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Wallace Looks to Make More History

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace, like his head coach, stepped into a program that had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight games. 

Three years later, Wallace helped lead the ninth-ranked Rebels to their first nine-win regular season since 2003 and a berth in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl, one of the "New Year's Six Bowls."

"I was just trying to come in and play and compete," Wallace said. "I came here because it was probably my best chance to play. For us to kind of turn it around, it's special."

Already the school's all-time leader in total offense and the first quarterback to defeat two top-five teams since Archie Manning in 1969, Wallace has a chance to make some more history with a win over No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Dec. 31 in Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

With a win, which would be his 25th as the team's starting quarterback, Wallace would pass Eli Manning as the winningest quarterback in modern Ole Miss history, and he would also become the first Ole Miss quarterback in school history to start and win three bowl games.

"I'm really kind of looking forward to practice and all that just because I know I'm not going to get to do it much longer," Wallace said. "I'm just taking advantage of every day. We're excited about going to Atlanta, to be going to a New Year's Six bowl and have a chance to get 10 wins and elevate this program to another level." 

Wallace said he's planning to train and pursue a potential professional career after the bowl game. Asked about his legacy, when his Ole Miss career is over, Wallace said it's not for him to decide but getting that milestone win is important to him.

"I don't know," Wallace said. "I really don't care. I mean, I do care, but everybody's going to have a different opinion. It is what it is."

TCU's Boykin Draws Manziel Comparisons

The Ole Miss defense has faced the likes of Alabama's Blake Sims, Auburn's Nick Marshall and Mississippi State's Dak Prescott, and now the nation's top scoring defense prepares for another unique challenge in TCU's Trevone Boykin, who finished fourth in the Heisman Trophy voting.

The Big 12 Offensive Player of the Year and an AP second team All-American selection, Boykin leads the league and ranks third nationally in total offense (363.0).  He is also on pace to become just the third quarterback since 2009 to average over 300 yards passing (309.5) and 50 yards rushing (53.5), joining a pair of Heisman Trophy winners Robert Griffin III and Johnny Manziel. 

"You can be in the right spot and have everything covered, and there's a 20-yard gain because of the ability of Trevone Boykin," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "It makes them difficult to defend. Schematically, it isn't something you are just wowed by, but they have really good players. And then they have a dual threat quarterback that's very difficult to contain, and they do it at tempo." 

Ole Miss coaches and players alike have compared Boykin to Manziel, who led Texas A&M to wins over Ole Miss in 2012 and 2013. Senior cornerback Senquez Golson, a unanimous first team All-American selection, said this will probably be the most athletes they have played on one side of the ball this season.

"He's a very good athlete, and he improved his throwing as the season progressed," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "They take a lot of shots deep, so I can see a lot of similarities. Their passing game is very similar to Texas A&M as well. All of those guys came from the same background."

"Johnny would sit in the pocket a little bit more," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "Trevone Boykin, he likes to get out of the pocket a little bit. And they do a lot more with him in the run game than A&M did with Johnny. They use a lot of empty personnel, so the way they run the football is kind of the same, but the way they use him in the offense is a little bit different."

Boykin has completed 60.5 percent of his passes for 3,714 yards with 30 touchdowns and seven interceptions, and he's also a threat on the ground with 642 yards rushing and eight touchdowns.

"Going into this game, you have to have really good pocket awareness," Johnson said. "It all comes down to the fundamentals of football. Spread offenses, they like to get you out in space and make you tackle. We're a good tackling defense. We don't give up many yards after the catch. We don't give up many big plays. We rush the quarterback. We stop the run. It's going to be a good challenge for us with all the stuff they present on offense. If everybody stays locked in on defense and we do what we have to do, I think we'll be fine."

Johnson to Return, Golson '50-50' on Baseball

When asked about underclassmen who requested an evaluation from the NFL's College Advisory Committee, head coach Hugh Freeze said junior defensive end C.J. Johnson may have but he's confident he will return for his senior season. Johnson said the same earlier in the week.

"Not really," said Johnson, when asked if he had thought about submitting paperwork to the NFL. "I'm planning to be back."

Senior cornerback Senquez Golson, once an eight round draft pick of the Boston Red Sox, and now consensus and unanimous first team All-American, said he remains undecided on whether to play baseball for Ole Miss in the spring or focus 100 percent on preparing for the NFL Draft.

"I haven't really decided, probably going to decide more after the bowl game," Golson said. "I still don't know. It's definitely 50-50 right now."

A finalist for the Bronko Nagurski Trophy, which goes to the national defensive player of the year, Golson leads the SEC and ranks second nationally with nine interceptions and has been a key cog in the nation's top-ranked scoring defense.

"With my success this season, football is definitely more attractive now," Golson said. "Three or four months ago, I was definitely going to play baseball, but it's a different situation now. I'm not sure exactly how it will play out, but I'm still thinking about it."

Good News on Injury Front

Head coach Freeze had good news to report on the status of Tee Shepard (toe), Denzel Nkemdiche (ankle) and Laqon Treadwell (leg, ankle), who all suffered season-ending injuries earlier in the season.

"Tee (Shepard) started running this week," Freeze said. "The injured area remains tender, but started his running, so when he gets back after Christmas, we will really pick up his rehab. Denzel (Nkemdiche) and Laquon (Treadwell) are off the scooters. Laquon is on one crutch, and Denzel is in just a boot. They're much more active, so things are progressing nicely. 

"We definitely expect Tee and Denzel to be back with us in the spring. Laquon is going to be right at that time, so we expect him to be in some of spring practice."

Three and Out: Keys to Ole Miss-MSU

Three areas to watch as No. 18 Ole Miss hosts No. 4 Mississippi State in the regular season finale both teams Saturday.

Stopping State's One-Two Punch

Mississippi State boast the SEC's third-best rushing attack and two of the league's top six rushers in junior running back Josh Robinson (98.6 ypg) and junior quarterback Dak Prescott (81.0 ypg). The duo have also combined for 23 rushing touchdowns.

The SEC's leader in total offense, Prescott leads SEC quarterbacks and ranks fourth nationally among all quarterbacks in rushing yards, averaging 81.0 yards per game, and ranks second nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns.

Nicknamed "Bowling Ball" for his 5-foot-9, 215-pound stature and running style, Robinson ranks second in the SEC, averaging 6.6 yards per carry, including an SEC-best 6.8 yards per carry in league games.

In their lone blemish on the season, a 25-20 loss at No. 1 Alabama, the Bulldogs were held to 138 yards on 40 carries, a season-low 3.45 yards per carry. Forced to throw, Prescott attempted a season-high 48 passes, completing just 56.3 percent of his passes and throwing a season-high three interceptions.

"Whether he had a bad day or Alabama had a good day or maybe a little of both, that was a real big thing," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of Prescott. "They didn't let him be effective running for the most part. Every once in a while he got a play in that game. I thought they rattled him a little bit. He threw three interceptions and had a lot of pressure just with their basic stuff, what they do at Alabama."

Red Zone, Turnover Battles

Ole Miss and Mississippi State have combined for 18 wins, the most at the time of the matchup in series history, and one of the keys for both teams has been red-zone defense.

The Rebels rank third nationally, allowing opponents to score touchdowns only 38 percent of the time once they enter the red zone, while the Bulldogs rank lead the nation, allowing opponents to score touchdowns only 35 percent of the time.

This area made a clear difference in Mississippi State's wins over Auburn and Arkansas and its loss to Alabama. Mississippi State allowed a combined three touchdowns in 11 red-zone opportunities in the two wins compared to three touchdowns in five opportunities in the loss to Alabama.

Another key has been turnover margin, where Ole Miss ranks third in the SEC and Mississippi State ranks ninth, but the difference in the wins and losses is where the stat is key.

Ole Miss has a plus-11 turnover margin in their eight wins compared to a minus-3 turnover margin in their three losses, with a minus-5 turnover margin against Arkansas and the timeliness of the turnovers against LSU and Auburn proving to be a difference.

An opportunistic defense, Mississippi State was unable to force a turnover against Alabama on the way to a minus-3 turnover margin, compared to a plus-3 turnover margin in its 10 wins.

"The one thing that really stands out if you look at the three games is turnovers," said head coach Freeze, referring to the Rebels' losses to LSU, Auburn and Arkansas. "That's probably a direct correlation to us not having success. That'll be a big, big key."

Legacy on the Line for Wallace?

