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Observations from the Best Seat in the House - Aug. 31

Observations Logo.pngThis is a new concept we've created for the Ole Miss Sports Blog that we're calling Observations from the Best Seat in the House. The idea of this weekly feature will be to bring you all some of our observations from the previous week in Ole Miss sports. Some of these will be stat nuggets, some of these will be links to great work from other people, and some will simply be casual observations about a game/subject/whatever. Sometimes I'll be posting these weekly features, sometimes it will be Austin Miller, and sometimes we'll team up for it. We'll keep it professional, of course, but we're also going to have some fun with this because it is a blog after all. Let's get started:

1.) Great season-opening win by the Ole Miss football team. Was it always pretty? No. Does it matter? Not really. At the end of the day, the Rebels are 1-0, which is a fact half the teams in the country cannot say.

2.) He plays a position that doesn't always (OK, ever) get a whole lot of attention, but can we please give a shout out to Will Gleeson? The Punter from Down Under was a beast Thursday night against Boise State. Not only did he punt for distance, he also punted with precision, landing three of his four punts inside the Broncos' 20-yard line, including a 70-yarder that stopped at the 7.

3.) Here's a nice story on Gleeson from Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger from back on Aug. 10. Check it out.

4.) We had read and heard about the Ole Miss defense throughout fall camp, but when they're going against the Ole Miss offense there (obviously) aren't any big hits so as to prevent injury. Well, my guess is those defensive players had a little energy built up. There were some absolutely massive hits Thursday from a number of folks. Check out this Vine showing three of the bigger hits: https://vine.co/v/MlV2vObKAxE.

5.) In camp, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said he expected really big things from sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. The former consensus No. 1 overall recruit didn't disappoint. While his stats weren't necessarily eye-opening, if you watched the game you saw how much attention he drew from the Broncos, which thus freed up his teammates for three sacks and 10 tackles for loss. I really liked this quote from Nkemdiche after the game: "The Rebel defense really made a statement and are really getting an identity. You better get used to it. It's the new normal for us."

6.) Senquez Golson had a big-time game for the Rebels against Boise State. The senior from Pascagoula, Mississippi, made a game-high tying eight solo tackles, including one tackle for a loss and he also had a key interception in the end zone.

7.) Speaking of that interception in the end zone, the key to the game may have been the Rebels' defense bending but never breaking in the first half. Boise State had two drives stall inside the Ole Miss 5-yard line. In total, the Broncos ran seven plays inside the Ole Miss 5 and came away with just three points. If Boise State scores two touchdowns there the whole game could have been different.

8.) Stop me if you've heard this before: Cody Prewitt picked off a pass. The first team All-American picked up right where he left off a year ago when he led the Southeastern Conference with six interceptions.

9.) While there wound up being a lot of good that came from Thursday's game, there were also a couple head scratchers. Fourteen penalties is a whale of a number, first game or not, and that's surely something Coach Freeze and the rest of the Rebel coaching staff will be focusing on prior to their next game at Vanderbilt. Of the 14 penalties, half came as a result of false start calls ... in the first half.

10.) Ole Miss will also look to kick start its running game its next time out. Ole Miss finished the day with 34 rushes for just 71 yards and a touchdown. I, for one, believe the Ole Miss running back corps is a position of strength and the remainder of the year will be a different story.

11.) Here's a fun fact: With Thursday's win, Ole Miss Football is now 8-0 all-time in the month of August.

12.) Did you see Josh McCoy's photo gallery of the football game? Do yourself a favor and click here to check it out: http://www.olemisssports.com/view.gal?id=164946. He's the best photographer in the biz, folks. You can also follow him on Twitter at @OleMissPix.

13.) What a great weekend for the Ole Miss volleyball team as it kicked off the Steven McRoberts era in grand fashion by going 4-0 in Buffalo, New York, at the Buffalo Classic.

14.) The Rebels didn't drop a set throughout the entirety of the tournament. The Rebels' 4-0 start is their best start since 2007, and it's their first time opening a season without dropping a set in their first four matches since 1984. Wow. The volleyball team will play in three matches next week (Sept. 5-6) in nearby Memphis, Tennessee, before hosting two tournaments in back-to-back weekends Sept. 11-12 and Sept. 18-20.

15.) The Ole Miss soccer team also continued its strong start to the year with a 1-1 weekend that saw it bounce back from a 1-0 loss at Louisville on Friday with a 5-1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette at the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium on Sunday. Love seeing a team respond from its first loss with five goals and a victory.

16.) The soccer team is now 2-1-1 after facing four tough opponents to open the season. Come on out to support your Rebels this upcoming week for two home games against Minnesota and Memphis on Sept. 5 and Sept. 7, respectively. It's a fun environment and the team really feeds off a strong crowd.

'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."


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.


The SiriusXM College Sports Nation Camp Tour visited Ole Miss on Monday, as Chris Childers and former Auburn head coach Gene Chizik talked Ole Miss football live from the Manning Center. 

The three-hour show featured live interviews with athletics director Ross Bjork, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, senior quarterback Bo Wallace, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, senior linebacker Serderius Bryant and senior safety Cody Prewitt, as well as pre-recorded interviews with head football coach Hugh Freeze and head baseball coach Mike Bianco. 

The show will re-air on Tuesday from 3-6 p.m. CT on SiriusXM College Sports Nation, channel 91 on satellite radios, on the SiriusXM Internet Radio App and online at SiriusXM.com. Here's a sample of the show with Wallace talking about being a senior leader and Freeze talking about the start of camp.

Here are some highlights from Chizik talking with Childers, as he previewed the upcoming season for Ole Miss:

On expectations: "The recruiting classes have been off the charts. Depth, you are finally going to see play a factor. That's probably one of the things why you see them in these SEC matchups, where they can't quite close on the deal on a Texas A&M or an Auburn. Now, all their young guys are gaining experience and gaining year. They have a lot of depth, and you are going to see it make a difference this year.

On Bo Wallace and cutting down on his turnovers: "If you look at some of the premier quarterbacks in the league who really had a chance to win their division -- the AJ McCarron's of the world, the Nick Marshall's and Connor Shaw's -- you're looking at guys who turned the ball over in air four or five times, and for Connor Show, one time. He has to be able to do that. He has to manage those games in the critical times. You're going to see a better Bo Wallace. I really do.

On veterans back on defense: "You have three years in Dave Wommack's system and you have nine starters coming back, and you have some other guys who have played a lot on top of that, not among the nine. You're going to see a very aggressive defense. I have always admired how hard they play. Dave keeps it simple enough, where they can just turn those guys loose and play. They're going to have to play well early and give the offensive line, which has a lot of new guys, time to gel and get better. The defense is going to be a critical element in the first four games of the year.

In between segments, I caught up with Chizik and he shared his thoughts on this year's Ole Miss team and the state of the program:

On season opener against Boise State: "It's cool for the players. I don't know if they train any harder or practice any harder, but certainly as the game gets closer, it has a whole new meaning to a player because it's opening in a pseudo bowl game. They will be excited about it. It's a national TV game and it's going to be one of the biggest games at the beginning of the season. It can be a great opening for Hugh and the football team to play a team like Boise, which has also had a lot of success in its openers, even going back a couple of years to its game against Georgia. The fan base, the players and everyone is going to be excited.

