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Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play

Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play

Through the years, special teams play has provided a winning edge in the Ole Miss-LSU rivalry, and and you don't have to go all the way back to Billy Cannon's 1959 Halloween run.

In a run that reminded fans of Cannon, Odell Beckham Jr. sparked a 41-35 comeback win for LSU with a game-tying 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the teams' last meeting in Baton Rouge.

Andrew Ritter split the uprights on a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left on the clock to lift Ole Miss to a 27-24 win in last year's meeting in Oxford.

"When you watch all the highlights of the games of the past, there always seems to be a special teams play in there," special teams coordinator Tom Allen said. "We all know about the famous punt returns that have occurred down there. I was pretty emotional and passionate when I addressed our guys on Tuesday in our special teams meeting. I believe it's going to be the difference.

"Our 'it' that Coach Freeze challenges us with is to provide the winning edge, and that's what we need to do. We have done that in several games this year, and we need to do it again in this kind of environment."

The Rebels have a trio of freshmen in key spots on special teams, with Will Gleeson handling the punting duties, Gary Wunderlich handling placekicking and kickoff duties and Markell Pack returning punts. 

Gleeson ranks among the nation's leaders in punting (45.5 ypg) and net punting (44.0), while Wunderlich is 3-of-4 on field goals with a long of 46 against Alabama. Pack has had some shaky moments and continues to learn through game experience, but Allen remains confident in him.

"As I have said before, returning punts is the most difficult thing we ask anybody on our team to do," Allen said. "Being a young guy doing that is hard, but he's smooth catching the ball. He's the most natural one we have. Now, it's a matter of making good decisions under fire."


Defense Preps for Powerful Ground Game

The LSU offense is led by a three-headed powerful rushing attack that ranks sixth in the SEC (220.9 ypg). Freshman Leonard Fournette leads the way with 544 yards and seven touchdowns, followed by seniors Kenny Hilliard (353 yards, 6 TDs) and Terrence Magee (344 yards, 3 TDs).

Over their last two games, the Tigers have rushed for 195 yards on 50 carries in a 30-27 win at Florida and rushed for 303 yards on 51 carries in a 41-3 win over Kentucky, but they face their stiffest test of the season in Ole Miss, which boats the nation's sixth-best rush defense (97.1 ypg).

"The last two weeks they turned back into what they want to be, which is running the ball downhill," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "They have the big backs who are always falling forward, very good football players, with play-action off of it. The quarterbacks, especially (Anthony) Jennings, have gotten more comfortable in their offense."

Wommack said they faced a similar test earlier this season in Alabama. The Rebels held the Crimson Tide to 17 points and 396 yards of total offense (168 rushing, 228 passing), both well below their season averages of 39.6 points per game and 514.6 yards per game.

"Alabama, to me, is very similar," Wommack said. "Their lines are similar, and their backs are similar. Their receivers, in some ways, are similar. The one outstanding receiver at Alabama (Amari Cooper) is probably better than any one person at LSU, but as a group LSU's receivers are younger. The quarterbacks are very similar."

The more traditional, smash mouth offense, Allen said, plays to the strengths of their physical, downhill players, such as linebackers Serderius Bryant and Deterrian Shackelford.

"We're not a big linebacker corps, by any means, but we're tough kids," linebackers coach Tom Allen said. "That's what you've got to have against these guys. We're big enough and we tackle well enough that we feel comfortable against their scheme.

"I don't feel like we have a group of guys that can't adjust. We're probably better suited for this than we are some of the wide-open spread looks that we see."


Still Remains Questionable for LSU

Center Ben Still (sprained MCL) did not practice Wednesday remains questionable for Saturday's game against LSU.

"He is coming, just don't know exactly how he'll be Saturday," Freeze said. "The good thing is he knows everything. He doesn't have to get reps. If he can go, he certainly will."

If Still is unable to play, Robert Conyers will take over at center, having played almost all of the second half against Tennessee. He would be backed up Craig Frigo at center, with Daronte Bouldin and Davion Johnson also figuring in the tackle rotation.

"It lessens our depth at other places, but he had a really good game against Tennessee," said Freeze of Conyers. "He's very athletic. He's maybe not as strong or has as much mass as Ben for certain blocks, but he did really well and his snaps have been good."