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace has led Ole Miss to some big wins in his career, defeating Mississippi State in 2012, LSU in 2013 and Alabama earlier this season, and Saturday's rivalry game with No. 4 Mississippi State presents another opportunity to cement his legacy.

The school's all-time leader in career total yards, Wallace has helped lead Ole Miss to national relevance, having stepped into a program that had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight Southeastern Conference games.

Wallace has had his ups and downs, notably in his two previous Egg Bowls, completing 15-of-22 passes for 294 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-24 win in Oxford two years ago and then completing 26-of-40 passes with three interception and a lost fumble in a 17-10 overtime loss in Starkville last year.

With two games remaining in his career, it's premature to label his legacy, but his performance Saturday will likely play a role in how he will remembered, for better or worse.

"You hope people focus on all the good," said Freeze, when asked about Wallace's legacy. "He's led us to three consecutive bowl games. He's been very, very relevant in returning relevancy to this program in the conference and nationally. He's now become the all-time total offense owner of that record, passing the great Eli Manning. 

"Those are some great things. I think in time people will recognize that and he'll be remembered for those things. Hopefully he can add another two to it, win another bowl to it and get the Egg home."

Wommack, Rebels Prep for Prescott

Battling injury, junior quarterback Dak Prescott came off the bench and helped rally Mississippi State to a come-from-behind 17-10 win in last year's Egg Bowl. He led a drive that ended with the game-tying field goal at 10-10 and then he ran for what proved to the game-winning touchdown in overtime.

This season, he has helped Mississippi State to a 10-1 record and a No. 4 ranking in the latest College Football Playoff poll. He leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in points responsible for, accounting for 36 total touchdowns and 216 points.

"They're a very good football team," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "Dak Prescott makes them better than very good."

The SEC's leader in total offense averaging 327.7 yards per game, Prescott ranks third in passing (246.7 ypg) and sixth in rushing (81.0 ypg). His 23 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns also lead the league.

With more experience and better health, Prescott has improved as a passer, upping his completion percentage (58.4 to 61.4) and his yards per attempt (7.3 to 8.8) from last year.

"I think the injury (last season) and the experience," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "That's the two biggest things. He got beat up in that Texas A&M game last year. You can tell he's an extremely tough kid. He fought through an ankle injury in that Arkansas game. He just keeps pushing through it. And he's throwing the ball much better. He knows where he's going with it."

"He is a major part of their program," graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "It starts with him. It starts with the way he gets his guys to play. He can throw well, and he can also run the ball. That's always a big thing when you're faced with a quarterback that has a run threat also."

Prescott also combines with junior running back Josh Robinson for a powerful one-two bunch in the Mississippi State backfield. Robinson ranks third in the SEC in rushing yards (98.6 ypgs) in rushing touchdowns (11).

"I watched our game last year and some games from last year when he was playing," said Wommack of Robinson. "He has a low center of gravity. I thought we tackled him last year, but you better gang tackle him. There is one play that comes to mind against Kentucky where he broke eight tackles, spun this way and that way. It's a mindset with him. You can tell that he's determined to make positive yardage every time he touches the ball."

Alabama has had the most success defending Prescott this season, holding him to 56.3 percent passing for 290 yards with two touchdowns and a season-worst three interceptions in a 25-20 win for the Crimson Tide. Alabama also contained him on the ground, limited him to just 82 yards on 22 carries, a 3.73 yards per carry average.

"Whether he had a bad day or Alabama had a good day or maybe a little of both, that was a real big thing," Wommack said. "They didn't let him be effective running for the most part - every once in a while he got a play in that game. I thought they rattled him a little bit. He threw three interceptions and had a lot of pressure just with their basic stuff, what they do at Alabama."

Wallace 'Ready to Go'

As head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday, senior quarterback Bo Wallace is expected to play Saturday at home against Mississippi State.

 "He's been limited some, but you would have to chain him down to keep him from going in this game," said Freeze on the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference Wednesday. "He's getting better every do, so I anticipate him being ready to go."

Three areas to watch as No. 8 Ole Miss travels to Arkansas in its final road game of the regular season Saturday.

Slowing the Hogs' Ground Attack

The extra week of preparation, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said, should prove beneficial to prepare for the scheme and personnel of Arkansas' run-heavy offense.

"They use unbalanced formations and shifts and motions," Wommack said. "They're not like an LSU where it's just pound you, but they have really good backs and a good line and they do some deception with it, too, and we have a great advantage to work on that stuff."

Looking at the numbers, it's no secret the Razorbacks' effectiveness in running the football and the Rebels' effectiveness in stopping the run will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.

Arkansas averages 302.6 yards per game and 6.38 yards per carry in its five wins compared to 163.2 yards per game and 3.29 yards per carry in its five losses. 

Ole Miss has allowed just 96.1 yards per game and 2.82 yards per carry in its eight wins compared to 256.0 yards per game and 5.07 yards per carry in its two losses.

"Just looking at what has occurred, this may not be our best matchup," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "You have to play it. You have to find a plan and get your kids in the right spot. Hopefully we learn something from seeing that (kind of offense against LSU)."

Starting O-Line Back at Full Strength

With the return of left tackle Laremy Tunsil and left guard Aaron Morris from injury, Ole Miss will have the same five starting offensive linemen that helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start.

The Rebels generated a season-high 640 total yards, including a season-high 402 rushing yards, in a 48-0 win over Presbyterian, and they look to build off the performance with their full complement of offensive linemen for Saturday.

"It was better last week against Presbyterian, but that's probably not comparing apples to apples," Freeze said. "It's hard to say. In the off week and Presbyterian week, we worked quite a bit on the inside run. It's been tough to run it on these guys for other teams."

Arkansas ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing defense (126.7 yards per game) and sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.76 yards per carry). In a 17-0 win over then-No. 20 LSU, the Razorbacks held LSU to 36 yards on 32 carries.

It starts up front with defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Darius Philon. Flowers is the active SEC leader with 41.5 career tackles for loss and is tied for third with 15.0 career sacks, while Philon leads all SEC defensive tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss this season.

"They have two of the better in the conference in 86 and 91, in Trey Flowers and Darius Philon," Freeze said. "Those guys are really special. Like I said, you look at their stats and they just held LSU, one of the best rushing teams in the conference, to 36 yards."

Passing Game Sans Treadwell

Playing without wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who suffered a season-ending leg injury against Auburn, Vince Sanders stepped up as the team's No. 1 receiver and responded with four catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-0 win over Presbyterian.

Derrick Jones, who moved back to wide receiver from cornerback, hauled in his first five career receptions for 55 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown.

"It went well," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "Obviously, we hate losing Laquon, but we always talk about next man up and wide receiver is one of our deepest positions, so the guys did step up, and Vince (Sanders) had a great game."

Saturday's game against Arkansas marks the first SEC game and the first road game for Ole Miss without Treadwell, and the Rebels will face a Razorback defense that allows just 22.2 points per game, including a shutout of then-No. 20 LSU this past Saturday.

In addition to the wide receivers, tight end Evan Engram also steps into a bigger role. Engram leads all SEC tight ends with 15.2 yards per catch and ranks third with 27 catches, 410 yards and two touchdowns.

"Evan (Engram) will be a critical, critical cog in the wheel for us, particularly with Laquon (Treadwell) going down," Freeze said. "We have to find ways to get him the football. He'll win one-on-ones, so he's been extremely valuable to us."

No. 10 Ole Miss was without several starters and regular contributors against Presbyterian, and many others were limited. 

But given an extra week of rest, head coach Hugh Freeze said he expects everyone, with the exception of the players out with season-ending injuries, to be ready to go when Ole Miss travels to Arkansas on Nov. 22.

"The plan this week was same as last week," Freeze said. "We had in our mind a two-week plan to hopefully have everyone. Those who were held out of things last week are being held out this week, but they're doing more stuff. They're running and getting lifts in. I'm going to hold them out of practice this week and be back Sunday, hopefully."

Junior running back I'Tavius Mathers and junior safety Trae Elston, who both missed the Presbyterian game while dealing with concussions, returned to practice this week. Senior linebacker Keith Lewis is going through the concussion protocol this week after suffering one against Presbyterian.

The starting left side of the offensive line, sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, were held out of the Presbyterian game and the portions of practice open to the media Tuesday and Wednesday, but they are also expected back against Arkansas.

Focus on Fundamentals

In addition to getting healthy, one of the focuses this week was working on the fundamentals, as Ole Miss focused on individual work more than in previous weeks.