On continuity of staff: "It's night and day if you're trying to build a program, and every two years you're replacing coordinators or you're replacing recruiting coordinators. The kids feel good when they walk back into the building every day and they hear the same voice and the same message. Everyone is beating to the same drum.

On last year's freshmen now sophomores: "So many of the freshmen last year --and they were a very highly-touted class -- came in and had to play, probably more than they needed to play or should have played, when you're talking about freshmen. Hindsight obviously being 20/20, knowing that you had to do that, it certainly makes a better case for you the next year. There were so many guys last year that really had to do it when they were thrown in the fire early. It will pay huge dividends for all those guys this year.

On question marks along the offensive line: "It's going to be huge on the defense. The defense plays a part in that. It's a team game. It's the hardest to put 11 guys on one side and 11 on the other together, but ultimately 22 guys blend together, plus special teams. The defense's job is to buy time for your offensive line to get some experience and gain some confidence, to play together and to listen to the calls. The only thing that you can do with a young line is to give them that experience, game by game, and hopefully you're winning while you're doing it.

On going from the "hunter" to the "hunted": "I don't know if anything changes. There's an awareness there from the coaches and the players that when people play us they have to strap it on and play us for 60 minutes. They can't beat us in 58 minutes. They have to prepare and they have to play the whole game. In this league, they're learning that every week you're the hunted, no matter who you are. Now, they have experienced a great amount of confidence in some of the big games they have won, like the LSU game last year. It makes them very aware that everybody is going to be gunning for them."

On taking the next step as a program: "There's not a day that goes by here that Hugh is not telling his football team that there's one goal, and that's to win the SEC West and go to Atlanta. As you look back and watch the games they have played in the SEC West, there's probably not one guy in that meeting room who thinks that's not a reality, a possibility. They have played everybody tough and beat some of them. That's certainly the goal that they talk about on a daily basis.

On what to look for in first couple of games: "You always look for special teams play. You always look for coverage units and hidden yardage with field position. A lot of people overlook those things because they're looking for touchdowns, interceptions and long runs. That's huge in early games. The other thing is turnovers. You have to protect the ball and you have to try to get the ball back to your offense. Those are the things that every coach in America is going to look for in their openers."

Here are some more highlights from the live interviews on SiriusXM College Sports Nation:

Werner, on Bo Wallace: "The big thing with Bo is that he's sort of a gambler. He'll take his shots. You have to live with it and die with it. When he throws one in there, I'm up the press box and I just go, 'Oh, no,' but then it pops for a touchdown and everybody is happy.

"He makes the exact same throw four plays later and it gets intercepted, and now not so much. That's the thing that I've talked to him about. We have to cut down on those types of plays. We're not going to hit as many big plays, but we're going to keep the chains moving."

Wommack, on C.J. Johnson: "He's one of the leaders of the defense. They all rally around him."

Wommack, on Anthony Alford: "He's one of the top two or three athletes on the team."

Wommack, on Robert Nkemdiche: "We will move him around and use him in different packages, in different places."

Johnson, on being back healthy: "When I'm on the field, it's go-time. I'm ready to go."

Johnson, on season opener against Boise State: "We have a target on our back (as an SEC school). That's another part of the motivation."

Wallace, on last year's Mississippi State game: "It was really frustrating. I felt like we had a good plan for them. I felt like we were the better team. I still feel that way. To be out there, I felt helpless. I didn't know what to do, but I'm healthy now and excited for the year."

Wallace, on leadership: "For me, every guy on the team, when they ask, who wants to win more than anybody, a lot of them are going tell you it's me. That's a huge thing. Competing for those guys, they want to see you're going to put everything on the line every time you walk out there. That's huge for a leader. I'm a quiet, lead-by-example-type guy. I need to be more vocal as a senior and with it being my offense. I'm working on being more vocal."

Bryant, on being underrated: "I love proving people wrong. I got to have a chip on my shoulder because of my size."

Bryant, on the defense: "It's crazy how we all fly around on defense. Everyone's making plays."

Bjork, on his charge as athletics director: "Our job is to build and show progression."

Prewitt, on returning all four starters in the secondary: "It means a lot to be coming back with the same four people in the back end. You can sense what the other guys are going to do and the reads they're going to make. It makes it easier to execute the game plan well."

Prewitt, on Denzel and Robert Nkemdiche: "It's really fun to watch them interacting with each other and the way they push each other. It makes all of us better."

ESPN.com unveiled their rankings of the top 100 players in college football for the 2014 season. The players are also rated on a scale of 0-10 based on their expected contributions. The SEC leads all conferences with 30 players, and Ole Miss is second in the league with four players on the list.

Robert Nkemdiche: T-35th, 7.56

Rated the nation's No. 1 overall recruit in the 2013 class, Nkemdiche started 10 games, moving around from end to tackle to even running back last fall. He will stay at tackle this year and should improve on the two sacks and eight tackles for loss he registered in 2013.

Laquon Treadwell: T-39th, 7.50

His teammates believe he's better than Amari Cooper, and they're not far off. Treadwell finished third in the SEC with 72 receptions as a freshman, and he is expected to have an even bigger role as he moves outside to replace Donte Moncrief.

Laremy Tunsil: T-66th, 6.94

A likely future first-round NFL draft pick, Tunsil will anchor Ole Miss' line at left tackle. He started nine games there last season and allowed just one sack. Tunsil was the best prospect of the Rebels' historic 2013 recruiting haul last fall, and he should be even better in 2014.

Cody Prewitt: T-86th, 6.69

From underrated to All-American, Prewitt led the SEC and tied for seventh nationally with six interceptions last season. He also defended 13 passes and had 4.5 tackles for loss. Prewitt is a ball hawk but is physical enough to play in the box and stop the run.

On a related note, Bo Wallace was among ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach's 10 players outside the top 100 who might become household names before season's end.

In a league that doesn't bring back many experienced quarterbacks, Wallace might be the most explosive player returning under center. Last season, he threw for 3,346 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 355 yards with six scores.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Wallace's arm strength dipped dramatically as the season went on, which was the result of shoulder surgery the previous offseason. Freeze said Wallace has added 15 pounds and is in better shape after going through the offseason strength and conditioning program, which he wasn't able to do before the 2013 campaign.

ESPN.com's SEC bloggers unveiled their rankings of the top 25 players in college football for the 2014 season. The criteria for each player include talent, stats and importance to his respective team. Ole Miss is tied with Alabama for the most players with four players on the list.

Cody Prewitt: 12th

After becoming the first Rebels safety in 40 years to be named a first-team All-American, Prewitt will accomplish something truly historic if he's able to go back-to-back. He clearly has the skill set to do it after leading the SEC and ranking seventh nationally with six interceptions in 2013. Prewitt possesses not only the ball skills that produced all those picks but also a hard-hitting style that makes him one of the SEC's top all-around defensive backs.

Laremy Tunsil: 15th

It's unusual for a true freshman offensive tackle to start in the SEC. And it's highly irregular for him to dominate. That is what Tunsil did for a good portion of last season, surrendering just one sack all fall while making nine starts. As if his second-team All-SEC designation in 2013 didn't make this clear, Tunsil is a special talent -- and his rise will only continue now that he has a full season under his belt. 

