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Freeze, Mason Preview SEC Opener

Highlights from Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason on the SEC teleconference Wednesday, ahead of the Southeastern Conference opener for both teams on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:30 p.m. CT at Nashville's LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans. 

For the full SEC teleconference, go here.

Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason (starts at 24:58 mark)

Opening statement...

"Our football team is coming off a tough loss versus Temple. We found out a lot about ourselves in terms of who we are offensively, defensively and on special teams. The quarterback situation has been definitely resolving itself. We're working though the process of making sure that our schemes fit what their skill sets are. 

"In terms of our offensive line, we're working toward getting on track and doing what we do. It will be great to get Jerron Seymour back. Ralph Webb ran extremely well. The tight ends were very productive. In terms of the run and pass game, we need to make sure that those guys have opportunities for touches. We had a young receiving core group grow up in front of our eyes. That's where we are offensively.

"Defensively, we're looking at how we played. This group is definitely capable of doing great things. We have to keep being about the work at hand. Our focus is sharp and narrow, just in terms of the opponent in front of us. We're going to face a really good Ole Miss team. Our defensive unit has a tough task ahead. Our front has to continue working toward stopping the run, being able to set edges on the perimeter and playing from the top down in the secondary."

On the team's bounce back since the loss to Temple...

"They have done exactly what they needed to do and that's make the corrections, re-focus, understand who they are and understand more or less what we need to in order to be the team that we want to be. That's a day-to-day focus and day-to-day commitment. We work toward dominating the day. The practices have been physical and fast. That's the way we like it and that's the way we need to be."

On the offensive tempo of Ole Miss...

"Ole Miss is going to be much faster than Temple. They can go at a much faster pace and they have several speeds. They can go from a regular tempo, to a NASCAR tempo, to a warp-speed tempo. The ball is being hiked with anywhere from 20-28 seconds left (on the play clock). You have to know and understand what their mechanics are, and once you know their mechanics, you have to make sure you get lined up, get your calls in, structure your defense and play fast."

On a rivalry feel in games against Ole Miss...

"On Saturday, we looked at a little bit of Ole Miss in terms of preparing these guys, and some of the veterans got up and talked about the rivalry between the two schools, what it is and how tight it's been. That's where your leadership has to come out and give you a chance to understand the scope of the game. Not only is it an SEC opponent, but it's a rivalry game. There's always a little more on these rivalry games, but it also helped us understand where we need to go and what the level of intensity is going to be. With Ole Miss having a decent fan base here in the Nashville area, it's going to be a great crowd. We're excited and looking forward to it."

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze (starts at 58:12 mark)

Opening statement...

"We're excited to come away with a win last week against Boise in the Chick-fil-A (Kickoff) Classic. Let me take a moment to say what a wonderful organization Chick-fil-A is for our sport and the partnership they have with the SEC. Those guys are super people and run a first-class deal, so we were excited to represent our conference there and come away with a win.

"Our defense played extremely well for most of the game, as did our special teams. Offensively, we struggled the entire first half, but we settled (down) in the second half and played much better, so hopefully we can continue improving in all areas this Saturday up in Nashville."

On a rivalry feel in games against Vanderbilt...

"I've only been back here for two years, but we've had two phenomenal games with them. When I was an assistant here, we had some good ones also, so it's been more the competitiveness of the games when we played them. They tend to get up extremely high for us. It means a lot being in such close proximity in recruiting. We recruit a lot of the the same kids in the Tennessee area. It means a lot to both programs. It's been every competitive and they have always played us tough up there for whatever reason, and most of the time here (in Oxford) also."

On playing at LP Field and whether it will seem like an Ole Miss home game...

"It will be my first experience playing them there. In our bowl game, we certainly traveled well to (LP Field). Our fans always travel well, so I expect to have a very good representation there. It would be nice if it does, but I'm not sure if it will or not."

On Cody Core separating himself from other receivers and earning a start against Boise State...

