Game Primer: Football Opens Season vs. Troy

Published 3:10 pm Thursday, September 1, 2022

• This game will kick off the 128th season of football at Ole Miss.
• The Rebels are 93-29-5 (.752 winning percentage) in season openers and have taken 20 of the last 25 on the field.
Lane Kiffin begins his second season at Ole Miss and 11th overall as a head coach … Kiffin is 6-4 in season openers.
• This will mark just the second all-time meeting between Ole Miss and Troy … The Rebels defeated Troy 51-21 in 2013, but the win was vacated due to NCAA ruling.
• This game will be just the second home season opener for the Rebels in the last five years.
• The Rebels are ranked No. 21 in the AP Poll and No. 24 in the AFCA Coaches Poll … It’s the first time since 2016 that Ole Miss has opened the season as a ranked team in back-to-back seasons.
• Ole Miss is 157-92-7 (.627 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September after vacated wins.
• Dating back to Nov. 14, 2020, the Rebels have won nine straight home contests.
• The Rebels return 45 letterwinners from a 2021 team that registered the first 10-win regular season in school history.
• The Rebels ranked top-20 in the FBS in five different offensive categories last season, including total offense (No. 6).
• Eight Rebels have earned their degrees and are eligible for the 2022 season.
• Preseason All-America selection Nick Broeker anchors a Rebel offensive line that blocked for the No. 12 rushing offense (217.6) last year.
• S AJ Finley returns for his senior season after finishing third in total tackles (91) last year.
• Veteran WR Jonathan Mingo has started 26 games in his career and is back this year after battling a foot injury early in the 2021 season.

Lane Kiffin (Fresno State, 1998) is in his third season at Ole Miss and helped lead the Rebels to back-to-back bowl appearances in his first two years in Oxford. Kiffin guided the Rebels to a 10-3 record in 2021, the first 10-win regular season in school history. That included a perfect 7-0 mark at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, part of an ongoing nine-game home win streak for Kiffin’s teams. The Rebels finished the season ranked No. 11 in both the AP and AFCA Coaches Poll; its highest final ranking since 2016. Ole Miss ranked top-20 in the FBS in nine different offensive categories in his first season, including having the No. 3 team in the country in total offense, shattering the school record with 555.5 yards per game. Kiffin is in his 11th year at the NCAA level and has posted an all-time record of 76-42. In December 2016, Kiffin took over an FAU program that had won a total of nine combined games over the previous three seasons. Kiffin proceeded to take the Owls to new heights over the last three years, including two conference titles and two 10-win seasons. In his head coaching stops at USC, Tennessee and FAU, Kiffin has shown a propensity in helping turn programs around. Kiffin graduated from Fresno State in 1998 after playing quarterback for three seasons (1994-96) for the Bulldogs. He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Fresno State under Pat Hill in 1997 and 1998. He moved on to Colorado State in 1999 as a graduate assistant.

Jon Sumrall begins his first season as Troy’s head coach and first as a head coach. Sumrall previously worked under Mark Stoops’ staff at Kentucky as the co-defensive coordinator. He coached the Wildcats’ inside linebackers for the squad that finished second in the SEC East in 2021. The Wildcats defense allowed 17 or fewer points in seven of its 12 games in 2021 and held No. 1 Georgia to its second-lowest offensive output of the season. Kentucky finished the 2021 season with the nation’s No. 25 defense in addition to ranking third in fourth-down defense, 20th in rushing defense and 13th in defensive touchdowns. Prior to his stint at Kentucky, Sumrall was the linebackers coach at Ole Miss. Sumrall returned to Troy after being an assistant coach under Neal Brown from 2015-17. The Trojans defense excelled in 2017, ranking first in the nation in red zone defense (.614), second in tackles for loss per game (8.6), seventh in rushing defense (105.3), 11th in scoring defense and 24th in total defense per game (336.6).  Sumrall known for his tough defenses, has been a defensive coordinator since 2010. His first season as San Diego’s defensive coordinator, the defense ranked first in scoring defense (16.1), total defense (265.0), run defense (67.1), and third-down defense (31.7 percent) in league play.

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After going 5-7 in their 2021 campaign, the Trojans welcome back 23 players who started at least one game last season, including nine who started all 12 games. Of those returners are wide receivers Jabre Barber and Tez Johnson both coming off stellar second years. Barber caught 32 passes for 324 yards and three touchdowns. Johnson compiled 67 receptions for 735 yards and four touchdowns. The sophomore finished second in the league with 67 catches on the year and led all Sun Belt receivers (min. 80 targets) with a 72.0 reception percentage. The Trojans’ leading rusher, Kimani Vidal, also returns after a 727 yards and five touchdown year. The team loses quarterback, Taylor Powell, however Gunnar Watson who led the team in passing yards and passing touchdowns will be back. On the defensive side, sophomore Javon Solomon and junior Richard Jibunor are ready to cause chaos in the backfield again this season. The duo combined for 19 sacks, 90 tackles and 3 forced fumbles. The Trojans’ defense was second in sacks in the Sun Belt with 38 and led in interceptions with 16. Jibunor, TJ Harris, KJ Robertson, and Zion Williams led the team with two interceptions each. All four are returning for the 2022 season.

• Ole Miss is 154-91-7 (.625 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September after vacated wins.
• The Rebels are 46-49-1 (.484 winning pct.) in September SEC games.

The Rebels are 93-29-5 (.752 winning percentage) in season openers and have taken 20 of the last 25 on the field. This game will be just the second home season opener for the Rebels in the last five years. The Rebels last played a Sun Belt team in a season opener in 2017 (South Alabama).