Robert Nkemdiche: 18th

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Nkemdiche is a tackle all the way for the Rebels, although he's certainly athletic enough to play outside in certain situations. He plans to play at 285 pounds this season after playing closer to 300 as a freshman. He's also healthy after racking up eight tackles for loss last season and eager to prove that he can be as dominant as any interior defensive lineman in this league and maybe the country. 

Laquon Treadwell: 20th

All Treadwell did as a freshman was lead Ole Miss with 72 catches and earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors from the coaches. He's added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, and at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, will be even tougher to defend with his physicality, sure hands and run-after-the-catch ability. With Donte Moncrief leaving early for the NFL, Treadwell is moving from slot receiver to the Rebels' outside receiver spot and will get plenty of chances for big plays. 

Ole Miss took its turn at the annual SEC Media Days on Thursday. Joining head coach Hugh Freeze was senior quarterback Bo Wallace, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and senior safety Cody Prewitt. Here are a few related SEC Media Days links to videos and stories:

Freeze explains common factor in SEC turnarounds, writes Chris Vannini of Coaching Search

Great expectations: Improved depth could lead to big things for Rebels, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal

Ole Miss football wants to prove it's a big ticket for Atlanta and beyond, writes Steven Godfrey of SB Nation

AUDIO: Ole Miss HC Hugh Freeze talks about getting back into football mode on SiriusXM Nation

Slighted QB Wallace ready to lead Mississippi, writes David Brandt of the Associated Press

On his shoulders: Wallace 100 percent fit and ready to lead Rebels, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal

Bo Wallace just wants one healthy season, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Bo Wallace using snub for extra motivation, writes Ross Dellenger of The Advocate

Tough talk, big dreams for Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace in senior season, writes Geoff Calkins of the Commercial Appeal

Last shot for Bo Wallace to spurn doubters, get Ole Miss to new heights, writes Zac Ellis of Sports Illustrated

AUDIO: Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace talks about the QB battles in the SEC on SiriusXM College Sports Nation

VIDEO: Bo Wallace aims to be the SEC's top QB, reports Courtney Cronin of the Clarion-Ledger

C.J. Johnson is back, can make the Ole Miss D better, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Ole Miss All-American safety Cody Prewitt still toils in obscurity, writes Gary Laney of AL.com

Denzel Nkemdiche back with Ole Miss Rebels after spring ban, writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com

Ole Miss' Laquon Treadwell in same class as Alabama's Amari Cooper, writes Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com

More from SEC Sports: 2014 SEC Media Days Wrap-Up






Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said on day one that his expectations were to make the program relevant in the Southeastern Conference Western Division.

With a full allotment of 85 scholarship players and more depth of both sides of the ball, Freeze said, Ole Miss should be just that and competitive in every single game this season.

"Obviously I can't control the health of players, injuries, turnovers, how your quarterback plays," Freeze said. "All of those factors will kind of determining the ending result of wins and losses. But there's no question in my mind we're a better football team today than we were in year one and year two and we should be very competitive."

The players also feel those expectations coming off back-to-back bowl wins in each of the last two seasons, as the Rebels enter year three of the Hugh Freeze Era.

"The basketball team has been able to do it," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "The baseball team has been able to do it. Our fans are hungry for our football team to go to Atlanta. We feel those expectations and we're working hard every day."

In addition to upperclassmen such as Wallace and senior safety Cody Prewitt, a first team All-American last season, last year's freshman class will have a huge role in defining how successful Ole Miss will be this season.

"I certainly hope that another year in the offseason program with Paul Jackson and being a college student-athlete, that the grind of what we ask them to go through is more common to them so that they are better equipped and better prepared to go through the grind of the season that we're going to ask them to go through," Freeze said.

"The guys last year, their biggest setback was the mental side of the game," Prewitt said. "They are extremely athletic. They wouldn't be here if they weren't. Last year, they made a lot of mistakes. The biggest difference I saw in the spring was a lot of those mistakes weren't there anymore. They really progressed mentally. That's what's going to make that class special and help the team."

Freeze Excited For Season Opener In Georgia Dome

Ole Miss will open the 2014 season against Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Thursday, Aug. 28. The game, which will start the 2014 college football season, will kick off at 7 p.m. CT and be televised by ESPN.

"We get to open college football," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "All eyes will be on you on that Thursday night against a very good Boise program.

"So we're excited and hopefully embrace that opportunity and the magnitude it will have on expanding our brand nationally. You certainly know that could help. Hopefully we get a chance to embrace that opportunity and make the most of it."

Another Chip On Wallace's Shoulder

Dating back to his high school days at Giles County in Pulaski, Tennessee, senior quarterback Bo Wallace has always played with a chip on his shoulder.

Add another chip on Wallace's shoulder, as the three-year starter and the SEC's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns was voted third team All-SEC by league media, behind Auburn's Nick Marshall and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott.

"I have always had a chip on my shoulder," Wallace said. "I have always felt like I could play at this level. This is a familiar position for me. In high school, people were saying, 'You can't play in college.' In junior college, people were saying, 'You can't play in the SEC.' I have been able to put up numbers. I'm familiar with this place and I enjoy it."

Backup Quarterback Battle Continues

Behind Wallace, the battle for the backup quarterback position continues between redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade. Head coach Hugh Freeze has been pleased with both options, and if the season started today, it would depend upon the situation.

"They both bring a little different skill set to us," Freeze said. "The good thing is they both have used their redshirt year, so I'm not afraid to throw them in for a series here or a series there to see exactly what they do."

"The big thing with DeVante is he has all the talent in the world," Wallace said. "He needs to not create as many negative plays. Ryan knows the offense and his arm has gotten a lot stronger this offseason. It's going to be a really good battle in the offseason."

Freeze also mentioned junior college transfer Jeremy Liggins and Southern Miss transfer Anthony Alford, who figures in the mix at safety, as wildcards who could possibly add to the quarterback position. Freeze had particular high praise for Liggins, who might end up contributing at any number of positions.

"He's done absolutely phenomenal work," Freeze said. "I couldn't be happier with Jeremy Liggins. He looks like a million bucks. He's running around. He's down to about 280 pounds. I don't know where I'm going to play him, but he's going to help us."

Prewitt Looks To Improve On All-American Junior Season

A first team All-American this past season, senior safety Cody Prewitt was one of three Rebels voted first team All-SEC by league media, along with sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.

Prewitt led the SEC and tied for seventh nationally with six interceptions. He also ranked second on the team with 71 tackles and first with 13 passes defended. Entering his senior season, he remains focused on all-around improvements and not to get complacent. 

"I missed a couple of balls I shouldn't have missed last year," Prewitt said. "I missed a couple of tackles I should have made last year. I made a couple of mental mistakes I shouldn't have made last year. It's the little things you can do to improve."

At 6-foot-2, 217 pounds, Prewitt has been labeled a physical player and a big hitter, and while he didn't shy away from that reputation, it's more about making plays and making a difference on the defensive side of the ball.

"I like to hit people," Prewitt said. "My style is to be aggressive. Whatever I can do to be aggressive. Anything I can do to start shift momentum for my team. Whether that's a big hit or an interception, if I can get my team pumped up, focussed and back into the game, that's what I want to do."

Once overshadowed, Wallace now finds himself more firmly in the spotlight after the departure of seven of the league's eight top passers. The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace is the league's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns.