"Probably after the second week, he was the most consistent that we had. We were playing him outside for the first two weeks, but he kept showing up. He's an intelligent young man, so we started moving him inside some, hoping to get the return of Collins Moore who could play outside, and we needed more depth inside with a bigger body besides just Quincy (Adeboyejo). We moved him there and he picked it up very quickly and continued to be the most consistent performer throughout camp. 

"I couldn't be more pleased for his success. Everyone knows about the tragedy that he went through in losing his mother who was very young and was a super lady who influenced many people as a schoolteacher. Our team was so ecstatic for him to have success in his first game."

The Season: Ole Miss Football Episode 2

The No. 18 Ole Miss football team won the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game defeating Boise State 35-13. The Rebels move into Southeastern Conference next week with a road test at Vanderbilt from Nashville's LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans. The Commodores are coming off a 37-7 home loss to Temple on Thursday night. Here are a few Ole Miss-Boise State related links to audio, videos and stories:

AUDIO: Ole Miss-Boise State highlights from the Ole Miss IMG Sports Network

VIDEO: Ole Miss-Boise State highlights from ESPN

VIDEO: Vine supercut of big hits from Keith Lewis, Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner

Plays that changed the game: Ole Miss, writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com

Freeze keeps faith in uneven Ole Miss QB Wallace, writes Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger

Ole Miss defense flashes dominance against Boise State, writes Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger

Turning Point: Treadwell's big drive rescues Ole Miss, writes Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger

Winning Late, writes Jeff Roberson of The Ole Miss Spirit/Scout.com

Player of the Game: Laquon Treadwell, writes Ben Garett of The Ole Miss Spirit/Scout.com

Uneasy feeling ends in good feeling for No. 19 Ole Miss, writes George Schroeder of USA Today

What we learned from Ole Miss 35, Boise State 13, writes Mike Herndon of AL.com

And in case you missed it, "Ole Miss Pulls Away Late, Wins 35-13" on OleMissSports.com and two posts on Ole Miss Blog: "Second-Half Surge for Rebel Offese" with Bo Wallace and Laquon Treadwell videos  "'The New Normal' on Defense" with Robert Nkemdiche and Cody Prewitt videos.


'The New Normal' on Defense

ATLANTA -- Boise State had been the highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 40.2 points per game dating back to the 2000 season. 

Highlighted by four interceptions, eight tackles for loss and big hits by several different players, the Rebels held the Broncos to 13 points in a 35-13 win in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game from Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

"The Rebel defense really made a statement and are really getting an identity," sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche said. "You better get used to it. It's the new normal for us."

Boise State made three trips to the red zone, and the Ole Miss defense held the Broncos to just 10 points, including two trips when the game was very much in doubt in the first half.

"We talk about winning the critical areas, and those are third down, fourth down and red zone, and had our defense not won those critical areas tonight, we were fighting an uphill battle for sure, but those were big stops," head coach Hugh Freeze said.

With the game scoreless in the first quarter, senior cornerback Senquez Golson stopped a six-play, 51-yard Boise State drive with an interception in the end zone.

Later in the half, after Ole Miss went ahead 7-0, Boise State looked to answer and had the ball first-and-goal from the Ole Miss 1-yard line. The Rebels defense stonewalled the Broncos on three straight plays, including two tackles for loss, to hold them to a field goal.

"For a defense to stop a team in the red zone, especially a team as Boise is at scoring, that means a lot," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "That goes to show that we're never going to blink, we're always going to play the next play and we're really confident in each other and the coaches' game plan."

Prewitt, sophomore Huskie Tony Conner and junior defensive C.J. Johnson also had interceptions in the game, as the Rebels intercepted four passes for the first time since the 2011 season against Southern Illinois. For Prewitt, it was his 10th career interception after he led the Southeastern Conference with six interceptions last season.

The defense finished with just three sacks, but they created consistent pressure for much of the game, which helped lead to turnovers.

"I'm so excited to see our pass rush develop throughout the season," Prewitt said. "They're a really good group of athletes down there. Whenever they're going at the quarterback like they are, that's whenever we're going to start getting picks, fumbles and everything."


