*Note: MPB did not release a Top 25 poll before this was released. AP poll will be released after Week 1.
Who's Playing?: Oxford (0-0, #1 CL, #2 MP, #1 in 5A [all polls], #37 Nationally (MP)) @ Jackson Prep (0-0, #7 MP, #1 in MAIS AAA [all polls])
What?: 2014 Season Opener
Where?: Jackson Preparatory School's Football Field in Flowood, MS
When?: Friday, August 22nd @ 7:00 PM
How can you keep yourself updated?: 95.5 FM Radio, Bullseye955.com, @OxChargerSports Twitter account
The Lowdown: Last year, this game was much anticipated in Oxford. A packed-house in the stands almost like it was the Crosstown Classic. Neither team was ranked real high (neither were in the Top 10 at the time last year). You could even say Jackson Prep came in a little arrogant (when you have fans come into a VISITING stadium in a Double-Decker bus...).
This year, a little bit different besides the change in venue. Both teams are ranked inside the Top 10 of the Maxpreps rankings. Oxford has made it as one of the Top 100 High School teams in the nation regardless of any state's classification entering the year according to Rivals and Maxpreps (as high as 37th). Jackson Prep made it nationally as one of the top 25 "Medium-school" teams in the nation at 21 (Oxford also made it at 13) according to Maxpreps. The teams in this matchup went a combined 26-3 last year.
It should serve easily that Oxford has a target bigger than Mississippi entering this season. For the first time in school history, Oxford is the top-ranked Football team in the state of Mississippi in the CL Super 10 poll. Jackson Prep would love nothing more than to make that the shortest lived trip atop the Super 10 poll. The Jamboree game - usually with no meaning - probably decided the top ranking after beating 10x State Champion South Panola 14-10 last week. South Panola is ranked 2nd in the Super 10. Both spots 1 & 2 in the Super 10 were unrevealed at the time of the game.
It was a Special Teams play that gave Oxford the momentum they held on to until the end of the game with a blocked punt that was scooped up and scored on. Oxford's offense was real young that game, but showed its mettle in the end. Oxford's leading rusher Kenzie Phillips didn't have but 22 yards on 9 carries last year and was not yet a big part of the offense that repeatedly got into the 30s and 40s last year. While a lot will be made about Oxford's passing attack, the running game (Prep's offense is based around their run game) on both sides of the ball will decide a lot about this game with offensive lines that both teams had to retool this year (both sides lost a combined 7 linemen from last year).
If Prep QB Gene Wood (Alabama Baseball Commit) is having to pass the ball a lot, their chances are not that good. In games where he has to throw the ball at least 24 times, they average 17 points per game (and with a 2-2 record, including last year's loss against the Chargers) - whereas if he doesn't, they average 35.5 points per game (and a perfect 10-0 record). Wood did not throw a lot of Interceptions last year (5, and did not throw one until their 8th game of the year last year - 110+ pass attempts before doing so), his completion % last year was 51%. Although their passing game wasn't all that great, last year they had at least one pass go 30 or more yards in every game. (OHS QB Jack Abraham didn't even have that luck, failing to have at least 1 30-yard pass completion in 3 games last year) Prep WR Parker Caracci is likely going to be the main target as he is the only returning WR that had more than 7 receptions last year.
Oxford returned 5 offensive starters from last year's team (it seems like more) but the main play-makers all return like Abraham, DK Metcalf, Kenzie Phillips, and Kyree White (Colton Skidmore is the only player on the OL returning), but several return that has playing experience such as Zach Cousar. The bulk of the lost starters comes from the offensive line which was tested last week against South Panola. After giving up two early sacks and a couple more hurries, they found the groove late. Phillips - OHS's single-season Touchdown record holder - only had 10 carries for 22 yards in 2 quarters last week, but did punch in a Touchdown. Oxford's Defense kept that vaunted South Panola rushing offense in check - save for a 41-yard Touchdown run that was controversial in that there are claims from several players and coaches of movement prior to the snap allowing an excess delay in reaction to the play. The Charger D held the Tigers to two FG tries in their Red Zone, and had it not been for the narrower college goalposts inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (HS Goalposts are wider than college, and NFL Goalposts are narrower than college), both likely would've been successful. One klanked square off the uprights. If Oxford's speedy offense can get going at the pace it wants, with how hot it will be Friday, Prep might be wiped by the time the 2nd Half rolls around - like Starkville was last year in similar heat.
An upset by Jackson Prep here (even though at home) would be the biggest win by an MAIS school over an MHSAA school in its history. This is a huge game to say the least to start the season - for Oxford to get off the right foot, and for Prep to play in their biggest game against an MHSAA school yet.
For Oxford to Win, They Must: Play Run Defense - Prep's offense is about 2 rushing plays for every passing play they run. The Pats would like that to be 3 to every 1.
Watch the Flea Flecker - Prep's signature trick play, it bit Oxford once last year that eventually went for a Touchdown early in the game, but was read every time after that, which included a strip-sack.
Pass Block, Protect Jack - When Abraham has had to pass, South Panola brought pressure and was able to sack him twice. It also caused Oxford to stall on offense. That is the one way to stop a NASCAR offense - put a wall of blitzers in the track. Oxford is trying to replace 4 of their 5 starting O-Linemen from last year - they will still have to tinker around that to see who is best suited to provide the protection. If the O-Line picks up the blitzes, the offense will be lapping the field.
For Jackson Prep to Win, They Must: Have Success Running the Football - Oxford's Front 7 are hard-hitting, proven by their performance against South Panola last week - who's been built for years on powerfully running the football. They MUST find success there, because as pointed out earlier passing it is not their forte.
Pressure Jack - It was shown last week putting pressure on Abraham will cause the offense to stall. Put enough pressure on him and you will have success on defense.
No Silly Special Teams Screw-Ups - Jackson Prep has yet to play any game since the AAA Championship last year, so they may not be completely aware of the new Special Teams rules regarding kickoffs. Last year, they had a punt blocked and was scored on the same play. It was the one area Oxford won that ultimately decided last year's game.
Other Notes: The 32 points Oxford scored on Jackson Prep last year was the most the Patriots allowed in a single game during the 2013 season. This game was one of only 4 games Oxford played in last year that was decided by 2 possessions or less. Jackson Prep is 6-4 against MHSAA schools the last 4 years. All Football games this year will start at 7:00 PM. (Last year, all games prior to October started at 7:30 PM) Three of Oxford's first four games will be played on an artificial surface - and 6 of Oxford's 11 games will be played on such as Oxford's home turf is now artificial. Oxford in total has played on two artificial surfaces in school history outside of Jamboree games held at Ole Miss (last year at Lafayette and in 2010 at Pearl).