"Every quarterback is going to take that as a challenge," Wallace said. "The quarterbacks are not any less talented than the ones that just left. Every quarterback will take that as a challenge to go out there, put a lot of numbers up and win games for their team."

"He's matured quite nicely in the way he leads our team and the way he goes about our business. He feels finally healthy and confident. I really think he's at a point where he certainly has every avenue right now to step in and be one of the guys in this conference."

More than a year removed from clavicle surgery in January 2013, Wallace is as healthy and confident as his head coach and teammates can remember.

Wallace credits offseason workouts with mechanics guru Tom House for helping him regain his velocity, which he said fell off toward the end of last season. He also described the workouts as one of the best decisions he's made.

"We have talked about it and watched videos together," Freeze said. "Everything is giving him confidence. We're excited. Hopefully, the arm strength that he has right now will be sustained throughout the year because of a full offseason of rehab work and strengthening and specialists."

"I have been going against Bo for years now, so I have seen him at his best, and I have seen him at his worst," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "If you ask me, he should have been first team. Everybody is going to see that as soon as the season starts. He's really progressed mentally and physically in the offseason."

Wallace's confidence carries over to team goals for the Rebels, which were picked fourth in the SEC West by the league media, as he quickly and confidently answered that he would take a trip to the SEC Championship game over eclipsing Eli Manning's school record for career passing yards.

"Why can't we be a team that comes out of the West and makes some noise," Wallace said. "We're not saying, let's go to a national championship. We're going to take it one game at a time. Why not us? Why can't we have an impact like that and win a lot of football games.

"Going to Atlanta would cement your legacy forever being the first quarterback to be able to do it. I know I'm going to put up the numbers because Coach Freeze's offense is built for a quarterback to put up number. I know I can do that. It would be priceless to take this team to Atlanta."

NFL.com CFB 24/7 has counted down the 14 college football players to watch -- and some other college football topics -- in varying categories in 2014. Below are the highlights for Ole Miss and the link to the complete 14 for '14 series.

Most versatile players: Robert Nkemdiche (7)

Particulars: 6-4, 277, sophomore 

Buzz: Did anyone else in the country see time on both the defensive line and at running back last year? Show of hands? Nkemdiche can make the claim, although he just got five totes in the backfield, for 32 yards. Short-yardage rushing aside, it's at defensive tackle where Nkemdiche is expected to dominate for the Rebels as a sophomore this fall. He played some end last year, as well, but tackle appears to be his home after making eight tackles for loss among 34 stops last year. But we won't be surprised if he gets a few more third-and-1 carries this fall.

Fastest players: Kailo Moore (5)

Another two-sport star in college, Moore mostly contributed last season on special teams as a freshman. He's off to a good start in 2014 on the track and has times comparable with TCU's Kolby Listenbee and Georgia Tech's Broderick Snoddy in the 100- and 200-meter dashes.

Toughest players: Serderius Bryant (4)

Particulars: 5-9, 215, junior

Buzz: Rebels free safety Cody Prewitt receives more acclaim for his big hits -- he almost eviscerated Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews in last season's opener -- but Bryant deserves the honor. He's a 5-9 linebacker (and the 5-9 is his listed height, with emphasis on "listed") who starts in the SEC. Bryant's nickname is "Bird," which he picked up in high school in the Orlando area for the way he flew around the field making tackles and big hits. Yes, despite his size, a guy nicknamed "Bird" really lays the wood. You have to be tough to be a 5-9 linebacker in the SEC who makes big hits.

Most physical players: Cody Prewitt (5)

Particulars: 6-2, 212, senior 

Buzz: He led the SEC in interceptions last season with six, but don't let that fool you: Prewitt is a hitter first, and a coverage ace second. He's like an extra linebacker when it comes to run support, and patrols the middle of the field with a nasty streak on passing downs. Recall star Vanderbilt receiver Jordan Matthews vomiting on national TV last year in the first game of the season after taking a brutal hit -- it was Prewitt on the giving end.

Players with best intangibles: Deterrian Shackelford (6)

Particulars: 6-1, 215, senior 

Buzz: There are few stories of perseverance in college football to match that of Shackelford, who missed two straight years of football while recovering from multiple surgeries on a devastating knee injury. He returned last year to make 44 tackles -- 7.5 for losses. While not the team's best defender, he's the Rebels' emotional leader and the only two-time winner of Ole Miss' Chucky Mullins Award for courage. Shackelford's injury plight got him a rare sixth year of eligibility granted by the NCAA, and he'll wear Mullins' No. 38 jersey this fall.

Smallest players: Jaylen Walton

Particulars: 5-8, 166, Junior

Buzz: Coach Hugh Freeze clearly likes his running backs small and quick, and that's exactly what Walton brings to the SEC in college football's most physical conference. He made seven starts in the Rebels' backfield last year, picking up 523 yards and six touchdowns. With 29 catches for 322 yards, he was also one of the SEC's most prolific receivers at the running back position. And if that wasn't enough for the two-year letterman from Memphis, he also returned 25 kickoffs for another 515 yards.

Heaviest players: Aaron Morris

Particulars: 6-5, 355, junior 

Buzz: What could have been a dominant year for Morris last season never even got started, as a torn ACL put him on the sideline in the Rebels' first game. He had been a full-time starter at guard in 2012, and even saw six starts as a freshman in 2011. Morris isn't just a big body -- he's a player -- and provides a physical presence to an offense known more for finesse than power. A healthy Morris in 2014 would be a major boost to the Ole Miss offensive front.

Top recruiters: Chris Kiffin

Remember when the Rebels seemed to come out of nowhere in 2013 and land a recruiting class ranked in the top 10 that included the best player in the country? Kiffin was the chief reason why Laremy Tunsil and Robert Nkemdiche are in Oxford, and he's been the man behind the recruiting efforts of the program that has turned heads recently. Recruiting and the last name Kiffin always seem to go together and it will be interesting to see how Chris will fare going against brother Lane head-to-head.

Biggest hitters: Cody Prewitt (3)

Particulars: 6-2, 212, senior.

Buzz: He is from Bay Springs, Miss. If you're like us, you hear "Bay Springs" and you picture a calm, peaceful place. Well, that's not the way Prewitt plays football; instead, he flies around, making big plays and huge hits. His nicely executed form tackle on Vanderbilt WR Jordan Matthews in last season's opener is a perfect example. (Warning: Do not run a Google search on that hit unless you are comfortable with watching a guy throw up on the field.) But Prewitt, who should vie for All-America honors this fall, is more than a big hitter; he had six interceptions and seven pass breakups to go along with 71 tackles last season. Still, while he is good in coverage, his best trait is his hitting ability.


Three student-athletes and the head coach of each of the 14 Southeastern Conference football programs will participate in SEC Football Media Days, July 14-17, at the Hyatt Regency Birmingham - The Wynfrey Hotel in Hoover, Ala.

Ole Miss will take its turn at SEC Media Days on Thursday, July 17. In addition to head coach Hugh Freeze, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, senior safety Cody Prewitt and senior quarterback Bo Wallace will represent Ole Miss. 

Wallace is the seventh Rebel to attend multiple SEC Media Days, joining Jeff Herrod (1986-87), Eli Manning (2002-03), Patrick Willis (2005-06), Kentrell Lockett (2010-11), Bradley Sowell (2010-11) and Donte Moncrief (2012-13).