Second-Half Surge for Rebel Offense

ATLANTA -- After an up-and-down first half, which included a touchdown and three interceptions, senior quarterback Bo Wallace and the Ole Miss offense found their stride in the second half, particularly in the fourth quarter.

Leading 7-6 early in the fourth quarter, the Rebels faced 3rd-and-8 on the Boise State 43. The Broncos jumped offsides and Wallace took advantage, finding sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell for a 29-yard gain to the Boise State 14.

Two plays later, Wallace found Treadwell for a 14-yard touchdown pass, the first of four touchdowns the Rebels would score in the frame, as they went on to defeat Boise State 35-13 in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game from the Georgia Dome.

"I felt like we could move it on him the whole time," Wallace said. "I was throwing interceptions and we were jumping offsides. They never stopped us the whole night. It was us stopping ourselves every time."

The coaches and players credited a silent count for helping eliminate some of the false starts and keep the offense on schedule and ahead of the chains, which paved the way for the offensive explosion in the fourth quarter that featured 28 points and 216 yards of total offense.

"With our scheme, because we go so fast, we were going on a quick count," said co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner of the change to a silent count. "They were getting lined up and they would shift and they would yell, 'shift,' so the line hears it and they think it's the quarterback. In the second half, we went to a silent count when we weren't listening for the snap count and we cleaned up the false starts."

"We went silent snap count and that slowed their movements and their shifting, and he was able to go through his reads without it having to be third-and-long and second-and-long," Treadwell said.

For the game, Wallace completed 25-of-36 passes for 387 yards with four touchdowns and three interceptions, throwing for 239 yards with three touchdowns and no interceptions in the second half. 

On the receiving end, Ole Miss had two receivers set career highs and finish with 100-plus receiving yards. Treadwell hauled in a team-high seven catches for 105 yards and a touchdown, while junior wide receiver Cody Core, making his first career start, had four catches for 111 yards and two touchdowns.

"We got in a rhythm," said Wallace of the second half. "The short passes got me in a rhythm and not trying to do too much. The first half, I was trying to do too much. The first game, I was trying to come out and do things I shouldn't have done. We got it together in the second half and had a good one."


Three areas to watch as Ole Miss opens its 2014 season in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game against Boise State from Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

Contrast in Experience

Boise State has one of the youngest teams in the country with 67 freshmen and sophomores among the team's 105-player roster, and the youth is apparent along the offensive line compared to the deep and experienced Ole Miss defensive line.

Boise State returns just 26 starts along its offensive line, tied for the seventh-fewest in the nation. Entering 2014, Marcus Henry had started a team-high 12 games, followed by Rees Odhiambo (eight), Travis Averill (three), Steven Baggett (two) and Mario Yakoo (one).

With their two returning starters switching positions -- Henry moving from right guard to center and Odhiambo moving from right tackle to left tackle -- the Broncos are breaking in a new starter at each position along the offensive line.

Ole Miss returns 59 starts among its two-deep along the defensive line, led by Bryon Bennett with 21 starts, followed by C.J. Johnson (17), Robert Nkemdiche (10), Woodrow Hamilton (nine) and Lavon Hooks (2), not including Issac Gross (11) who may or may not play against Boise State. 

The Rebels also add FIU transfer Fadol Brown and mid-year enrollee Marquis Haynes, who have drawn rave reviews throughout fall practice.

First Live Look at Special Teams

Junior running back Jaylen Walton has served as the team's primary kick returner in each of the last two seasons. Outside of Walton, there are capable but unproven players in many key roles on special teams.

Redshirt freshman punter Will Gleeson has impressed throughout fall practice with his sky punt and coming-out punts, but he has not seen action in a game. 

Senior Andrew Fletcher, who converted both of his PAT tries in the two games he has played, and freshman Gary Wunderlich are listed as co-starters at kicker. 

Sophomore safety Anthony Alford is listed as the starting punt returner, and while he played in nine games with starts at quarterback for Southern Miss in 2012, he has not fielded a punt in game action.

Freeze has talked about the team's depth, and it will likely show on the special teams coverage and return units, but it will be the first significant action for many key players.