On the offensive side of the ball, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said, they worked on inside run, the passing game, blocking by receivers and different things they felt like they needed to improve.

"Especially late in the season, you sort of subconsciously feel like if we don't know it by now we're not going to know it, but you need to hit it every day," Werner said. "When you get an open week and you don't have to worry about a game plan, you can work it hard.

On the defensive side of the ball, it was much the same, in addition to getting ahead on preparation for a road game at Arkansas. 

The extra week, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said, should be a big benefit because of the Razorbacks' shifts and unbalanced formations, to go along with its talented players in the backfield and along the offensive line.

"The goal is to get everybody healthy from all the nicks and everything that's happened with colds and all that stuff," Wommack said. "Cody (Prewitt) missed a day with the flu and whatever you've got with viruses and so forth. Just get them back healthy, and we want to improve fundamentally, which we have done the last couple of days. Obviously, we are also getting ahead on the game plan versus Arkansas."

Young Players in Review

The coordinators on both sides of the ball were pleased with what they saw from some of their younger players in extended action against Presbyterian.

Sophomore running back Mark Dodson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins may have played their way into more significant roles going forward this season, but they were not alone in making an impression on Werner and the offensive staff.

"Derrick Jones caught five balls and that was huge with him moving over from the defensive side," Werner said. "He's gone back and forth, but he caught some nice balls, including for a touchdown. 

"The quarterbacks graded out very well. They didn't make many mistakes. The balls were placed where they were supposed to be, and they made good decisions. I was really pleased with them. "

On the other side of the ball, Wommack has been pleased with the corner's mentality freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster has showed, noting his confidence and maturity in addition to his talent.

"He's a freshman and he still makes mistakes at times," Wommack said. "The game experience is so valuable. He's a very talented young man and he continues to get better and better. He's going to make some mistakes as a freshman, but I'm really pleased with them."

Wommack also mentioned freshman safeties C.J. Moore and C.J. Hampton as players who grew from game experience against Presbyterian. Among the freshmen who are redshirting this season, Wommack said defensive linemen Breeland Speaks and Victor Evans have stood out to the offensive coaches in practice.

"They've sat in the meetings and gone through practice and getting as many reps as the ones do, that's valuable stuff right there," said Wommack of the younger players. "I really like that class and I am excited about the future."

Games of Interest for Ole Miss This Weekend

No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 5 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS

No. 9 Auburn at No. 15 Georgia, 6:15 p.m. CT, ESPN

To win the SEC West and advance to the Southeastern Conference Championship, Ole Miss has to win on the road at Arkansas and at home against Mississippi State and get help. Alabama and Georgia have to defeat Mississippi State and Auburn, respectively, and then Auburn has to defeat Alabama on Nov. 29. 

That would create a three-way tie among Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and Ole Miss would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over each team. Both games also hold importance in the College Football Playoff rankings.

No. 8 Ohio State at No. 25 Minnesota, 11 a.m. CT, ABC

No. 4 TCU at Kansas, 2 p.m. CT, Fox Sports 1

No. 3 Florida State at Miami (FL), 7 p.m. CT, ABC

No. 6 Arizona State at Oregon State, 9:45 p.m. CT, ESPN

Other than No. 5 Alabama, which hosts No. 1 Mississippi State, the other five teams ranked ahead of No. 10 Ole Miss are all on the road this week. For Ohio State and Florida State, Minnesota and Miami (FL) likely pose their toughest challenges before their respective conference championship games.

No. 2 Oregon and No. 7 Baylor, like No. 10 Ole Miss, are off this week.

Quotable

"I'm not going to sit there and watch every play and be worried about it because at the end of the day, all we can control is our team. I'm excited to get some rest." - Senior quarterback Bo Wallace, on the open date Saturday

Not only will Saturday's matchup between No. 4 Auburn and No. 7 Ole Miss feature the first-ever meeting of top-10 team in Oxford, but it will feature half of the top four of the College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings with Auburn at No. 3 and Ole Miss at No. 4.

Auburn and Ole Miss are the top two one-loss teams in the rankings, followed by Oregon at No. 5 and Alabama at No. 6, giving the Southeastern Conference Western Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining among the four teams, starting with Saturday's matchup.

"My first reaction was that we will always be the answer to one of those AFLAC trivia questions," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We'll be answer for one of them when the duck comes across the TV screen. That was really what I thought.

"I have great respect for the selection committee, and we are honored to be in the discussions at this point, but it's way too early. It's good for our fans. It gave them a little boost and hopefully will get them to bring some more energy into the stadium Saturday. There's a lot of ball left and the only one (ranking) that really matters is on Dec. 7 when that final one comes out."

Rebels Ready for Balanced Auburn Attack

Ole Miss leads the nation in scoring defense (10.5 ppg allowed) and has given up a nation-low eight touchdowns. Ole Miss also leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally, giving up just 4.35 yards per play. 

Auburn ranks third in the SEC and 15th nationally in scoring offense (39.3 ppg) and ranks second in the SEC and 10th nationally, averaging 6.91 yards per play.

Something has to give.

For Auburn, it starts with the league's top rushing attack 281.0 ypg), led by league's second-leading rusher in running back Cameron Artis Payne (118.7 ypg) and seventh-leading rusher in quarterback Nick Marshall (83.0 ypg).

Marshall's improvement as a passer and a talented group of receivers, led by JUCO transfer D'haquille Williams (34 catches, 527 yards, five TDs), have made the Tigers more balanced this season.

"The minute you commit too many to controlling him, they have guys who make you pay and pay with explosive plays," said Freeze of Marshall. "Gus (Malzahn) has always done a great job of disguising his looks, motions and shifts. 

"He does a great job with a lot of eye candy and things that can get your eyes in bad positions and cause you to make mistakes that give them explosive plays. Our goal will remain to be steady and discipline and hopefully not give up too many explosive plays."

Optimism on Injury Front

The injury situation continues to improve, as it appears offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, safety Cody Prewitt and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will all return to action against Auburn, having practiced Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Every one them is going to give it a go," Freeze said. "With the stretch of games we have gone through without a break, it takes a toll on you both physically and mentally, some more than others. They did get some dings the other night (against LSU) that will probably keep them for being 100 percent, but they are going to give it a go for sure."

Center Ben Still was also listed day-to-day by Freeze on Monday, and his status remains uncertain, having worked individually Tuesday and Wednesday. The plan, Freeze said, is for him to practice with the team Thursday and see how he handles it.

"One day will tell us if he's ready to handle what we're going to face Saturday," Freeze said. "It will be nice to have him for sure because we had three possession the other night where it really hurt us in that game because of the injuries. It would be nice to have him thrown in there and let Robert move around and help us. We'll see how he does tomorrow."

Safety Chief Brown, who was thought to be out for the year, dressed out but did not play against LSU. With Prewitt dinged up, Brown has received significant practice reps at free safety.

"I expect to see him play some Saturday," Freeze said. "We'll see how he responds. It's a long season, but my guess would be we're going to need him before it's over."

AUDIO: Week 10 SEC football coaches teleconference (Freeze starts at 1:03:00 mark, Malzahn starts at 1:47:25 mark)

How the playoff committee to its first ranking decision, writes George Schroeder of USA TODAY Sports

Three and Out: Ole Miss-LSU

Three areas to watch as No. 3 Ole Miss travels to No. 23 LSU for an SEC West Showdown on Saturday.

Stopping The Run

Not just this year, but throughout head coach Les Miles' tenure, LSU's running game has been a key to success.

LSU, which ranks sixth in the SEC in rushing offense (220.9 ypg), was held to a season-low 89 rushing yards in a 34-29 loss to Mississippi State and 138 rushing yards in a 41-7 loss to Auburn.

The Ole Miss defense leads the SEC and ranks third nationally in yards per play allowed, giving up just 4.15 yards per play, and they have been equally dominant against the run and pass.

Stopping the run, as Ole Miss did last week against Tennessee, limiting the Volunteers to zero rushing yards on 28 attempts, would also force the game into the hands of quarterback Anthony Jennings.

The sophomore will make his seventh start of the season, the eight of his career, and has completed 64-of-128 passes for 1,048 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions this season.

"It's run, run, run, and you want to stick your nose up in there," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of preparation for LSU's offense. "We have to do a good job of that in practice, shocking them every once in a while with a pass."

