Texas Tech, Mississippi both hope for improved defense

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              FILE - In this Nov. 23, 2017, file photo, Mississippi wide receiver A.J. Brown (1) celebrates his 77-yard touchdown pass reception against Mississippi State during the second half of their NCAA college football game in Starkville, Miss. Brown was selected to the AP Preseason All-America team, Tuesday, Aug. 21, 2018.  (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis, File)
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Mississippi and Texas Tech are two programs that haven’t had many problems scoring points over the past several seasons.

Stopping opponents has often been a different story.

Both the Rebels and Red Raiders hope to have a much-improved defense when they play in Saturday’s season opener in Houston at NRG Stadium.

Ole Miss ranked 110th in the nation out of 130 teams last year in scoring defense, giving up lots of yards and points on several occasions. The Rebels hope a group of young linebackers, including sophomore Mohamed Sanogo and freshman Kevontae’ Ruggs, can provide some production and consistency that’s been sorely lacking in recent seasons.

“I have been very impressed with those guys flying around and bringing that energy,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “That’s what you need from a linebacker, that flying around looking for a big-time play. Both those guys are athletic enough to play in space. This game is going to be a space game and I think that’s important.”

Texas Tech’s defense fared a little better than Ole Miss last season, ranking 98th in the nation in scoring defense. The Red Raiders have a lot of experience on that side of the ball, with 10 starters and nine others on the two-deep roster returning. Linebacker Dakota Allen and safety Jah’Shawn Johnson are particularly good.

The Ole Miss offense — especially the receiving corps — should provide quite a test. The group of A.J. Brown, D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge is widely regarded as one of the nation’s best and all three of them caught at least seven touchdown passes last season.

Texas Tech coach Kliff Kingsbury said it’s important to make those guys work for every catch.

“You do the best you can to try to get your hands on them,” Kingsbury said. “Be physical and hang in there as much as you can, but you don’t stop guys like that. You just try to slow them down as much as you can.”

Here are a few things to watch when the Red Raiders and Rebels play in Houston:

TA’AMU’S TIME: Ole Miss senior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu returns after a promising end to his junior season. Ta’amu was pressed into action after starter Shea Patterson suffered a season-ending knee injury and responded by completing nearly 67 percent of his passes for 1,682 yards and 11 touchdowns. Patterson transferred to Michigan during the offseason, leaving Ta’amu as the unquestioned starter.

SWINNEY’S OUT: The Ole Miss running game took a hit this week when it was announced that Eric Swinney will be out for three weeks while recovering from mononucleosis. Swinney was one of the lead candidates to help replace Jordan Wilkins, who ran for more than 1,000 yards last season. Other options include Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard.

SHOOTOUT HISTORY: Ole Miss and Texas Tech have a fairly recent history of high-scoring, entertaining games. The last meeting was on Jan. 2, 2009, when Ole Miss beat Texas Tech 47-34 in the Cotton Bowl. Before that, Texas Tech won back-to-back games in 2002 and 2003.

WHO IS THE QB?: Texas Tech is still in the midst of a three-man competition at quarterback between junior McLane Carter, sophomore Jett Duffey and freshman Alan Bowman. Carter started one game last year while Duffey and Bowman have never started at the college level. Said Kingsbury on Tuesday: “I’ve said all along, all three could end up playing. You’d like to just have one that just takes it and runs with it, but I’m open to whatever’s best for the team.”

GOOD AT OPENERS: Texas Tech is averaging 44 points per game in season openers dating back to the 2000 season. The Red Raiders have scored at least 40 points in the opener during the past seven years and topped 50 in each of the last three years.