Freshman Impact

It might not have the star power of the 2013 signing class, but the coaches have raved about the depth of the 2014 class from top to bottom. Compared to years past, there are far fewer freshmen pressed into significant roles, with just five among the two-deep in Rod Taylor (RG), Marquis Haynes (DE), A.J. Moore (Huskie) Kendarius Webster (BCB) and C.J. Hampton (FS).

"This circus around recruiting now and the social media and everything that builds these kids up to be something so, so phenomenal -- they are good players, but when they get to the real world of this level of football, there are also a lot of good players here," head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday. "We hope that continues to where we don't have to play as many."

In addition to those five, Freeze also mentioned defensive back C.J. Moore, linebacker Demarquis Gates and perhaps wide receiver Markell Pack as freshmen who will get significant snaps in the season opener Thursday.

Look for the freshman impact on special teams, particularly early in the season.

For high school football players in Georgia, all roads lead to the Georgia Dome and the state championships. 

For a handful of Rebels, those roads lead home, as Ole Miss opens the 2014 season against Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night.

"It's huge for me," said sophomore tight end Evan Engram, a native of Powder Springs, Georgia. "Playing in the Georgia Dome, our high school career, our state playoffs are in the Georgia Dome. We never really made it to state, so actually getting there and playing in front of a big crowd at home in front of my family, coaches and friends is a big deal for me."

The Ole Miss roster includes nine players from the Atlanta area that will return there for a homecoming of sorts, including three projected starters in Engram, junior cornerback Mike Hilton from Fayetteville, and sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville.

"Any time you can go back home where people who you were raised with can come see you, it adds a little something I'm sure," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We recruit hard there, so hopefully some of those kids can come too. For our kids from that area, it means a lot to them to be able to go back home."

Nkemdiche, the headliner of the group and a first team freshman All-America selection, makes his return to the Dome, where he helped lead Grayson High School to a Class 5A state title as a junior.

"It's a great feeling getting to go back to the Georgia Dome," Nkemdiche said. "I started all four years of my high school (career) there, so it's great to go back and start one more is awesome. I want to try to finish there, too."

Engram was also a part of the Rebels' historic 2013 signing class, along with Nkemdiche, and became one of the first two true freshmen in school history, along with fellow sophomore Laremy Tunsil, to be named All-SEC. He missed part of last season with a high ankle sprain, but he's back to 100 percent and primed for a breakout season.

"Having Evan (Engram) down there and the matchups he creates with linebackers and things like that can be huge for us in the red zone this year," said senior quarterback Bo Wallace of Engram. "That's going to be huge for us if we can come away with touchdowns in the red zone."

Hilton, one of the elder statesmen of the group, will make his second trip to his home state in his college career, having played at Georgia as a freshman. He has bounced between cornerback and Huskie throughout his career, starting 16 games, but will likely play cornerback Thursday night.

"Mike Hilton is primarily at corner now," Freeze said. "Some of that would depend on what personnel we're facing. He's prepared to play both, depending on the personnel we get. You'll see him at both before the year is over."

Two freshmen are also expected to see significant action in linebacker DeMarquis Gates, a Hampton native, and cornerback Kendarius Webster, a Stockbridge native. 

Gates has impressed from the start of fall camp and will likely play a role on special teams, while Webster has been pressed into action as the primary backup at field corner with injuries in the secondary.

"He can run, he's physical, he's tough, and he's smart," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of Gates. "He didn't play last year, so I really wasn't expecting what we have been getting from him. Each and every day, including today, he has shown up, so that's a good thing for us."

"I'm really impressed (with Webster)," Hilton said. "I played him in high school, so I knew how he would play. He's really going to help us in the long run. He's still young. He's going to be a really good one for us."

Rebel Nation is known for traveling well, and the season opener is no different, especially for the family and friends of the Atlanta area players.

"I had to fight for tickets to get some people in," Engram said. "I have a lot of people buying them and a lot of people sending me 'good luck' texts, saying they'll be watching. Hopefully I see a couple of 'Go Evan' signs. It will be fun."

Relentless is the Word on Defense

ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy asked each of the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences to describe their team in one word

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze's word? Relentless.