Managing The Game

In addition to the dominant defense, quarterback Bo Wallace and punter Will Gleeson have been two keys actors in the different management of games this season.

Wallace attempted just 19 passes and 28 passes against Texas A&M and Tennessee, two of his three lowest totals this season, leaning on a rushing attack that eclipsed 150 yards in both games.

Asked to manage the game more this season, particularly in recent games, Wallace has not turned the ball over in SEC play, attempting 108 passes and carrying the ball 49 times over four games.

"The big thing for me is I'm not trying to mess it up," Wallace said. "I'm going in and trying to not have any turnovers. The defense is playing well. If we punt it past the 50-yard line, they're probably not going to get points. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable." 

Gleeson has been named National Punter of the Week twice this season, as he ranks third in the SEC and 11th nationally with a punting average of 45.5 yards, landing 16 of his 32 punts inside the 20. 

Behind the left leg of Gleeson, Ole Miss also ranks second in the SEC and third nationally with a net punting average of 43.3 yards.

"He's been a huge factor," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We have won field position with his punting. With the way our defense has played, the way our coverage units have played and the way he's placing his punts, it has allowed us to be very patient at times offensively."

'Saturday Night in Death Valley'

It has been said that Death Valley is where opponents' dreams come to die.

Through seven games, Ole Miss has ignored such history, instead making its own. The Rebels are 7-0 for the first time since 1962, when they went 10-0 and earned a share of the national title. 

A win over LSU would give Ole Miss its second 8-0 start in program history, but to leave Tiger Stadium with a win, they must continue to ignore history and make their own.

LSU is 45-4 in night games in Tiger Stadium under head coach Les Miles, including 45-3 in Saturday night home games. 

All three losses came to teams that were either No. 1 at the time (Florida in 2008 and Alabama in 2012) or reached No. 1 at some point during the year (Mississippi State in 2014).

"We have to play a very difficult team in a difficult environment in a difficult rivalry series," Freeze said. "Who knows what the outcome will be, but I do think they will have to beat us. I don't think it would be because our kids aren't ready."

Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play

Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Defense Preps for Powerful Ground Game

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


Still Remains Questionable for LSU

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

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

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

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


Winning Formula for Rebels is No Secret

The winning formula revealed itself as it has throughout the season: a dominant defense and a mistake-free offense. The Ole Miss defense forced four turnovers, while the Ole Miss offense did not commit a single turnover in a workmanlike 34-3 win over Tennessee on Saturday night.

In addition to four turnovers, the Rebels held the Volunteers to 191 yards of total offense, including zero rushing yards, due in large part to a season-high seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss. 

"If you look at the stats, which everyone does, you have to figure, if we can score 17 to 20, to the mid 20's, we have a chance to win a lot of games with the way they're playing," head coach Hugh Freeze said.

Stat-wise, head coach Hugh Freeze called it the best performance from the defensive line in his two-plus years at Ole Miss.

"We got consistent pressure with just the front four," Freeze said. "We blitzed very few times. And we held a team to zero rushing yards. When you make somebody one-dimensional, you have a good chance to be successful."

More than any other stat, and there are a lot of good stats on the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack points to Tennessee finishing with zero rushing yards on 28 attempts.

"That's the number one thing on your sheet when you talk to them on Sunday about what you have to do to beat the next team," Wommack said. "If you can do that, you're going to win pretty consistently. You're going to get off the field because we're good enough in pass rush and in coverage. If we get you in second- and third-and-long situations, it's difficult to score and move the ball on us."

Freshman Marquis Haynes, the reigning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, led the way up front with 2.5 sacks, giving him 4.5 sacks over the last two games and 6.5 sacks for the season.

"I have been saying it since August, he's probably going to break the sack record here," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "He's that good. He's going to be a really good player for us the rest of the season. He's been what everybody on our defense expected."

On the back end of the defense, the Rebels' extended their streak to 30 games where they forced at least one turnover. In the process, senior cornerback Senquez Golson picked off two passes, giving him seven interceptions for the season. 

"He's been in the right place at the right time," Wommack said. "He's played technique so well. It's good for our team. It depends on how they want to attack us. He's done a great job for us."

Offensively, Ole Miss was balanced, rushing for 180 yards and passing for 203 yards, exploding for 14 points in the span of four minutes late in the first half and extending the lead in the second half. 

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace was efficient, completing 13-of-28 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. More importantly, he made it four SEC games without a turnover.

"That is music to my ears," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "We obviously didn't play great. I know our stats weren't very good, but we did not turn the ball over. That's the thing I have been harping on with those guys. 

"With the way our defense is playing, if we protect the football, we have a really good chance to win games."

The Rebels are 7-0 for just the second time in school history, and it's no secret what the winning formula has been.

"We try to set the tempo for the whole football team," Johnson said. "We know our offense is capable of scoring points and they have a lot of playmakers."


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In this week's edition of Observations from the Best Seat in the House, Metz Camfield and I teamed up to give you our thoughts and opinions of the week that was in Ole Miss athletics. I was able to travel with the football team to College Station, Texas, and it was a great experience. Here's what we have looking back on the previous week:

Austin Miller - The best seat in the house Saturday was among the 110,633 at Texas A&M's Kyle Field, a football record crowd in the state of Texas, an SEC record, and the largest crowd that Ole Miss has ever played in front of. The Rebels silenced the record crowd in a wire-to-wire 35-20 win that never felt as close as the final score indicated. 

AM - Attending Midnight Yell was another big item to check off my bucket list. Seeing and experiencing other schools' traditions is one of the best parts of covering a team, and this was my first time to visit Texas A&M. I watched, more than I participated, but between the clapping, swaying, singing and yelling, it's something else. Here's a quick video.

AM - Texas A&M is in the middle of a $450 million renovation of Kyle Field. Half of the stadium was demolished and rebuilt before the 2014 season, and the other half will be demolished and rebuilt before the 2015 season, bringing an expanded seating capacity of 102,500, making it one of the five largest stadiums in college football.

AM - The press box at Kyle Field is located on the 9th level of 10, and it literally sways during the Aggie War Hymn before the game and before the fourth quarter. It makes for a surreal experience, but it's not a recommended one for those who suffer from a fear of heights.

AM - When you travel with the team, you travel first-class, from the chartered planes and buses, to the hotel accommodations. The game ended before 11:30 p.m., and we arrived back in Oxford shortly before 3:30 a.m. That's traveling in style.

Metz Camfield - Ole Miss' impressive showing in the Lone Star State started from the very beginning. After holding Texas A&M to a three-and-out on the Aggies' opening possession, Ole Miss got its offense in gear by going 69 yards on five plays to take a 7-0 lead and temporarily silence 110,633. I took this as a major sign of maturity with this team coming off a major victory over then-top ranked Alabama to come out strong on the road in a hostile environment. If the Rebels had gotten off to a slow start and allowed Texas A&M to take an early lead - no matter the margin - the entire game could have been different.

MC - It seems senior quarterback Bo Wallace is realizing he doesn't need to be the one to win games for this football team. When you have a defense as talented, as impressive and as overwhelming as the Rebels' is, the quarterback doesn't need to force the issue. Over the last two weeks, Wallace has not committed a single turnover, and while his numbers haven't been as over the top as they have in the past (to be fair, Ole Miss' past two opponents have been two top-15 teams in Alabama and Texas A&M), his performances have been quite possibly his best two of the season.

AM - Wallace may have laid the "Good Bo, Bad Bo" narrative to rest with his performance against Alabama. And against Texas A&M, he may have emerged as a serious Heisman Trophy candidate. There might be more talented players on the team, there might be players with a brighter NFL future on the team, but it's hard to argue there's a more valuable player on the team. And that's sometimes enough, especially if you're the quarterback of a national championship contender.

MC - With this defense, if the Ole Miss offense does not commit a turnover, the Rebels are as difficult a team to beat as there is in the country. Period.

AM - The Ole Miss defense allowed 455 total yards but allowed just 5.2 yards per play against a Texas A&M offense that ranked third nationally in total offense (583.2 ypg) and fifth nationally in yards per play (7.5). The Rebels allowed just 54 rushing yards on 35 carries, a 1.5 yards per carry average.

AM - The Ole Miss defense was not only stingy, but it was also opportunistic, forcing three turnovers and returning two of them for touchdowns. The Rebels have forced at least one turnover for 29 straight games, the second-longest active streak among FBS schools.