The cover art for Ole Miss football media guide was also released. The guide has two covers, one featuring Wallace and another featuring Prewitt. Fans can start ordering guides next week at OleMissSports.com

Thumbnail image for 6bb7M.jpgThe Ole Miss official website, OleMissSports.com, and the SEC official website, SECSports.com, will have continuous coverage of SEC Football Media Days, as will ESPNU, ESPN and Watch ESPN.

More From SEC Sports: Football Media Days Attendees Released

ESPN.com's SEC bloggers wrapped up their annual position rankings, where they rank the position units and rank the top players at the various positions. Below are the highlights for Ole Miss and links to all of the unit rankings.

Quarterbacks: 3rd

Bo Wallace enters his senior season ranked second in school history in total offense (7,085 yards) and passing yards (6,340). It's always nice to have that kind of experience, and Wallace should also be healthier after playing through shoulder pain each of the last two seasons. It's a three-man race for the backup job. DeVante Kincade is an exceptional athlete, Ryan Buchanan is more of a pocket passer. Both are redshirt freshmen. Don't forget about 6-foot-3, 296-pound sophomore Jeremy Liggins, who originally signed with LSU before going to junior college. Liggins could be a beast in short-yardage situations. 

Bo Wallace: 3rd

The dean of SEC quarterbacks, Wallace seems to finally be healthy after battling shoulder issues each of the past two seasons. If he stays healthy, he could easily shoot up to the top of these rankings. He needs to cut down on his 27 interceptions over the past two seasons, but he's also accounted for 54 touchdowns during that span. 

Running backs: 10th

Wide receivers and tight ends: 5th

Offensive coordinators love it when they can stretch the field both vertically and horizontally. Laquon Treadwell, who as a true freshman trailed only Jordan Matthews for the most receptions in the SEC last season, is the type of home-run threat to keep safeties on their heels. Evan Engram, who made a positive impression as a rookie himself before succumbing to injury, gives Ole Miss a one-two punch by demanding coverage in the middle of the field because he's simply too athletic a tight end to be covered by most linebackers in the league. 

Laquon Treadwell: 2nd

Everyone had the feeling he'd be special in his first year at Ole Miss, but it came as a surprise just how ready he was to compete in the SEC. Playing slot, he was one of the best receivers in the league, finishing second only to Jordan Matthews in receptions (72). As a result, coaches voted him SEC Freshman of the Year. At 6-foot-2 and 224 pounds, he has the frame to challenge smaller defensive backs. But it's his hands and ability to create space that make him special. With Donte Moncrief now gone, he'll transition to the outside and continue to be a favorite of quarterback Bo Wallace.

Evan Engram: 3rd

Injuries clouded an otherwise eye-opening rookie campaign. He started last season on a tear with 20 catches and four touchdowns through seven games and then missed the final five games of the regular season. If he has a clean bill of health, he's the type of hybrid receiver-tight end who can flourish in Hugh Freeze's offense and complement Laquon Treadwell on the outside. 

Offensive line: 9th

Laremy Tunsil: 3rd

The Rebels' 2013 recruiting class was full of five-star prospects, but none played better than Tunsil last season. He appeared in 12 games, making nine starts at left tackle. He allowed just one sack all year. He was a second team All-SEC selection, a member of the SEC All-Freshman team, and the coaches expect him to only get better as a sophomore. 

Defensive line: 4th

As Hugh Freeze moves into his third season on the job, the hope in Oxford is that the Rebels can make some noise in the West race. They have the depth, talent and experience in the defensive line to make a move. Sophomore tackle Robert Nkemdiche is the most talented of the bunch and primed for a huge season, but there's also depth inside. If C.J. Johnson stays healthy at end, defensive line should be the Rebels' strongest position in 2014. 

Robert Nkemdiche: 3rd

The consensus No. 1 high school prospect in the country last year, Nkemdiche started the season at end and then moved inside to tackle. He finished third on the team with eight tackles for loss despite missing two games with a strained hamstring. At 6-4 and 277 pounds, Nkemdiche is big enough and explosive enough to be a dynamic playmaker no matter where he lines up. 

Issac Gross: 8th

Size isn't everything at tackle. The 250-pound Gross proved that last season. He consistently went up against bigger guards and centers on the offensive line and used his quickness to lead the Rebels with 3.5 sacks and was second on the team with nice tackles for loss. Gross started four games at nose tackle last season. 

C.J. Johnson: 8th

The 6-2, 237-pound Johnson was on his way to an All-SEC season a year ago until an ankle injury sidelined him for the season. He had four tackles for loss in his first four games and, as a sophomore in 2012, led the team with 6.5 sacks. The biggest hurdle for Johnson has been avoiding injuries. But if he stays healthy, he'll make a ton of big plays for the Rebels this season. 

Linebackers: 8th

Serderius Bryant: 6th

He might not have the prototypical size for an SEC linebacker, but the 5-9, 218-pound Bryant emerged last season as one of the league's top big-play performers on defense. He led Ole Miss with 12.5 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. His speed is what sets him apart. 

Secondary: 1st

Talent and experience. Both are worth their weight in gold, and Ole Miss has loads of each. We're probably not giving anything away when we say that both Cody Prewitt and Tony Conner will make the list of the league's top 10 safeties later today. Prewitt led the league in interceptions last season, and Conner, a former four-star recruit, has barely scratched the surface on what he can do. Trae Elston and Senquez Golson, meanwhile, are potential impact players, along with Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones. If C.J. Hampton lives up to the hype, he could be a true freshman to keep an eye on. 

Cody Prewitt: 1st

On a defense loaded with former blue-chip recruits, it was Prewitt, a three-star safety from the tiny town of Bay Springs, Mississippi, who stood out the most last season. The 6-foot-2 junior showed the complete package as he led the SEC with six interceptions and became a near unanimous first team All-America selection. Now a senior, he's the clear face of a secondary that could be the best in the conference. 

Tony Conner: 3rd

Talk about fulfilling on promise. Conner, a four-star safety prospect coming out of high school, was an immediate impact player for Ole Miss, playing in all 12 games and earning Freshman All-America honors for his 66 tackles, one interception and seven passes defended. 

Special teams: 13th

Jaylen Walton: 8th

Another guy competing for a 2014 starting running back job, the diminutive Walton was impressive as a return man last season. In addition to his 523 rushing yards as a backfield mate for Jeff Scott and I'Tavius Mathers, he contributed 25 kickoff returns for 515 yards, good for a team-best average of 20.6 ypr. 

Ole Miss had its four-game winning streak snapped with a 24-10 loss to No. 8 Missouri on Saturday night. The 24th-ranked Rebels now face a quick turnaround as they travel to face intrastate rival Mississippi State on Thursday night in Starkville.

"We're obviously disappointed that we didn't have a chance to win it at the end," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "They are a very good football team; they take you out of a lot of things. They are excellent up front on both sides, so I give them credit. We needed to play a good game, and we didn't play well enough. We had missed opportunities in the red zone.

"We have to put it past us and move forward. Everything has to be expedited with the short week, and I told our kids tonight we don't have the luxury of tomorrow being the day we put it in the trash; we have to put in the trash tonight, move forward and put it behind us."