• Ole Miss is 103-18-5 (.837 winning pct.) in home openers (including home contests played in Memphis and Jackson).
• The Rebels did not play any home games during the 1900 season.
• When playing their home opener in Oxford, the Rebels are 80-11-4 (.863 winning pct.).
• Ole Miss has won nine of their last 10 home openers.

Looking to replace 33 letterwinners, including 14 total starters, Kiffin and the Rebels turned to the transfer portal to help strengthen its roster for 2022. The Rebels brought in a total of 28 transfers, including 24 portal transfers that ranked No. 2 according to 247Sports. USC transfer QB Jaxson Dart was rated the No. 3 overall transfer and started three games in 2021 for the Trojans. RB Zach Evans was also ranked in the top 10 in 247Sports’ transfer rankings. Evans was ranked as the No. 2 running back and No. 8 overall player in the transfer portal. TE Michael Trigg was the third Rebel to be ranked as a top 20 transfer, rated as the No. 1 tight end and No. 19 overall player. 55 of the 125 players (44 percent) on the Rebel roster are newcomers and are in their first season at Ole Miss.

The Ole Miss roster features 12 players who hail from Alabama: OL Jalen Cunningham (Odenville), S AJ Finley (Mobile), TE Jonathan Hess (Vestavia Hills), DT KD Hill (Eufaula), DE Cedric Johnson (Mobile), RB Quinshon Judkins (Pike Road) DE Brandon Mack (Montgomery), OL Micah Pettus (Madison), LS Carter Short (Hoover) DT Demarcus Smith (Birmingham), CB Jarell Stinson (Opelika), and S Trey Washington (Trussville).

One of the most exciting factors of the talent on the Ole Miss roster would be the depth at the receiver position. Ole Miss will have to replace its leading receiver for the fifth consecutive season must replace its top four reception leaders from a season ago. Even with so many new names added to the receiver roster, the relationships between the athletes have not let competition get in the middle of the purpose of the team: to win. Veteran Jonathan Mingo has started 26 games in his career and hauled in 22 catches for 346 yards and three TDs in 2021 after battling a foot injury early in the season. Transfers Jaylon Robinson, Malik Heath and Jordan Watkins all bring valuable collegiate experience that will help the Rebel offense.

The Ole Miss football team landed six Rebels on the preseason All-Southeastern Conference team voted on by the 14 league head coaches. Nick Broeker (OL) and Jonathan Mingo (WR) were selected to the second team, while Zach Evans (RB), AJ Finley (S), Jeremy James (OL) and Cedric Johnson (DE) all earned third-team honors.

The Rebel running back position will look much different for the Rebels in 2022 as they look to replace some of the best to ever carry the football at Ole Miss. Both Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner have moved on to the professional game, while the No. 3 back, Henry Parrish Jr., is now at Miami. The trio combined for 1,968 yards and 21 touchdowns on the ground a year ago. Despite the losses, the Rebels have plenty of viable candidates to fill the void. TCU transfer Zach Evans seems set for the lead role in the room after running with the ones for the majority of camp. After that, the Rebel coaches will have some decisions to make with several talented runners and only one football to share between them. Ulysses Bentley IV brings more veteran experience to the room after transferring from SMU. True freshman Quinshon Judkins has impressed in fall campus and brings a powerful running attack to the field for the Rebels. Kentrel Bullock, the lone returning scholarship running back remaining from 2021, will also play an important role in the Ole Miss running game.

Ole Miss has four players on its roster from outside the U.S., including two Canadian players (Jaden Dicks and Tavius Robinson ). Offensive lineman Tobias Braun (Germany) and punter Fraser Masin (Australia) round out the Rebels who add a little international flavor. Robinson appeared in 11 games last season for the Rebels and registered 28 total tackles, including 3.5 sacks.

Arguably one of the deepest positions for the Rebels in 2022 will be the offensive line. Preseason All-America selection Nick Broeker anchors a line for an Ole Miss offense that finished sixth in the FBS last season in total offense. Broeker played in every single snap for the Rebels and has started 23 straight games. Jeremy James and Caleb Warren also both return after starting 13 and 11 games respectively last season. Eli Acker, redshirt freshman Jayden Williams and WKU transfer Mason Brooks, Hamilton Hall, Cedric Melton and Reece McIntyre will all see time on the experienced o-line for the Rebels.

Many Rebels are transitioning from high school or life at another university, but Tywone Malone is making a different transition—from baseball back to football. Malone appeared in seven games for the Rebels on the baseball diamond, leading all non-starters with a .444 batting average and two home runs in just nine at-bats. While he wasn’t on the Rebels’ travel roster as they conquered Omaha and brought a national championship back home to Oxford, he certainly showed he has what it takes to compete on the diamond in the SEC, and now he’s back looking to prove the same on the gridiron.

One of the big concerns when bringing in a lot of new faces is discovering how quickly a roster laden with transfers would gel. Ole Miss currently has 37 players on its roster who previously played elsewhere at the collegiate level, as well as 28 true freshmen. A year ago, the Rebels had 30 players who transferred to Ole Miss from another four-year institution or junior college, as well as 30 true freshmen. That team was able to develop the chemistry they needed to succeed, to the tune of a 10-win season, and Kiffin believes this group is trending in similar fashion.

RebTalk, the official weekly radio show of Ole Miss Athletics, will broadcast each Thursday this fall at Bouré in downtown Oxford from 7-8 p.m. The show, which is hosted by the “Voice of the Rebels” David Kellum and includes special guests, will air live on the Ole Miss IMG Sports Network. Ole Miss Football head coach Lane Kiffin and select players will join the broadcast each Thursday throughout the season.