AM - You might have missed it among the other big-time players and big-time plays on defense, but sophomore Tony Conner led the Rebels with a career-high 11 tackles, his second straight game with a career high in tackles.

AM - With the first-half suspension of Trae Elston, Mike Hilton slid over from cornerback to Rover safety and Kendarius Webster made his first career start at cornerback, as they helped the Rebels pitch a first-half shutout. Hilton has now started at every position in the secondary, having started at Huskie, cornerback, free safety and now Rover safety.

"Mike is so smart," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of Hilton. "I brought him in Sunday last weekend started going through the film and he kept shaking his head. I said, 'How do you know this?' He said, 'Coach I played Huskie so I understand rover too.' He has a great football IQ and he is one of the most valuable players on our defense."

MC - To anybody getting caught up in the polls, worrying about whether Ole Miss is currently projected to be in the College Football Playoffs or what seed it'd be right now, just stop. It doesn't matter right now. First off, there are way too many weeks left in the season. Secondly, if Ole Miss continues winning, everything will take care of itself. Enjoy the ride. It'd be a shame to stress yourself out about those types of things and look back on the year kicking yourself for not enjoying it as much as you could.

AM - Ole Miss is No. 3 in both polls, picking up five first-place votes in the Coaches Poll and three first-place votes in the AP Poll. For fans who are worried about polls and playoff projections, rest assured, if the Rebels keep winning, everything will take care of itself.

"We beat the number one team in the country last week, by some polls, and then we beat a top-15 opponent in their house in front of 110,000 tonight," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I'll tell our team tomorrow, 'No one, no poll and no media gets to decide for us how we define ourselves,' and I'll tell them that again tomorrow. 

"It's good for our fans. They like that stuff. We could lose every game left on our schedule with the league we play in, so we better just focus on us. It would be great to be voted wherever they vote us. We would consider that an honor and we'll try to represent and be worthy of that voting. I'll tell our team, 'We don't give credence to it until the end of the year. That's when it really matters.'

"I do think the SEC West deserves two in the playoffs, though."

AM - As of Sunday, Oct. 12, the road to Atlanta goes through Mississippi. As the last two undefeated teams in the SEC West, two of just six remaining unbeaten FBS teams, Ole Miss and Mississippi State control their own destiny. 

AM - With that said, if you haven't already locked up your Egg Bowl tickets, you might want to get on that. Think about the seating capacity of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It might not only be the biggest Egg Bowl ever, it might be the hardest ticket for a regular season college football game ever.

AM - In case you missed it, here's the story of the Ole Miss Landsharks from ESPN's Tom Rinaldi and the latest episode of The Season: Ole Miss Football. You want to watch both, if you haven't already.

MC - Also, don't miss out on Josh McCoy's photo gallery of the football game at Texas A&M.

AM - The Ole Miss volleyball team swept arch-rival Mississippi State 3-0 Sunday to improve to 16-3 overall and 2-3 in the SEC. The Rebels also remained unbeaten at home, improving to 9-0 at the Gillom Center this season.

AM - Former Ole Miss Rebel Lance Lynn gets the start for the St. Louis Cardinals in Game 2 of the NLCS against the San Francisco Giants. In Game 2 of the NLDS against the Los Angeles Dodgers, Lynn took a no-decision, as he allowed two runs on seven hits with two walks and eight strikeouts.

In the aftermath of Saturday's historic win, the Rebels' first win over win over a top-ranked opponent and the first win over Alabama since 2003, senior quarterback Bo Wallace was at the center of it.

After throwing three second-half touchdown passes, including the game-tying and game-winning scores, the fans stormed the field and mobbed Wallace and his Ole Miss teammates. They would later raise him up and carry him for a distance, and they would go on to tear down the goal posts.

With the game on the line, he completed each of his final three passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns, as he finished the game 18-of-31 for 251 and three touchdowns. 

"It was special because I know a lot of those guys that rushed the field are doubters, and for them to lift me up, it was special," Wallace said. "And it's huge for the seniors. Those guys have been through some rough times here. And to get a win against the No. 1 team in the country, it's definitely special."

"He just played so solid," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "On that last touchdown, that ball was right where it needed to be for us. Who knows what the next week holds, but tonight, Bo led his team to defeat the No. 1 team in the country. He deserves credit for being a big part of that."

Down 14-3 at the half, Ole Miss held Alabama scoreless on its opening drive and then put together a four-play, 66-yard drive, capped by Wallace's first touchdown pass, a 14-yard one to sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to help set the stage for late-game dramatics.

"Our team has never quit, not one single time, not even when we got beat that first year bad by Texas here," Freeze said said. "They fought to the end. We're not going to quit. We're going to fight to the end. That was never really a question in my mind. 

"Whether or not we were going to stop Alabama and score points, I didn't know, but I knew our kids were going to fight. Playing for 60 minutes is a trademark of our program."


For the seniors such as Senquez Golson, it was one big step forward to the top after starting their Ole Miss careers at the bottom, playing through a forgettable 2-10 season. His transformation and emergence as a leader continued, as he sealed the win with an interception with 37 seconds remaining in the game. 

"I knew we were going to get a stop," Golson said.  "We're that good of a defense. I knew we were going to come up and make a big play. I didn't know who it was going to be, but I knew we were going to get a stop."

The interception by Golson provided the exclamation point to a dominant defensive effort, as the Rebels held the Crimson Tide to just 10 points. Alabama entered the day averaging 42.0 points per game on offense.

"They play for each and care for each other," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "They want to do good. They came from the bottom and are trying to head back to the top. 

"We have some good leadership and we have a nice mixture of seniors who have been here in the past and juniors and sophomores who are really talented play. The experience and maturity has helped them get to where they are now."

On one of the biggest weekends in school history, complete with the first-ever visit of College GameDay, it marked another moment of arrival for the program. 

"It's a great feeling," sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche said. "I have seen this team put in the work all through the week. We have worked toward this since spring practice. We have a new spirit. We believed we could do this, and that's where it started. We believed we could beat these guys, and we did."

With the schedule ahead, there are possibilities of many more moments of arrival, as well as Wallace's goal of becoming the first quarterback to lead Ole Miss to Atlanta and the SEC Championship game.

"Right now, we have to focus on winning the West," Wallace said. "If you win the West, with the opponents you're going to play, you're going to be in the conversation, and that's all you can ask for."


 

After Senquez Golson's interception to seal the win over Alabama, here's what the last 32 seconds looked like from the field, including the fans storming the field and then lifting up and carrying Bo Wallace.


Wearing the lighter blue helmets for the first time since 1994 to honor the late Chucky Mullins, the Ole Miss defense also honored his memory with perhaps the most dominant defensive performance of the Hugh Freeze Era.

"Chucky would have been proud of the helmets, the baby blues, and particularly how the defense played," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I know Chucky would have loved that. We will continue to honor him because of his character traits, his selflessness and his attitude about life and the university."

Against a Memphis offense that averaged nearly 45 points and 500 yards per game, the Rebels held the Tigers to only a field goal and 104 total yards, the fewest by an opponent since Mississippi State in 2008, as they defeated the Tigers by a score of 24-3.

"I'm extremely proud of our defense," Freeze said. "I don't know if we have had a better effort than that in our two and a half years here. They were really phenomenal. That was a team that putting up some really good numbers."

"We were dominating up front," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "The linebackers played well and the secondary was in the right position most of the night. You don't get many of those, but we did a lot of good things."

The Ole Miss defense created some big plays, an interception by junior safety Trae Elston and a sack and a sack-strip by freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes that helped lead to the Rebels' second touchdown drive, making it a two-score game in their favor at 17-7. 

The Rebels also finished with a season-high 12 tackles for loss and four sacks, as they limited the Tigers to just 1.7 yards per play.

"We were flying around, doing our job, being in the right place and making the plays we're supposed to make," junior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said. "Playing as one defense. This is probably the most emotional we have played since we have been here. That's us now. That's who we are. We have seen what we can do. We have seen how our defense is coming together."


One of the biggest question marks entering the game was the rush defense, which Ole Miss answered emphatically, holding Memphis to negative-four rushing yards on 17 carries.

"We were fitting our gaps, flying to the ball," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "We had a lot of energy and we were running to the ball and hitting as much as we could. That's what gave us so much success against the run."

Prewitt said the only thing he could remember they did wrong on defense was a 42-yard pass late in the first quarter. Despite that long gain to the Ole Miss 7-yard line, the defense responded with three straight tackles for loss and held Memphis to a field goal.