The story of the game was red zone conversion. Missouri scored on all four trips for 24 points, while Ole Miss scored three points in its three trips that included a blocked field goal, a 30-yard field goal by Andrew Ritter and a turnover on downs.

"It's impossible to beat a top-10 team when you get in the red zone and don't score touchdown or points," Freeze said. "We had the blocked field goal, then a drop and a bad call on the reverse. If you don't score points in the red zone against that team, you aren't going to win."

The Rebels, now 7-4 with a 3-4 record in SEC play, will look to improve their bowl standing as they prepare for their regular season finale at Mississippi State. On the other sideline, the Bulldogs (5-6, 2-5) will be playing for bowl eligibility coming off Saturday's 24-17 overtime win over Arkansas.

"They are a good football team," Freeze said. "They are so good up front that they can be in any game. They will be very emotional, not only because it is the Egg Bowl, but because they're playing for extra practice and a bowl game. We better kid our kids ready. It's always important when you play that game. With their backs against the wall, they will have their team ready, so we have to get ready."

"It's difficult, but it's football," junior linebacker D.T. Shackelford said of the quick turnaround. "The amount of weight on this game will override those days we will not have. With a lot of guys from Mississippi, it shouldn't be that hard to get fired up for this game. We know what's on the line, and they know what's on the line also."


In head coach Hugh Freeze's first season at Ole Miss, the Rebels gained bowl eligibility with a 41-24 win over in-state rival Mississippi State, then rolled to a 38-17 win in the BBVA Compass Bowl against Pittsburgh.


A year later, after a consensus top-10 recruiting class, Freeze and the Rebels won a pair of road games at Vanderbilt and Texas, but Saturday's 27-24 win over No. 6 LSU marked a signature victory of a different kind. It was Ole Miss' first win over a top-10 foe since defeating then-No. 8 LSU in 2009.


But Ole Miss had been close under Freeze. 


In last year's meeting in Baton Rouge, La., the Rebels lost a 41-35 shootout to then-No. 8 LSU, and just last week, the Rebels lost a 41-38 heartbreaker to then-No. 9 Texas A&M in Oxford, but Saturday proved to be a breakthrough for the program.


"I couldn't be more proud of that and those kids to go through what they've been though, with the injuries and the outside world having their opinion of things," Freeze said. "In the back of your mind, you always wonder as a coach if you can get a team ready to do things like this when you're shorthanded and coming off an extremely disappointing loss."


"I was really emotional," said junior quarterback Bo Wallace, who passed for over 300 yards for the third straight game.  "I almost lost it. I almost cried. It felt like everything was lifted off of us. It was just an emotional time. I'm so excited for our guys and our defense, for them to play the way they did with the starters they had out."


With 3:15 left in a tied 24-24 game, Ole Miss had the ball on its own 15-yard line. As part of a 14-play, 61-yard drive that included two third-down conversions of 3rd-and-6 and a 3rd-and-9, the Rebels had driven the ball to the LSU 24. 


It was a shot at redemption for senior kicker Andrew Ritter, whose 29-yard field goal was blocked earlier in the quarter with a chance to make it a two-possession lead for Ole Miss, and he drilled the 41-yard field goal to give the Rebels a 27-24 lead with two seconds left on the clock.


"I'm happy for Andrew Ritter," Freeze said. "He asked to be redshirted his senior year last year to come back. That kick will make memories for a lifetime for him, to beat one of your biggest rivals, to recapture the Magnolia Bowl for Ole Miss. I'm glad it worked out for him."


"It felt really good," said Ritter of the kick off his foot. "You know when you hit a good ball, and you know when you hit a bad ball, and when I hit that ball, I knew I hit it good."


With injuries all over the place, the Ole Miss defense held LSU well under its 41.4 points per game average and pitched a first-half shutout, the first time the Tigers had been shutout in the first half since a 21-0 loss to Alabama in the 2012 BCS National Championship. 


"Dave (Wommack) and his staff did a great job with preparing those kids, being so shorthanded and having to shorten practices because of that," Freeze said. "I sat in on their meetings this week more than I ever had before, and the plan he had I thought was really good."


That first half also saw three interceptions, including two in the end zone, of LSU senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, who led the SEC and ranked fourth in the nation in pass efficiency and had thrown 15 touchdowns compared to two interceptions entering the game.


"They were huge," said Freeze of the interceptions. "It kept our crowd alive and in the game. It kept the lead and momentum with us, and it gave our kids on defense more confidence."


"They came at critical points in the game," said junior safety Cody Prewitt, who intercepted his team-high fourth interception Saturday. "Those were huge, huge plays. It turned the game for us. They were big plays for us instead of big plays for them. That's what you have to do. You have to make those kind of plays in critical moments in the game, and we really did that."


On the other side of the ball, led by Wallace, the Ole Miss offense eclipsed 500 yards of total offense for just the second time this season. Wallace completed 30-of-39 passes for 346 yards, and passed Archie Manning on the Ole Miss career passing yards list into seventh-place all-time.


And in the place of injured senior Jeff Scott, sophomore Jaylen Walton rushed 18 times for a career-high 105 yards and a career-high two touchdowns.


"We lined up and we ran the football against a really good defense," Freeze said. "... I have great confidence in Jaylen and (I'Tavius Mathers). I see them every day and think they're very talented. Jaylen does some things in the zone game that are pretty special. He has a little hesitation move and quick acceleration. He did really well tonight and protected the football."


In the win-loss column, Ole Miss improves to 4-3 and 2-3 in Southeastern Conference games with a home game against Idaho next week, a bye week, then a final four-game stretch of the regular season, but Freeze also looked at the bigger picture.


"There are some really good recruits in that locker room and we had some really good ones here last weekend that see we're really close, and we could use a little help because we're not where we need to be depth-wise at certain spots," Freeze said. "My mind always goes to that.


"We didn't make plays the other night to win it at the end. And tonight, we did. We made the catch on third down. We made the kick. We made the pass breakup or interception. No question, it helps us in recruiting, which will help us ultimately get where we all want to go."



The upset bid fell short, as No. 9 Texas A&M hit a 33-yard field goal as time expired to win 41-38 over Ole Miss at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night.


"Obviously we are very disappointed for our kids," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "They fought their guts out and played their hearts out against a very good football team and had their chances to win. It really boils down to we had a chance to make some play and didn't, and they did. There were a lot of things that could have happened but didn't."


The Rebels (3-3, 1-3) took a 38-31 lead with 6:05 remaining in the fourth quarter, as Bo Wallace hit Jaylen Walton on a wheel route down the Ole Miss sideline that went 50 yards for a touchdown.


Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel and the Aggies (5-1, 2-1) answered right back and tied the game at 38-38, then after its defense forced a three-and-out, Manziel orchestrated another drive, capped by the game-winning field goal.


"We were up in the game, and at that point, the game should have been over," safety Cody Prewitt said. "That's on the defense. We made too mistakes and didn't tackle well in the first half. They made plays where we didn't."



In the shootout, the Ole Miss offense had five passing touchdowns, three by Wallace and two by Barry Brunetti. They completed passes to nine different receivers, led by Laquon Treadwell, who a caught a team-high eight passes for 77 yards and his first two career touchdowns.


