The Vaught will be locked for the first time this season on Saturday as Ole Miss hosts the Southern Illinois Salukis in a non-conference matchup. Both teams are coming off convincing wins and will look to gain momentum early in the season. The balanced attack of the Ole Miss offense will clash with the Salukis’ dependence on the run game.
SIU scored 49 points a week ago with 295 rushing yards. Junior running back D.J. Davis tallied the bulk of the yards, with 127. Nine different players recorded at least four rushing attempts in the 49-10 victory over Murray State. Of the 83 offensive snaps, 65 were rushing attempts. With the Alabama Crimson Tide coming to Oxford next week, this gives defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff a chance to evaluate his defense against the run.
“Offensively they do a good job of mixing personnels,” head coach Matt Luke said. “They’re a smash mouth team, but they’ll take their deep shots. They have a really big senior quarterback, they got a scat back. They did a nice job in the one game they have on tape.”
The priority for the Ole Miss secondary this week will be to make tackles in the run game over dropping back into coverage. This will be the first week of adjusting to life without starting defensive back Jaylon Jones. Jones left during the third quarter against Texas Tech with what would be later diagnosed as a torn ACL. Surgery later this week will have the talented corner sidelined for the remainder of the season. McGriff understands just how much of a loss Jones is.
“I am going to be clear: That is a tremendous loss for us in more ways than one,” McGriff stated. “He is a tremendous asset in terms of his leadership, football intelligence and confidence. I always tell (Jaylon), ‘You are a pro. You possess the skill set … (to) play at a high level.’”
Jones will be missed in the return game, as well. He recorded his second career kickoff return touchdown versus Texas Tech, when he went 94 yards to score. Jones now has a kickoff return touchdown in the each of the Rebels’ last two season openers. These are Ole Miss’ only return touchdowns since the 2012 season.
In addition to the well-known passing threat of the Ole Miss offense, the team’s running game has flashed onto the scene as potentially special. Junior college transfer Scottie Phillips gashed the Texas Tech defense for 204 yards in his debut for the Rebels.
Phillips was the first player to eclipse the 200-yard mark for the Rebels since Brandon Bolden in 2010. Phil Longo already has an embarrassment of riches to work with in his receiving corps, quarterback and offensive line. The one question mark for the offense was the running back position. It appears the question has been answered, a week into the season.
This weekend’s matchup could be a potential trap game for the Rebels. A win against a Power Five opponent sits in the rearview mirror and No. 1 Alabama lurks in the shadows. The many new faces on the Ole Miss sideline will need to stay focused to improve to 2-0. Stopping the run is never guaranteed by the Ole Miss defense, and the Salukis can move the ball if the Rebels are not prepared.
“I think what we’ve really focused on is us getting better and having a standard,” Luke said. “We didn’t play our best football in week one. There’s plenty for us to get better at and that’s what we’re focused on.”