The defensive effort was especially important given that the Ole Miss offense was held to seven points through three quarters and also committed four turnovers.

"We're a team," Prewitt said. "There's going to be some games where the offense is going to win the game. There are going to be some games where the defense carries the load. That's how a team goes. It goes back and forth. I'm just really proud of the way the defense played. We never blinked."


Three and Out: Keys to Ole Miss-Memphis

Three areas to watch as No. 10 Ole Miss faces Memphis Saturday.

Battle of the Quarterbacks

Ole Miss and Memphis have both gotten steady quarterback play, as both teams rank inside the top-15 nationally in scoring offense. 

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace leads the nation in completion percentage (75.5 percent) and ranks fifth in the NCAA in pass efficiency (190.0). He also ranks eighth in the NCAA in passing offense (341.0 yards per game) and ninth in total offense (346.3 ypg). Behind the arm of Wallace, the Rebels have put up 132 points, the second-most through three games in school history (145 in 1935).

"My understanding of his career is that he's been through some ups and downs and persevered through it and plays with a true toughness out there," Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said. "He does a good job of getting the football to those guys on the perimeter, and he seems to have good control of what they're trying to accomplish offensively and thus has gotten them to where they are now."

In his second year as the starting signal caller for Memphis, sophomore Paxton Lynch has completed 68-of-103 passes for 766 yards, with five touchdowns and two interceptions, including a career-night against No. 11 UCLA, when he completed 27-of-41 passes for 305 yards and accounted for two touchdowns. 

After scoring 30+ points just once in 2013, the Tigers have scored 30+ points in each of their first three games, including a 63-point explosion against Austin Peay.

"When you look at last year's and this year's film, (Lynch) is more of a field general and feels comfortable with his checks," Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "He's more accurate with his passing. They have good backs and receivers, too. They do a nice job with their scheme and coaching it. We'll have to play well."

Stopping the Run

The Ole Miss defense has allowed just two touchdowns this season, giving up just 10.3 points per game, which leads the SEC and ranks third nationally. 

But if there's been a weakness on the defensive side of the ball for Ole Miss, it's been rush defense.

The Rebels' total defense (296.0 ypg) and pass defense (151.0 ypg) both rank second in the SEC and top 15 nationally, but their run defense ranks ninth in the SEC, giving up 145.0 yards per game on the ground.

"That was probably my fault because I was trying to get the ends up the field too much and we weren't squeezing on some of the things that we needed to squeeze on," Wommack said. "It was scheme more than it was the players. I think we got those things answered, I believe. We'll see."

Memphis will provide a test for Ole Miss in this area with a top-25 rushing attack (242.7 ypg), ahead of a five-game stretch for the Rebels including four top-20 teams, starting with No. 3 Alabama on Oct. 4.

"I've said from the beginning that I thought these guys are different and their mentality is different, that they want to do well," Wommack said. "They've worked extremely hard and they're not into letting things slip and move in the wrong direction. They're hungry to play this week. I'm proud of where we are right now, but it's important to get better each and every day you go out to practice and each and every game."

'Staying in the Moment'

Ole Miss stressed focus and attention leading up to Saturday's matchup with Memphis. 

Head coach Hugh Freeze said he hasn't really talked to the team about it being a rivalry game, but he expect both teams will be emotional because of their close proximity and connections between the two teams.

And then there's the elephant in the room: The impending Oct. 4 matchup with No. 3 Alabama and likely visit of College GameDay, should Ole Miss defeat Memphis on Saturday.

"With all the media attention and the social media that continues to talk about the future, I wake up thinking about those things and what can I do today to make sure our kids are focused on staying in the moment and preparing ourselves today for what the next step is in our journey, which is Saturday against Memphis," Freeze said. "We're doing everything that we can and you hope that the leadership of your team understands the magnitude of each game and that each game has a separate life of its own. It doesn't matter what's going to take place in future weeks. What matters is this week."

Memphis Not Fazed by Big Stage

Memphis is 2-1 heading into Saturday's matchup with wins over Austin Peay (63-0) and Middle Tennessee (36-17) and a 42-35 loss at No. 11 UCLA. The Tigers scored two early fourth-quarter touchdowns to tie the Bruins at 35-35 with 13:44 left in the game before falling short in its upset bid.

"Going to UCLA, it was a big stage," Memphis junior linebacker Wynton McManis said. "This is another big stage but now we are more prepared for it and we know how to handle it. It's just another game on the schedule that we have to handle."

"As a team, we got a lot of confidence, even though we didn't come away with a win," Memphis senior cornerback Bobby McCain said. "We feel like we can compete with anybody in the country. Having true confidence out there as a team, offensively, defensively and special teams wise is huge. Going to Ole Miss and playing in that environment, playing in the SEC is a big deal, but you have to take it as the next game."

Memphis rolled up 469 yards of total offense against UCLA, and it started with sophomore quarterback Paxton Lynch who completed 27-of-41 passes for 305 yards and accounted for two touchdowns. 

For the season, Lynch has completed 68-of-103 passes for 766 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions, while also rushing 20 times for 77 yards with three touchdowns.

"They've gone toe-to-toe with one of the nation's best at their place," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "If their quarterback keeps playing solid, their defense is good enough to keep them in every game. That's what they've done."

Opportunistic Rebel Defense


Through three games, the Ole Miss defense has been one of the nation's best.

The Rebels are allowing just 10.3 points per game, which leads the SEC and ranks third in the NCAA, and allows 4.37 yards per play, which also leads the SEC and ranks 13th in the NCAA.

Ole Miss has also forced nine turnovers, including a nation-best eight interceptions, led by senior cornerback Senquez Golson who leads the SEC and ranks top-five nationally with three interceptions.

"They force you into mistakes," Memphis head coach Justin Fuente said. "When they hit you, it's usually hard. You have to hold onto the football, and you can't let some pressure force you into poor decisions."

On the other side, Memphis is tied for fourth in the NCAA with just one sack allowed and tied for 18th in the NCAA with just three turnovers lost. 

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack noted how Memphis moves quarterback Paxton Lynch around and how quickly he gets the ball out. Going against the Ole Miss offense in practice, Wommack said, has helped in preparing for Memphis.

"It's discouraging sometimes to the D-line when you don't get the sacks, but we have had so many pressures and hurries, which have resulted in good things for us," Wommack said. "We have to explain that to the D-line because they want the sacks."

Wallace, Rebels Look to Avoid Negative Plays


The SEC's active leader in most passing categories, senior quarterback Bo Wallace leads the nation in completion percentage (75.5%) and ranks fifth in the NCAA in pass efficiency (190.0). He has thrown for 341.0 yards per game, which leads the SEC and ranks eighth in the NCAA.

Wallace and the Rebels will face a Memphis defense that mixes up its looks and has created a lot negative plays that have put teams behind the chains. The Tigers rank top-15 nationally in tackles for loss (8.67/game) and sacks (3.67/game).

"These guys are really scary," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "They bring a lot of different blitzes. They disguise it really well. The teams that we have seen have given up a lot of sacks and negative plays. That's one thing we have been fairly good on so far this year. They bring a lot of different things for the table."

Golson's Buy-In Pays Off

Senior cornerback Senquez Golson has come a long way since he was a freshman. 

That season, he was most notably on the receiving end of a highlight reel juke from Alabama running back Trent Richardson.

Three years later, as part of a defense that has allowed just two touchdowns all season, Golson is making his own highlights, intercepting two passes, including one that he returned 59 yards for a touchdown, in a 56-15 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

"This is, in my opinion, the first year that he decided he was really going to buy in," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "Not that he was bad the last couple of years, but there's no question with the way he comes to work every day and the way he allows me to coach him, he's just a different guy and he's definitely more in. 

"When somebody does that and has success on the field, it's rewarding when you see good things happen because a kid has decided to buy in."

After saying it before in past interviews, Golson believes he's finally playing the best football of his career. He already has three interceptions this season, tying his career high and giving him nine for his career.

Golson credited his maturation off the field for the change on the field.

"I was a senior this year and I wanted to go out with a tradition with the corners, the secondary and the defense," Golson said. "I wanted to try to lead them with the knowledge I have from four years and what we used to be and what we are now. I wanted to step up and be the leader that I'm supposed to be as a senior."

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack told Golson he was going to get a pick-six this week, and he proved him right.