The same can be said of the Ole Miss defense. 

And it starts up front with the defensive line, headlined by sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "If you can do that with just your front four, a four-man rush, and still have the ability to pressure in multiple ways, that's the perfect combination for us."

"This camp, we have shown so much progress in the D-line," Nkemdiche said. "We're getting after the quarterback every day. (Wommack) is so much more comfortable. He's sending us four guys and letting his guys cover."

Much is expected from Nkemdiche in his sophomore campaign after recording 34 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in his freshman All-American season. He bounced between defensive end and defensive tackle but has found a home at defensive tackle this season.

"I expect really big things from him," Kiffin said. "The world is going to be really surprised when they see him play on Thursday night. I would be shocked if he didn't take over the game, from a 3-technique standpoint and what a 3-technique can do in a game. I would be shocked if he doesn't. He's that good. We have guys in place around him to be really good on defense. This year he's really matured."

"He's definitely found his way in college football," Johnson said. "His get-off is probably second to none. He's going to acquire a lot of attention, and everybody knows that. It makes us raise our level of play because we know what they're going to give him. We're going to have to step and pick up the slack a little bit."

The defensive line looks to improve the pass rush after experiencing a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, in addition to taking pressure off the secondary. 

The defensive backfield is arguably the deepest and most experienced unit of the defense with a combined 96 starts among the five starters on the depth chart, led by the Southeastern Conference's lone returning All-American in senior safety Cody Prewitt.

"I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years," Wommack said. "I'm really pleased with the guys. We have some guys who can cover. We have some smart guys and can create different packages with those guys. This is one of better defensive teams that have been around the last couple of years."

"Having C.J. (Johnson) back takes our pass rush to a whole new level," junior defensive back Mike Hilton said. "We know if we can hold up on the back end and make the quarterback hold it the pass rush from the front four can be something special."

With the depth, experience and promise of more aggressive play-calling, the sky is the limit for the Ole Miss defense in 2014.


Like defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has been pleased with his players throughout fall camp, particularly the depth bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the addition of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"I don't think it's any secret that we have some depth there," Kiffin said. "We finally have the numbers we want at all four positions. I have been really pleased with the guys. For the most part, it's been guys I thought we could count on. Marquis Haynes is a guy who has surprised as a freshman, but he was here in the spring, so it's no surprise. Him and Fadol (Brown) have both been coming along really well."

One area he looks for marked improvement is the pass rush after a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013. Wommack said earlier this week that they would like to get back to bringing pressure (five or more players) 35-40 percent of the time after bringing pressure around 27-28 percent this past season.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," Kiffin said. "If you can do that with just your front four, a four-man rush, and still have the ability to pressure in multiple ways, that's the perfect combination for us. I think we're there right now. We obviously haven't done it in a game. There are a lot of variables that go into it. You still have to win first down and be able to get them in passing situations, get a lead, and a lot of those things come late in the game when teams are playing from behind."

In addition to depth, Kiffin also noted the position flexibility along the defensive line, as he looks to play at least eight players in the season opener. 

"This year, I challenged the guys to be able to play multiple positions," Kiffin said. "C.J. being able to do that gives us flexibility with Marquis. Bryon (Bennett) being able to do that gives us flexibility inside. John Youngblood, I can't say enough about him. He's a limited-rep guy. He knows the whole defense. He's going to get the job for us, so I can play him at multiple positions. It allows us to do a lot of things."

With the depth and experience at the position, Kiffin and the coaching staff might be afforded the luxury of redshirting the freshman trio of Victor Evans, Garrald McDowell and Breeland Speaks, who have all been practicing with the scout team this week.

"Early on, we had the split practices, and those guys got a ton of reps," Kiffin said. "All three of those guys I'm really happy with. I'm glad we signed all three of them. Victor is a really long guy, Gerrald is more of just a football player, and Breeland is a really big athlete right now. He needs to get his weight down a little but he gives us a lot of things in there. I'm very excited about those three guys' futures. With our depth, we probably won't need to use them right off the bat. That's a good problem to have."