Wallace completed 22-of-36 passes for 301 yards, his second-straight 300-yard passing game, giving him five for his career, which is second in school history behind Eli Manning. And Brunetti, who had previously thrown just one career touchdown pass, completed 3-of-4 passes for 28 yards and his first two touchdown passes of the season. 


Then, on the other sideline, the story for Texas A&M was Manziel, who led the Southeastern Conference and ranked sixth nationally in total offense, averaging 360.6 yards per game. On Saturday, he completed 31-of-39 passes for 346 yards and rushed for 113 yards. He finished with two total touchdowns, both on the ground, including the game-tying touchdown.


"It's extremely hard to contain him," Prewitt said. "We had a great scheme lined up, and he was still able to make plays. He's a tremendous athlete. The way he extends plays really takes a toll on you. That was the biggest thing. Even though the coverage was fine, he was able to make plays where not many people could."


"He's a beast," said Brunetti of Manziel. "He's just good. He's a different type of dude. I have never played against a guy like that. We knew going into the game that A&M had a great offense. We knew we had to score, but we also knew our defense would step up, and they did. They stepped up. Manziel is a good player, and A&M has a great offense."



And the Ole Miss defense stepped up with two big second-half turnovers, which gave the Rebels a chance. Leading 21-17 late in the third quarter, Texas A&M was driving at the Ole Miss 10-yard line, then Keith Lewis intercepted a Manziel pass in the end zone. 


After a Texas A&M field goal and a game-tying Ole Miss touchdown, Serderius Bryant forced a Manziel fumble, which Trae Elston recovered. Three plays later, the Rebels took their first lead of the game on a 19-yard touchdown pass from Wallace to Treadwell.


"I thought the plan we had worked, and gave us a chance," Freeze said. "We want to formulate a plan that gives us a chance in the fourth quarter to win the football game. We had the ball and had a chance. We didn't get it done."

Ole Miss continues its six-game home stand as it welcomes No. 10 LSU next Saturday with a kickoff set for 6 p.m. The Tigers improved to 6-1 and 3-1 in SEC play on Saturday with a 17-6 win over Florida.

"It's hard to bounce back," Brunetti said. "We got to try to get these young guys to bounce back because they haven't been through this. Most of the older guys like me, we have been through it when things weren't good. We can bounce back. We have a long season and a lot to play for."



The No. 21-ranked Ole Miss defense spent nearly 40 minutes on the field and held tough for most of the game, as the Rebels fell 25-0 to No. 1 Alabama on Saturday night at Bryant-Denny Stadium.


Outside of two long touchdown runs, a 68-yarder by T.J. Yeldon and a 50-yarder by Kenyan Drake, the Ole Miss defense allowed just nine points, three first-half Cade Foster field goals.


"We're real proud of their effort," head coach Hugh Freeze said of the defense. "On the two long touchdown runs, we let a guy get free to make a play and missed a tackle. It had to be frustrating to be on that side of the ball because we couldn't' get life in us because we could not produce any points."


Senior cornerback Charles Sawyer and sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche returned from injury, while freshman Derrick Jones made his college debut after switching from wide receiver to cornerback. Another change was freshman Robert Nkemdiche who moved inside to defensive tackle for most of the game, having previously lined up primarily at defense end.


Junior linebacker Serderius Bryant, who started for the third straight game, led the team with nine tackles, and freshman Huskie Tony Conner tied a career high with seven tackles. 


The Ole Miss defense forced three first-half fumbles, none of which were recovered, and Alabama went into halftime leading 9-0.


"It's aggravating," junior safety Cody Prewitt said of the fumbles. "We had three opportunities to get a turnover at a crucial point in the game, and we weren't able to capitalize. It's aggravating whenever that happens. You can't just stay thinking about that. You have to play the next play."


Yeldon broke his 68-yard touchdown run in the third quarter to extend the Alabama lead to 16-0, then the Ole Miss defense forced a turnover on the first play of the fourth quarter to temporarily turn the momentum in the game. 


Bryant tipped an A.J. McCarron pass right into the arms of Prewitt for his third interception of the season, and the Rebels took over at the Alabama 31. 



On the ensuing drive, Ole Miss converted a 4th-and-2 on a 5-yard run by senior running back Jeff Scott, but the Rebels were then unable to convert on 4th-and-10 from the Alabama 18, and the Crimson Tide took over on downs and wrapped up the win.


"We're a lot better than we were last year," Prewitt said. "We made fewer mistakes than we did last year. We definitely still have some work to do. We haven't lost any confidence whatsoever. We know that this was the number one team in the nation, and they're number one for a reason. And we knew that we would have to play an almost perfect game, and we know we made some mistakes. 


"Our confidence is not broken. We are going to go in and fix the mistakes tomorrow, and have our heads held high going into Auburn."



Another 'Measuring Stick' For Ole Miss


Last season, two weeks removed from a 66-31 loss to Texas, Ole Miss hung tough at then-No. 1 Alabama, briefly leading early in the second quarter, but the Rebels fell to the Crimson Tide 33-14 at Bryant-Denny Stadium. 


A year later, as it prepares for No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa on Saturday night, No. 21 Ole Miss is 3-0 for the first time since 1989 and rides a five-game winning streak, which includes come-from-behind road wins against Vanderbilt and Texas already this year.


"Last year, we didn't know what to expect," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "This year, we're confident and we feel like we can play with anybody. 


"I was frustrated last year just because we were so close, and people were saying we were so close. I was ready to start winning those games. Now, we're starting to do that and win those close games, down at halftime and being able to come back into games. We have a pretty mature team, and hopefully we can go out, not make mistakes and win a football game."


A win against Alabama, Wallace said, would take them to that next level and put them in a chance to play for something big this year. For head coach Hugh Freeze, the motivation is clear, and it's one similar to the one entering the Texas game two weeks ago.


"What should motivate us, and I think will, is an opportunity to go stand in front of the measuring stick right now and prove that you deserve to be there. That's what we'll focus on. If it does go our way, it would certainly be a huge boost to our program and move us a few steps forward quicker than anybody thought, including myself."


Stopping The Run


Looking back on last year, defensively, Freeze said they were one of the few teams that felt like they stopped the run against Alabama, holding the Crimson Tide to 125 yards on 34 attempts, well below their 227.5 yards per game, which ranked 16th in the nation.


"They're going to play two or three tight ends, Freeze said. "They force you in committing so many to the box, so they can stop the run. They want to take a shot over your head. They've got quality receivers that can do that. Of course A.J. (McCarron) has proven what he is to that offense. He's a winner and he's proven that through the course of time. They just put you in a position where you're going to have to win one-on-ones. 


"That what this game ends up being about most of the time: How many one-on-ones did you win? Our kids are going to have to win some of those. We're not going to stop them the whole night. Hopefully we can score enough points and stop them enough that we have a shot in the fourth quarter. Our kids will play the entire 60 minutes and see what happens."


Through three games, junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said, running the football remains an emphasis for the Alabama offense, which ranks 85th in the nation in total offense, averaging 370.7 ypg, and 91st in rushing offense, averaging 132.0 ypg. Sophomore T.J. Yeldon, who has 273 rushing yards on 49 attempts, averaging 5.6 yards per carry, leads the rushing attack for the Crimson Tide.


"I haven't seen much of a difference," Johnson said of Alabama's offense. They still want to try to run the football, so they can dictate the tempo. I think they're throwing the ball a lot, just because they have great back and some pretty good receivers that can make you pay. You have to pick your poison against them."