Freeze, Miles Talk Ole Miss-LSU Rivalry

Highlights from Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and LSU head coach Les Miles on the SEC teleconference Wednesday, ahead of Saturday's game in Baton Rouge.

For the full SEC teleconference, go here.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze (starts at 1:06:12 mark)

Opening statement...

"We're excited to go down to Baton Rouge and play in one of college football's best environments. It's a traditional rivalry game for us and those guys. We have the utmost respect for Coach Miles, his staff and the job they have done throughout the years. It also provides a great test for us, which is something we continue to need to get to where we want to go, and we're looking forward to it."

On the players' understanding of the Ole Miss-LSU series over the years...

"It's always important to educate the new guys on the history of this game. We started doing that Sunday, and we'll continue throughout the week, just like we have done each year I have been here. The guys who have been here have an understanding of it. Everyone in your program needs to understand it, so we'll try to take step to make sure we do."

On LSU's improvement over the last four games...

"The young kids are maturing. They're playing quite a few talented, young kids, and the more they get on the field in these environments, the better of they're going to be. They have figured what their strengths are and are leaning on them more.

"They have changed defensively some. And that's not something they typically have had to do. It's been very successful for them the last couple of weeks. They have done some different things and leaned more on some of their strengths."

On games from the Ole Miss-LSU series that stand out over the years...

"There are two that really jump out in my mind. The first one is Eli's year here when it was for the West Championship. I remember the excitement around Oxford at that time. And up until us playing Alabama here a couple of weeks ago, I would say that was the most festive, energetic, passionate atmosphere we have had on campus.

"You always remember the Billy Cannon run, of course, but I didn't actually witness that. Our last year going there with Ed Orgeron, we went down there with 48 players and took the game to overtime. I remember that one vividly, too. My first year here going there, to lose a game, and it's probably the one loss that I have been ever been a part of as a coach where I actually still say I had fun.

"They beat us with a punt return right at the end of the game. We were such a young team and no one expected us to compete. Our kids did, and we had a chance to win it at the end. I actually had a lot of joy, I had lot of fun that game, which is rare for us coaches to say that in a loss. That game went a long way to building our morale and toward where we were going."

On the rivalry with LSU, relative to Mississippi State, as far as the fans...

"It depends on who you ask. My take on it is this: If you were to poll the more mature Ole Miss fan, the one who's been around longer, you may get LSU at No. 1 with them. With the younger generation, you're going to get State at No. 1 and LSU at No. 2. That's my take on it."

LSU head coach Les Miles (starts at 2:05 mark)

Opening statement...

"We're a team that's continuing to improve and showed improvement against Kentucky in all three phases. It's certainly going to be a great test for us against a very capable Ole Miss team. We look forward to that competition."

On the history of the Ole Miss-LSU series over the years...

"I have been made aware of it in my 10 years here. I recognize the great competition and the personal nature of the game."

On Ole Miss...

"They're very good in all three phases. That's the key. They have done a good job offensively, they have done a very job good job defensively, and their special teams are playing big. They are very, very talented."

On quarterback Anthony Jennings being benched at Auburn, a game in which Brandon Harris started...

"Benched is not necessarily the word. More or less, it's the evolution of the position, if you will. Him understanding competition and understanding what all needed to be done at the quarterback spot certainly has improved not only his abilities, but Brandon Harris as well."

On last year's meeting with Ole Miss...

"Certainly the most recent past is something we have reviewed in our cut-ups. Our guys recognize that game."

On Ole Miss defensively...

"It's a well-conceived defense. It has speed and a nice zone package that can change to man in the secondary. There's a lot to that defense, not just the physically. Conceptually, they do a really good job. They're a defense that continues to improve."

On the win at Florida...

"Our football team was ready to go to The Swamp and win. There's some maturity here that provides some quality leadership. Some of those young guys had never been to The Swamp. They listened and understood what was expected and then played extremely. 

"That's an example of how we can play. Kentucky then was an example of how we can play at home. We're hopefully improving and looking forward to the challenges that lay just ahead in front of us this Saturday with Ole Miss."

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

    How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.

    in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

    Karen Holden said:

    Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

    Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much

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