"I knew when I saw him jump it, he was going to take it away from the guy," Wommack said. "He's pretty fast, so there was probably going to be no catching him."

Wallace Keeps It Going


Senior quarterback Bo Wallace said he couldn't remember going as deep into a game without an incompletion as he did against Louisiana-Lafayette.

He completed each of his first 14 passes on the way to his third 300-yard passing game in as many games this season, completing 23-of-28 passes for 316 yards with four touchdowns and an interception. He also tied Eli Manning for the school record with 10 career 300-yard passing games.

"He really made good decisions today," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "I was proud of him today. He keeps getting better and better, and hopefully we can keep that going."

Since the start of the second half against Boise State, Wallace has completed 80.5 percent (58-of-72) of his passes and thrown for 875 yards with eight touchdowns and one interception.

"It's what I'm expecting out of myself," Wallace said. "I'm trying to get in a rhythm as soon as I walk out. Get in a rhythm, and I have felt good the past couple of games. I'm playing how I expect myself to play. I have to continue it each week."

Explosive Plays in the Run Game

One of the areas Freeze looked for improvement was to work out ways to effectively run the football. 

Behind long touchdown runs from junior running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, Ole Miss eclipsed 200 yards rushing for the first time this season, as the Rebels rushed for 214 yards on 35 carries, a season-high 6.1 yards per carry.

"It's better, but not where we need it to be totally, and we'll keep working on it," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We have to keep working. There were some good things today."

"We got a bunch of big plays and that's only going to help us in the long run," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "We need to get more consistent three and four-yard runs. That's the big things. You want it to be 2nd-and-6, not 2nd-and-10, but the backs did a good job of popping some big ones for us."


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This is the second installment of 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. Let's get into it:

1. What a weekend. The football, volleyball and soccer teams went a combined 5-0-1 on the weekend, headlined by the 15th-ranked football team's 41-3 win over Vanderbilt at Nashville's LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans.

2. Let's start there. Head coach Hugh Freeze may have downplayed the play of his team in his postgame press conference, but Saturday's win over Vanderbilt may have been the Rebels' most complete performance in the Hugh Freeze era.

3. Since the first half against Boise State, Bo Wallace has completed 35-of-44 passes for 559 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Between the Boise State second half and Vanderbilt first half, he threw for 488 yards, which would have broken Archie Manning's single-game school record.

"He didn't make any bad decisions, or anything that was even close," said co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner of Wallace's performance against Vanderbilt.

4. A lot of it is the small sample size, but here are some more fun stats: Bo Wallace is seventh nationally averaging 10.7 yards per attempt and has accounted for a nation-best 15 passing plays of 20 yards of more. That's a big credit to Wallace getting the ball in the hands of his talented group of receivers.

"We had a good game plan, and guys were running wide open the whole night," said Wallace after the Vanderbilt game. "Guys made some plays after the catch, and we put up some yards."

5. Another note: The 41-3 win over Vanderbilt was the Rebels' largest margin of victory in an SEC game since defeating Mississippi State 45-0 in 2008.

6. On a very related note, the margin of victory (38) was also former football player Chucky Mullins' jersey number, while the total number of points (44) was also former Vanderbilt football player Brad Gaines' jersey number. The SEC Storied documentary "It's Time," centered on the the inspirational friendship between Mullins and Gaines, debuted on Thursday on the SEC Network.

7. Robert Nkemdiche called the defense's performance in the season opener against Boise State the new normal. The defense showed up again, as they allowed only a fourth-quarter field goal and 167 yards of total offense against Vanderbilt. Through two games, the Rebels have allowed just 4.19 yards per play and just eight plays of 20 yards of more.

"We stopped the run primarily and we got some pressure on the quarterback and we didn't give up explosive plays and I think that's key for us this year," head coach Hugh Freeze said after the win over Vanderbilt. "We want to make people drive to earn points and I think we did that well."

8. Speaking of Nkemdiche, the former consensus No. 1 overall recruit recorded his first sack of the season, the third of his career, against Vanderbilt. It likely won't be his last.

9. It may get lost in the team's overall performance, but Cliff Coleman may have turned in the play of the game, making his first interception and returning it 39 yards for his first career touchdown to keep the momentum in the Rebels' favor and stretch their lead to 27-0 early in the third quarter.

10. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack earlier said this freshman class was a hit across the board. Through two games, Kendarius Webster has been the one who has stood out. He had a well-timed pass breakup late in the game against Boise State and had two massive tackles to keep the shutout intact against Vanderbilt.

11. The reigning national punter of the week, Will Gleeson did not see the field, as Ole Miss did not punt in a game for the first time since 2002. Andrew Fletcher connected on each of his first two career field-goal attempts, one from 31 yards and another 25 yards, while Gary Wunderlich made his collegiate debut kicking off four times with three touchbacks and one kick out of bounds.

12. College GameDay producer Lee Fitting has said the Ole Miss looks like a strong a candidate for a visit from College GameDay on Oct. 4 if Ole Miss and Alabama are undefeated. It would be their first trip to the Grove. Home games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Memphis stand in the way for Ole Miss, while home games against Southern Miss and Florida stand in the way for Alabama.

13. With that said, don't sleep on Memphis. Under second-year head coach Justin Fuente, Memphis put a scare into No. 11 UCLA before falling short 42-35. The Tigers rolled up 469 yards of total offense, led by second-year quarterback Paxton Lynch who threw for 305 yards and accounted for two touchdowns.

14. The Ole Miss volleyball team is the last undefeated team in the SEC. With a 3-0 weekend to win the Memphis Invitational, the Rebels improved to 7-0 on the season for the first time since 2007, when they started a school-best 9-0.

15. In their first match of the weekend at Memphis, the Rebels saved a match point down 14-13 in the fifth and decisive set before scoring the next two points to clinch the match. Those are the kinds of wins where you can see the mentality change that first-year head coach Steven McRoberts has talked about since arriving in Oxford.

16. The Ole Miss soccer team had their own share of dramatics this weekend. Down 2-0, Olivia Harrison netted a pair of goals within four minutes of each other in the final 12 minutes of regulation to force extra time against Minnesota. She capped off her hat trick with the golden goal in the second overtime period.

17. Even more impressive, it was the second straight game where an Ole Miss player scored a hat trick, with Addie Forbus scoring three goals in their previous match against Louisiana-Lafayette.

18. The NFL is back, and so is the large contingent of former Rebels among its ranks. Mike Wallace caught a game-tying touchdown, as the Miami Dolphins scored 23 unanswered to rally to defeat the New England Patriots. On the defensive side of the ball, Greg Hardy, who was third in the NFL in sacks last year, recorded his first sack of the season, while Patrick Willis intercepted a pass and led his team in tackles.

19. Looking ahead, there's another big weekend on campus upcoming with volleyball's first three home matches of the season as part of the Magnolia Invitational on Thursday and Friday, football's home opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, and a home soccer match against Middle Tennessee State on Sunday.

Rebels Continue Prep for Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt played three different quarterbacks in a 37-7 season-opening loss to Temple, with sophomore Patton Robinette getting the start and graduate student Stephen Rivers earning the majority of the playing time, as he completed 12-of-25 passes for 186 yards to lead the Commodores. 

Vanderbilt was limited to 4.41 yards per play and committed seven turnovers that directly led to 27 Temple points. Robinette, Rivers and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary are all listed as co-starters entering Saturday's game

"You can't just go off that one game," Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said Tuesday. "I totally don't expect to see that offense this week. Our players are mature enough to know it's not going to be like that."

For Ole Miss, junior defensive tackle Issac Gross practiced Tuesday after missing the season opener against Boise State. While he did not know his official status, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said Gross practiced well and he fully expects him to be back for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt. 

The coaches are also excited about the return of junior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. An All-SEC second team selection last season, Nkemdiche is expected to split time at Stinger linebacker with senior Serderius Bryant. There may also be third-down and 4-3 packages with both of them on the field.

"Last year, after the knee injury and surgery after the Vanderbilt game, I don't know that he ever recovered," head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday. "He always had a little gimp in his leg, and I don't see that during fall camp. I see a kid who is hungry to play and hungry to prove himself again. 

"He has gone through everything with us, and he's ready to play. It's just a matter of getting the game plan down this week. He and Serderius (Bryant) will split time at that spot.  I'm sure we'll have a third-down package for both of them on the field. We're excited to have him back."

