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Memphis and Ole Miss both differ from last season

<p>Paxton Lynch will hope to improve on last season’s performance in Oxford when he threw for just 81 yards and an interception in a 24-3 loss.&nbsp;</p>
Paxton Lynch will hope to improve on last season’s performance in Oxford when he threw for just 81 yards and an interception in a 24-3 loss. 

Offense was hard to come by when the Tigers played Ole Miss in Oxford a season ago. The Rebels lead 7-3 after three quarters before scoring 17 straight in the fourth to put the game away, and until that point the game had been a battle in the trenches with neither team able to gain significant yardage.

This year should be different.

Both Memphis (5-0, 2-0 AAC) and No. 13 Ole Miss (5-1, 2-1 SEC) boast offenses that are in the top 11 in the FBS, with both teams averaging more than 500 yards per game. The offense for both teams is significantly improved from last season, and the root of it all is the play of the two quarterbacks.

By almost any metric, Paxton Lynch of the Tigers and Chad Kelly of the Rebels have been two of the best quarterbacks in all of college football.

Lynch was great for Memphis a season ago, throwing 22 touchdowns to nine interceptions, but he’s been a revelation this year. In five games for the Tigers in 2015 Lynch has thrown 10 touchdown passes without turning the ball over once, has completed just over 70 percent of his passes, and has the third best passer rating in the nation at 181.5.

“(Lynch) understands where the ball needs to go, the timing of the routes that they are calling, and he has a great understanding of what they don’t need to do,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “You don’t see him taking many chances or forcing it into coverage as he’s getting hurried, or throwing late balls in the flat. He has an understanding, and he’s taking care of the ball. With his arm strength and skills, it makes for a pretty good guy to have back there.”

Meanwhile, Kelly bounced from East Mississippi Community College to Ole Miss, where he immediately hit the ground running by throwing nine touchdowns and running for three more while tossing only one interception in his first three games, including a win on the road at Alabama. However, Kelly has cooled off since, throwing four total interceptions in the three contests since that victory over Alabama.

For the Rebels, equally as important as Kelly are the players he’s throwing the ball to. Ole Miss’ wide receivers are lead by junior Laquon Treadwell, who is seen as one of the best prospects for the 2016 NFL Draft. So far this year Treadwell has caught 35 passes for 510 yards and three touchdowns, and has twice as many receptions as any other Rebel receiver.

“We’ve seen some pretty good (wide receivers) and I would say these guys are right in there at the top,” Memphis coach Justin Fuente said. “They are very good. Obviously Treadwell is healthy and a big playmaker for them. He’s very explosive. They have plenty of guys on the outside that can exploit you if you’re not in the right spot.”

While the two offenses have been among the nation’s best, the defenses are a different story. Memphis and Ole Miss had elite defenses in 2014, but that has mostly gone by the wayside this season.

When it comes to yards allowed, Ole Miss’ defense still ranks solid at 36th in the FBS, yielding 337 yards per game. Memphis on the other hand, sits all the way back at 103rd out of 127 teams. The scoring defense for the two teams isn’t much better, with the Rebels clocking in at 31st, giving up 19.7 points per contest while the Tigers rank 72nd with opponents scoring an average of 26.8 points.

The Rebel defense certainly isn’t bad by any means, but it’s noticeably more vulnerable than the team’s 2014 defensive unit which at times looked like the best in all of college football, and held Memphis to only 104 yards in the meeting between the two sides last season.

“Their team speed is pretty impressive on both sides of the ball,” Fuente said. “Their defensive line is pretty impressive to say the least, they are incredibly active, physical and well-coached. Those are the things that stand out.”

It’s only been a year since that slugfest in Oxford, but the two teams are radically different from then, and if there’s one thing for certain about this year’s game it’s that another defensive struggle might be an even bigger upset than a Memphis victory.

The Tigers will take on the Rebels Saturday at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium. Kickoff is set for 11 a.m. and the game will be nationally televised on ABC.

Paxton Lynch will hope to improve on last season’s performance in Oxford when he threw for just 81 yards and an interception in a 24-3 loss. 

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