Clarion to 146 total yards of offense and only 53 passing yards. Defensive captain Kevin Prather Jr. led the way, tallying eight tackles, including three for a loss. He also broke up two key passes, one of which was intercepted by teammate Chris Williams-Hall.
In an offensive performance described as “ugly” by UT Martin head coach Jason Simpson, junior transfer running back Ladarius Galloway was the only standout performer, rushing 17 times and catching four passes for a total of 198 yards and a touchdown in his debut.
Though this matchup may, at least on paper, seem done and dusted, the battle between Ole Miss’ red-hot offense and a rock-solid Skyhawk defense could prove thrilling in this early-season contest. It could ultimately come down to whether the streaky Ole Miss defense can handle Martin’s very average offense. If Galloway stays hot, there is a good chance he could find success running against a defense that struggled to keep South Alabama at bay.
While UT Martin received high praise for its defensive prowess, it should be nearly impossible to keep points off the board if Shea Patterson and record-breaking receiver A.J. Brown maintain last week’s rhythm. Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf will also pose problems for the Skyhawk defense, as it will not have the size and strength on its roster to defend him.
Metcalf and his 6-foot-4-inch, 225-pound frame could match up with any one of UT Martin’s six corners, none of whom is taller than 6 feet. This will cause major issues in the red zone for a unit that cannot afford to concede any unnecessary points.
Any slip-up from UT Martin will likely put this game out of reach, as is the nature of the David and Goliath-esque matchups customary to the beginning of college football seasons. Last week, UT Martin’s offense was sloppy by its own head coach’s admission, getting penalized 12 times and turning the ball over three times.
If the Skyhawks reign in their mistakes, play a more disciplined game and keep the ground game hot Saturday, this matchup could end up far more interesting than fans may expect.