 

Talking Tempo, Matching Up With Alabama's Defense


Much like the fast-paced, up-tempo offenses, which, right now, are cutting edge, Alabama head coach Nick Saban has done the same thing defensively, Freeze said, adding new wrinkles every game, switching between a 3-4 and 4-2-5 formation and giving you every look you can imagine.


"It's very multiple," Freeze said of Alabama's defense. "They're very physical up front. You have a difficult time consistently having drives on them. That's the thing that stands out game after game, even the game against Texas A&M. You don't put on the film and see a consistent drive without having a big play or a phenomenal one-on-one play.


"Physically they're very good and they're not going to make the mistake that allows you to have many explosive plays. That's been the staple of their defense. They're going to stay in the right position. Very rarely  do you see explosive plays. We've got to find a way to create those, or find a way to stay in and convert on third and shorts to stay on the field."


Last year, in a 33-14 loss in Tuscaloosa, Ole Miss managed two sustained drives, one of 13 plays for 75 yards, another of 16 plays for 70 yards, but two is not enough to win against that type of team, Freeze said.


Through three games, Alabama ranks 56th in the nation in total defense and 83rd in pass defense, having allowed 373.0 total ypg through three games, including 250.3 ypg through the air. But both statistics are due in large part to Texas A&M sophomore quarterback Johnny Manziel's historic day against the Crimson Tide. He threw for 464 yards and ran for another 98 yards, as the Aggies with 628 yards of total offense in a 49-42 loss in College Station.


Manziel is a difference-maker, yes, but there are similarities between the Texas A&M and Ole Miss offenses. Part of that is tempo, where Ole Miss and Texas A&M rank second and third, respectively, in the SEC behind Missouri. The Rebels average 79.3 plays of offense per game, which ranks 20th in the nation, while the Aggies average 76.75 plays per game, 28th in the nation. 


Last year, opponents ran an average of 59.8 plays of offense against Alabama, and this year, opponents have ran an average of 58.7 plays. In last year's 33-14 loss to Alabama, Ole Miss ran 68 plays of offense, while Texas A&M ran 77 plays last year and 71 plays this year against the Crimson Tide.


"We're going to go our tempo in any game we play," Freeze said. "We have it ready. I would love to say that we're going to do it a lot, but you have got to win first down to do that. They were able to win first down a lot. Even though we're similar schematically, us and A&M, at a lot of things, you don't treat us the same if you're defending us because of who is taking the snap for them."


"We can put points on them," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We can put points on anybody. We have to show up and play. It's the same thing every week. That's stay on schedule, control the tempo and don't have any turnovers. We're winning first downs on most drives. Even if we don't win first downs, we have been pretty good on second downs. As long as we're staying schedule with third and short, and third and medium, we're having good drives."


Wallace also showed a lot of confidence in his group of receivers, which will be bolstered this week with the return of junior Vince Sanders, who suffered a broken collarbone during fall practice. Last season, he played in every game with 12 starts and finished with 39 receptions for 504 yards and two touchdowns, including a career-high seven receptions for 46 yards against Alabama.


"He went through a full practice yesterday," Freeze said of Sanders. "We'll incorporate him in just like we would anybody. He will be ready to go. You will probably see him, Laquon, Ja-Mes and Donte all out there at the same time some. We'll rotate them and keep them fresh. We love having him back. He gives us another threat for sure.


"It's exciting, and glad to have him back," Wallace said. "It seems like he's been gone forever. He was catching balls yesterday and looked good running routes. I'm excited to have him back."






When asked about his confidence in regard to different positions, head coach Hugh Freeze said the area that concerns him the most is the secondary.

Both cornerback positions were listed with co-starters -- junior Senquez Golson and sophomore Quintavius Burdette at Field corner, and seniors Dehendret Collins and Charles Sawyer at Boundary corner. With both Golson (hamstring) and Sawyer (shoulder) returning from injury, cornerbacks coach Jason Jones feels confident about those four players at the position.

"Starting out at fall camp, we didn't have a lot of depth at the position, but we got some guys back the last couple of weeks, and those guys are now practicing and executing the game plan," Jones said.

"I have four guys that are experienced and mature and can help us. I want to keep all of them fresh. It's supposed to hot on Thursday night. And at times, Vanderbilt can tempo you. The more depth you have, the more guys you can play, and so the fresher they will be."

Burdette, who ran with the first-team defense for most of fall camp, earned the start at Field corner, Freeze said Monday.

"It makes me feel great," Burdette said of getting the start. "It makes me feel like I have to go out there and prove myself even more now." 

"He improved his game a lot," Sawyer said of Burdette. "He's making plays on the ball. He's getting the calls. He's understanding the defense. He's just making plays."

A converted safety, Burdette said he feels more comfortable with the defense. He also said he has learned a lot from facing junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief every day in practice, whether it was he or Moncrief making a play.

"After a play, we would go back and talk about it and see what he was thinking during the play, or if I wasn't doing something right, he would tell me," he said. "It taught me to be more patient as a defensive back, and how to make plays against a wide receiver of his size and quality."

On the injury front, Freeze and staff are confident about the status of senior cornerback Charles Sawyer (shoulder) and junior Senquez Golson (hamstring). Sawyer is prepared to play both cornerback positions, Freeze said, while Golson will come in at Field corner, and then they will see how the game goes.

"Charles, he's been going now for at least a couple of weeks," Jones said. "We may practice non-contact to try and take care of each. He's out there laying out for balls and banging around with Donte and things like that. I'm not concerned about him at all. 

"Senquez, even though he was injured, he was still getting conditioning in with Coach Jackson on the side. His conditioning shouldn't be a big problem. Both of those guys should be good to go for Thursday."

At the safety position, sophomores Trae Elston and Chief Brown were listed as co-starters at Rover safety, with junior Cody Prewitt at free safety. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said he thinks of all three as starters who will all play about the same number of snaps.

"It's a battle between all three of them," Wommack said. "I have called them all starters to them in person. Chief has the ability to play both sides. Hopefully, between the three of them, we can keep them fresher than they were last year."

Crowded Backfield

Ole Miss has six players vying for playing time at the running back, including three freshmen in Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins. Running backs coach Derrick Nix feels great about the overall depth of the position.

"We feel like we have choices at the position, which is always good," Nix said. "If something happens to Jeff (Scott), we have guys who are capable of going in and bringing some of the same skill set that he brings to the table. But most importantly, we have guys with more experience than last year.

Nix said they haven't finalized it all the way which running backs will travel to Nashville, and that guys are still competing every day.

What is probably set in stone, Nix said, is Scott, the team's leading rusher last season, then sophomore running back Jaylen Walton. After that, he said, there is a question mark about what they are going to do.

Sophomore I'Tavius Mathers, who was listed as co-backup with Walton behind Scott, has returned to practice since suffering an ankle sprain, but his status for Thursday remains uncertain.

"He did well in practice yesterday," Nix said. "We're going to evaluate him more today to see what he looks like. As the week goes on, we'll see how he progresses and then determine if he will play or not on Thursday."

That question mark also includes potential redshirts, which Freeze said they're considering for sure, adding that there's no way they can say at a position like running back exactly what will happen, such as injuries.

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