NOTABLE

On Wednesday, head coach Hugh Freeze challenged a group of his backup wide receivers to step up alongside the top four players at the position, and from that group, freshman Markell Pack and redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe have emerged.

Pack joins sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo and junior Cody Core in the rotation at slot receiver, while Bledsoe joins sophomore Laquon Treadwell, senior Vince Sanders and Core in the rotation at outside receiver.

Sophomore Anthony Alford has continued to get reps at wildcat quarterback, in addition to backing up junior Trae Elston at Rover safety, while junior Jeremy Liggins is focusing on three packages where he will line up at tight end.

Freeze had a lot of praise for redshirt freshman Will Gleeson for sky punt stuff and his coming-out punts in Thursday's mock game, while senior Andrew Fletcher remains in the lead for field goal duties from inside 40 yards.

In the return game, junior running back Jaylen Walton, Elston and sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore are in the mix on kickoffs, while Pack and Alford are in the mix on punts.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Jeremy Liggins: "We centered in on three packages for him in week one where he doesn't have to feel like he has to learn everything. He's concentrating on those three. He's getting better and better. He still makes some missed assignments. When he does it right, he's pretty good."

Freeze on C.J. Hampton: "He will back up Cody (Prewitt). We really like the way he's working with his attitude and the way he's coming on. He made some checks to some different looks that the scout team gave, so his reps will pick up even more. We have to make sure he's ready."

Freeze on injuries: "Issac is coming on. He put a helmet on today and did some running around. Monday will be a big test for Issac to see where he is. Mentally, he understands what we're doing. That's the good thing. Collins Moore has a shot. We'll know Monday. They're going to turn him loose tomorrow. Even though it's an off-day, he's coming in and let him run around some and see how he is. He can't practice until school starts because he's not in the 105. He's getting treatment, but Pat feels like he's way ahead of schedule. We'll check him out Monday and see what he does."

Chris Kiffin on Marquis Haynes: "He's a guy right now who can do it all. He's 230 pounds and we move a lot. C.J. (Johnson) has gotten away with playing 230 here for a number of years... Marquis is going to play all downs for us, not just the third down, starting off."

Kiffin on Robert Nkemdiche: "I expect really big things from him. The world is going to be really surprised when they see him play on Thursday night. I would be shocked if he didn't take over the game, from a 3-technique standpoint and what a 3-technique can do in a game. I would be shocked if he doesn't. He's that good. We have guys in place around him to be really good on defense. This year he's really matured."

Wallace: 'It's My Offense'

The dean of Southeastern Conferences quarterbacks and the league's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns, senior Bo Wallace is as healthy and confident as ever, and he's also assumed a more vocal leadership role on the team.

"I feel like it's my team," Wallace said. "It's my offense. I have said in years past that I have to be more vocal. This year, I have done a lot better job of letting those guys know that I care about them and I want to be around them and I want those guys playing hard."

After playing through shoulder pain and fatigue for much of his first two years as the Rebels' quarterback, he has not noticed any flare-ups with his shoulder through fall camp.

"I have no pain at all," Wallace said. "Last year, I wouldn't really have pain, but I had days when I didn't feel great, but I feel really good now."

In front of Wallace, junior Fahn Cooper has earned the starting job at right tackle, while the battle for the starting job at center continues between junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers, with both players getting first-team reps in Monday's practice.

"Conyers and Still are still right there battling for the center job and I feel good with either of them about snaps and protections, so I feel like we have some guys who can play and be alright there," Wallace said.

"They are about tit-for-tat," Freeze said. "I'll let Matt (Luke) meet with those kids. They're both going to play. Both Ben and Robert have earned the right to play. Who gets the majority of the snaps will probably be sorted out after the first few games."

Do-It-All Hilton Adds Flexibility to Defense


When sophomore Tee Shepard and junior Carlos Davis went down with season-ending knee injuries, it meant a larger and perhaps less defined role for junior Mike Hilton. 

The one-time high school running back standout has started 16 games in his career, with 10 at cornerback, five at Huskie and one at free safety, including nine at cornerback this past season. 