Sophomore Derrick Jones had been listed as the No. 3 boundary cornerback behind junior Mike Hilton and senior Cliff Coleman each of the past two weeks. It might be something, it might be nothing, but Jones worked with the wide receivers during the portions of Tuesday's practice open to the media.

"There's great competition there (at cornerback)," Freeze said Monday. "The other guys are playing really well, not that he didn't play well. We'll need him before the year is up, but the great thing about football is you get to compete. We certainly try to play the best kids out there, and we love Derrick. I expect him to play a lot of football for us before his time is over. 

"Right now the others, Senquez (Golson) and Kendarius Webster and those, are playing pretty solid. There are some things Derrick is better at than they are. They didn't really threaten us, but if we get in the red zone against big receivers you'll see Derrick. There are certain things he has to continue to improve on."

Adjustments Along the Offensive Line


In Monday's press conference, Freeze challenged the offensive line after Ole Miss rushed for just 71 yards on 34 attempts, a 2.1 yards per rush average, in a 35-13 win over Boise State.

"We didn't play physical, and that's a result of the stemming and noise that was being made," Freeze said Monday. "We jumped offsides so many times. You know what we're saying to them, and they think they better not jump offsides so they were a little tentative. We got it fixed at halftime, but it was still not physical in the second half in the run game."

It appears the offensive line has answered that challenge in the practices since the Boise State game last Thursday.

"We made the adjustments at halftime and did much better in the second half," offensive line coach Matt Luke said Tuesday. "We can play more physical and obviously play better. That's the goal. You have to go out there and go to work and get your mistakes corrected. You kind of have a sick feeling even though you won the game and you want to try get that corrected going into game two."

Luke also noted some possible changes and the challenge of developing chemistry with playing different players in different spots along the offensive line.

"It will take a little while, but everyone has to do their job and step up and handle their job," Luke said Tuesday. "That will occur. We'll look at (Robert) Conyers at center some more and Fahn (Cooper) playing more and you're going to see Rod Taylor some at guard because the heat will be a factor and it will be important to keep some guys fresh."

"We'd never really played beside each other, but at the end of the day, we trust each other and that's the most important thing," junior offensive guard Justin Bell said Tuesday. "I feel like we got things clicking. We have worked real hard on this week, feeling each other out. I expect big things out of us."


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."

Nkemdiche Headlines Retooled D-Line

The return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes have changed the face of the defensive line, but freshman All-American Robert Nkemdiche remains front and center. 

With a season of experience under his belt, it's been a different experience for the former consensus No. 1 recruit this fall.

"I know the playbook so much better," Nkemdiche said. "I'm so much more chilled out. I'm not freaking out right now. I'm not nervous. My head's on straight, and I'm ready to have a huge game.

"I had a really good camp. I was focused. I'm bringing it every day, 100 percent, no matter what. I'm ready for the season and to have a really dominant season."

Beside Nkemdiche at defensive tackle has been a rotation of senior Bryon Bennett and junior Woodrow Hamilton with junior Issac Gross out due to injury.

"You lose quickness in there," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of missing Gross. "But kudos to Bryon Bennett because I have never seen him play as well as he's playing right now, across the board. He has some size, quickness and been super in there for us. I have been really pleased with him, but it affects your depth.

"Woody's issue has been staying out there on the field. When he stays out on the field, he's a really good football player. He's extremely tough to block. He's not just an anchor. He has some quickness and he can move around. He fits our scheme really well."

With the depth and experience on the defensive side of the ball, Wommack looks to rotate more players and be more aggressive this season. 

On the defensive line, Wommack said, they would like to play 8-10 players and 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.

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

"We weren't able to do that last year because of the pass rush we didn't have and we lacked the corner play that we needed," Wommack said. "Boise is going to see some things they haven't seen in the last two years."


Haynes, Freshmen Show Out on Defense

Nkemdiche described Haynes as a physical freak. 

A former high jumper and 100-meter sprinter in high school, Haynes enrolled in January and broke into the two-deep early in the fall camp and has remained there.

"He has a knack for the football," said Nkemdiche of Haynes. "He's a freak. He gets to the football no matter what. If he has a missed assignment, he's still going to get to the ball either way. I like him. He plays 100 percent every down. That's what I like about Marquis. He's going to be really good in the future."

Wommack noted his raw talent, speed and quickness, adding that he's done a good job learning what they have asked him to do. He might not start in the season opener, Wommack said, but in certain packages, he will certainly be at one defensive end spot.

In addition to Haynes, Wommack raved about a trio of freshmen in defensive back A.J. Moore, linebacker DeMarquis Gates and cornerback Kendarius Webster. With the injuries in the secondary, Moore has stepped up as the team's third Huskie and Webster is in the mix as the team's fourth cornerback.

"Both of those freshmen hit a ceiling and then they came back down," said Wommack of Moore and Gates. "Kendarius Webster, too. They pushed forward and have gotten smarter each and every day, and they're going to play for us this year.

"This freshman class was a hit across the board. From top to bottom, it was better than last year's class, if you want to say that. I know there were some stars in that class the year before, but top to bottom, I don't think we missed on anybody. We have some really good football players. Some of them, if we're not going to use them this year, we absolutely don't want to burn them, and we will make that choice later on."


NOTABLE

In individual and team drills open to the media, the first-team offensive line featured sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), junior Ben Still (C), junior Justin Bell (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT). Sophomore Robert Conyers also got some first-team reps at right tackle when Cooper moved from right tackle to left tackle.

When the offense showed sets with two tight ends in team drills, it featured sophomore Evan Engram lined up at a traditional tight end spot and in the slot, with senior Nick Parker also at tight end on the first team. 

Sophomore Matt Brown played a role similar to Engram, with sophomore Jeremy Liggins also at tight end on the second team.

Freeze said he's looking for at least one wide receiver to emerge from a group that includes junior Quintavius Burdette, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshmen Dayall Harris and Markell Pack.

Johnson, Brown and Haynes all got first-team reps at defensive end, with Nkemdiche and Hamilton at defensive tackle.

Brown, along with sophomore John Youngblood, got second-team reps at defensive end, with Bennett and senior Lavon Hooks at defensive tackle.

Senior Andrew Fletcher, Freeze said, remains in the lead for extra point and field goal duties from 43 yards and in, with redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and freshman Gary Wunderlich in competition to handle longer field goals.

In other 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. Redshirt freshman running back Eugene Brazley and junior running back I'Tavius Mathers also worked with the kickoff returners.

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

Other notables on the kickoff return units included junior defensive end Channing Ward, redshirt freshman running back Jordan Wilkins, senior linebacker Keith Lewis and sophomore safety Anthony Alford on the first team.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Robert Conyers: "Robert is very, very valuable to us and will play three positions. He may be one of the most valuable pieces of us offensively because he can grasp all three of them and do them well."

Freeze on the center position battle having named Ben Still the starter: "They're pretty even and knowing that we're going to rotate Robert at all three on various possessions, it gives us a little more flexibility, but they're about equal. Robert probably needs to concentrate on both tackle positions between now and then and it gives the ones more reps with Ben."

Freeze on Fahn Cooper's action at left tackle: "He's athletic. It depends on who you're playing and what the matchups are. It's always about matchups. No matter who we put there, there are guys in this league, sometimes you're going to cringe when you get in too many one-on-one's, if you're not able to run the ball some. If they know you're throwing it, I don't care who we put out there. It's difficult, so you have to be balanced. That's been our whole goal since we have been here."

Freeze on Issac Gross, who missed practice with a neck injury: "Issac had the procedure yesterday to get some kind of shot that we think will help speed up the recovery and hopefully cure. We should know Monday if he will be ready to go for Boise."

Robert Nkemdiche on improvement: "Something that can make me stronger as a player is knowing the playbook a lot better. Last year, I feel like I had all the tangibles to be great, but I didn't know the scheme as well. I was out there about 50 percent. I didn't know what else to do. I was trying to go out there and make plays. This year, knowing the playbook a lot better and being more mature as a player and having an SEC season under my belt helps me because I know what to expect now."

Nkemdiche on returning to Atlanta for the season opener against Boise State: "It's a great feeling going back to the Georgia Dome. I started all four years in high school there, so let's go back and start one. We want to try to finish there too."

Dave Wommack on Mike Hilton practicing at both Huskie and cornerback: "Any time you have to double-train somebody, you lose a little something. You can't get totally focused on one thing, but he's a veteran and been here for two years and knows it better. You couldn't do it with a young guy for sure."

Wommack on the secondary: "I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years. 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."

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