He has bounced between cornerback and Huskie during fall camp but has now turned most of his attention to cornerback with the injuries to Shepard and Davis. 

"I had a full summer to really get my technique down and work with Coach (Jason) Jones on small things and get a better feel because I switched in the middle of the season," Hilton said. "Having this full summer has really helped me."

In Monday's practice he ran with the first-team defense at cornerback, opposite senior Senquez Golson, and second-team defense at Huskie, behind sophomore Tony Conner.

"(The coaches) make sure I'm on top of everything," Hilton said. "I watch film with the corners one day and go watch it with the Huskies to make sure I'm not making too many mistakes and make sure I can handle it."

Despite the injuries, it's one of the deepest and most experienced secondaries that defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has had in his three years at Ole Miss. With that experience, Hilton said he expects a more aggressive defense and more blitzes.

"Having C.J. (Johnson) back takes our pass rush to a whole new level," Hilton said. "We know if we can hold up on the back end and make the quarterback hold it the pass rush from the front four can be something special."

Rebels Begin Boise Prep


White jerseys with numbers representing Boise State players dotted the scout-team offense and defense, as Ole Miss has turned the page in advance of the season opener against the Broncos.

One challenge of preparation is the unknown with a first-year head coach in Bryan Harsin and two-first year coordinators in Mike Sanford on the offensive side and Marcel Yates on the defensive side. Some of the preparation is based on Boise State film, while other preparation is based on film from the coaches' other previous experiences.

"It's definitely difficult on the offensive side because the (defensive) coordinator that has been hired has not been a coordinator before, so you're not sure," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I'm sure he will take something from everywhere he has been, like all of us have done. We're not quite sure what his flavor is, so that's a bit difficult. 

"Offensively, with their head coach being an offensive guy, even though I know he's not going to coordinate it, you have an idea of what they will be like. We're going to study the places that the offensive coordinator came from also. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but it happens."

Harsin was a graduate assistant (2001) and tight ends coach (2002-05) under Dan Hawkins before assuming the role of offensive coordinator and quarterback coach (2006-10) under Chris Peterson. He was most recently the co-offensive coordinator at Texas (2011-12) and head coach at Arkansas State (2013). Sanford most recently spent three seasons as a running backs coach at Stanford (2011-13). 

"You don't know what to expect," Hilton of preparation for Boise State. "We can watch film on Arkansas State, which is where he came from, but he can still throw something new in there. We watch Boise to see how their players are and see how physical receivers and running backs are. It's a challenge, but I feel like we can handle it."

On the defensive side, Yates was a cornerbacks coach (2003-05) under Hawkins before taking over the entire secondary (2006-11) under Peterson, and then serving as a co-defensive coordinator at Texas A&M (2012-2013).

"We have an idea of what we think they're going to do," said senior quarterback Bo Wallace of preparation for Boise State. "Study some years past and a little bit of A&M stuff and try to play fast. What we don't know, hopefully our tempo can help us in that area."

Steele Picks Ole Miss to Finish 9-3, Tied for Third in SEC West

ESPN Insider Phil Steele projects Ole Miss to finish 9-3 overall and tied for third in the SEC standings with LSU (9-3) and behind first-place Alabama (12-0) and second-place Auburn (10-2). He projects Georgia (11-1) to win the SEC East and meet Alabama in the SEC title game. Here's more from Steele on Ole Miss:

The Rebels welcome back QB Bo Wallace (3,346 passing yards in 2013) and their top two rushers, I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton (1,086 yards combined). I rank Wallace and backup Ryan Buchanan is the 11th-best QB unit in the country. Even better? What they don't have: South Carolina, Georgia or Florida on the docket. Since they avoid the East's big three, I have the Rebels as clear underdogs against only the West's big two, LSU and Bama (the A&M and Auburn games rate as toss-ups in my book). Ole Miss, talent-wise, is not far behind the Tigers or the Tide and could make a run to the SEC title game. In fact, I have the Rebels as my No. 6-rated surprise team in the country.

For ESPN Insider subscribers, here's the link to the full article, "Projecting the final SEC standings"

More from ESPN: The SEC has plenty of playoff possibilities, and Ole Miss is one of four teams that could make a magical run from outside the top 10, writes Edward Aschoff

NOTABLE:

Sophomore Laquon Treadwell and senior Vince Sanders got first-team reps at outside receiver, with junior Cody Core, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshman Dayall Harris also in the rotation.

Core also got first-team reps at slot receiver, with sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo, junior Quintavius Burdette, freshmen Markell Pack and Sammie Epps also in the rotation.

Sophomore Evan Engram got a majority of first-team reps at tight end, with senior Nick Parker,  and sophomores Jeremy Liggins and Matt Brown also in the rotation.

Junior C.J. Johnson, sophomore Fadol Brown, and freshman Marquis Haynes all got first-team reps at defensive end, with sophomore Robert Nkemdiche and junior Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle. 

Sophomore John Youngblood and junior Channing Ward were second-team defensive ends, with seniors Bryon Bennett and Lavon Hooks at defensive tackle.

The five players who ran with the first-team defense in the secondary have combined to start 96 games in their career: Senior safety Cody Prewitt (28), junior safety Trae Elston (20), senior cornerback Senquez Golson (20), junior cornerback Mike Hilton (16) and sophomore Huskie Tony Conner (12).

Hilton also ran with second team at Huskie, where he was joined by sophomore Derrick Jones and freshman Kendarius Webster at cornerback and sophomore Anthony Alford and freshman C.J. Hampton at safety.

In special teams work, the first-team kickoff returners were junior running back Jaylen Walton and sophomore running back Mark Dodson. The second-team kickoff returners were sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore and junior safety Trae Elston. 

The kickoff return units also included freshman defensive back C.J. Moore on the first team and freshman linebacker DeMarquis Gates on the second team.

QUOTABLE:

Hugh Freeze on field goal kicker: "We feel like we know who's ahead at this point, but it's a bit too early to tell who's going to be the guy. Right now, I would say (Andrew) Fletcher is the guy. Fletcher would kick short-to-medium field goals. All of them, on a given day, have done their share. He's probably been the more consistent on those. If it was a longer (field goal), it would be one of the other two (Gary Wunderlich or Andy Pappanastos)."

Freeze on rotating players on defense: "Any time you can rotate two-deep, you're better off. I'm all for rotating and keeping players fresh so they can play at a high level."

Freeze on Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo at slot receiver: "As soon as one runs a route, the other one is coming in. Cody has probably had a little more consistent camp with everything that is asked of him there, but we're excited about the year Quincy could have also."

Bo Wallace on Fahn Cooper: "He's good. He's physical. He plays hard and he's one of those kids, when you get into them, he will do anything in the world for you. The big thing for me has been to get into Fahn and let him know that I can care about so he wants to protect and wants to lay it on the line."

Wallace on Cody Core: "He has that confidence. This is his third year. He knows the speed of the game. He's confident. We have him learning both inside and outside. He knows he's going to play so he has to perform every single day."

Wallace on backup quarterbacks: "They're good. DeVante (Kincade) has to stay out of negative plays, but his physical abilities are crazy. Ryan (Buchanan) is really starting to learn the offense and know where to go with the football. You can tell in practice that Ryan has done really well."

Wallace on the defensive line: "They're phenomenal. It's unlike anything I have ever seen. Robert (Nkemdiche) draws so much attention that it frees up C.J. (Johnson), Fadol (Brown) and Marquis Haynes coming off the edge. They're going to be one of the best in the SEC, no doubt."

Mike Hilton on working on his press coverage: "I think I'm able to run with everybody. I can get underneath their pads and get my hands on them because I'm short and most receivers are tall."

Hilton on Kendarius Webster: "I'm really impressed. I played him in high school, so I knew how he would play. He's really going to help us in the long run. He's still young. He's going to be a really good one for us."

Hilton on Kailo Moore: "He's who has really impressed me the most. Coming from running back, you're not used to opening up your hips and stuff like that. The thing that helps him the most is his speed. Not too many people are going to beat him deep. He will help."

Ole Miss vs Boise State Trailer

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