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The Week That Was: Ole Miss Football

Ole Miss continues its preparations for the the 2014 season with the second full week of fall camp starting Monday. Here's a look back at the first full week of fall camp with some observations and takeaways, as well as some linked stories of interest for Ole Miss fans. We will look to do something similar each week on the blog throughout football season.

1. Southeastern Conference coaches talked anonymously about conference foes for the 2014 season, and they had a lot of praise for Ole Miss

"They are probably the second-best team in the West, maybe better," said one anonymous SEC coach.

2. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks compiled a list of the top 25 college football teams with the most NFL talent, and headlined by the sophomore trio of Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss came in at No. 13.

"With the Rebels poised to dominate the NFL draft the next few years, it's time to view Ole Miss as a viable contender in the SEC West," wrote Brooks of Ole Miss.

3. ESPN.com's Travis Haney compiled a list of the top 50 breakout players for the 2014 season, and Nkemdiche came in at No. 10, and if the first week of fall camp is any indication, he's primed for a breakout season. 

"In our gap schemes we can't back block because of him, and that causes us to have to change some things," said Freeze of Nkemdiche. "When you're installing you want to be able to just run your stuff and teach it, but it looks so bad you get frustrated. He's a handful."

4. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack called Anthony Alford one of the best two or three athletes on the team. He's pushing junior Trae Elston at Rover safety, he's in the mix as a punt returner, and he's taking snaps as a Wildcat quarterback. He looks the part and he's going to play a significant role this season.

"I love him in a lot of ways," said Freeze of Alford. "He took some snaps (at quarterback) yesterday too. He looked explosive. He looked good at punt return this morning. Defensively, he's getting better and better."

5. With the injury to sophomore Tee Shepard - who had an MRI on Saturday and we will learn more from Freeze on Monday - it will be interesting to see where senior Cliff Coleman and junior Mike Hilton gets reps. Both versatile defensive backs can play cornerback, Huskie and free safety.

6. On a related note, with the injury to Shepard, freshman Kendarius Webster may play a bigger role at cornerback. He shed his non-contact green jersey for the first Saturday and made a couple of nice plays, including an interception of sophomore quarterback Ryan Buchanan.

7. Going back to spring practice, the coaches have raved about freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes. He's run with the first-team defense in place of sophomore Fadol Brown, who's been sidelined with an injury. Look for him to contribute as a rush end opposite junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, if not in a larger role this season.

"He's getting some different looks over there with the tight end and different things that he's not used to, so he makes some mistakes," said Freeze of Haynes. "But one thing I know about him is he makes them 100 miles an hour. We can live with that. We're pleased with where he is and we expect him to get better each day."

8. While the defense dominated on Saturday, senior quarterback Bo Wallace showed off his stronger arm, rolling left and completing a back-shoulder pass to Treadwell for a touchdown, and later throwing another touchdown to sophomore tight end Evan Engram in a red-zone drill.

9. On the offensive line, it appears to be six players competing for five spots, with Tunsil at left tackle, junior Aaron Morris at left guard and junior Justin Bell at right guard the constants throughout fall camp. Concerning the center and right tackle position battles, Freeze said it would probably be another week before deciding on the first-teamers.

"We've been going back and forth this week," Freeze said Saturday. "It will probably be another week before we say, 'This is who we're going with in the first group.' Fahn (Cooper) has been going with the first group (at right tackle) until today I think we made a switch back to look at Robert (Conyers) there and Ben (Still) at center."

10. If you're looking for a walk-on to contribute, junior Craig Frigo, a 6-foot-1, 301-pound offensive lineman from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is a prime candidate. He has consistently worked with the second-team offense and has also showed some versatility, moving around from left tackle, to right tackle, to left guard, even taking some snaps at center.

11. With six running backs also competing for playing time, it's hard to notice any separation, but it appears that sophomore Mark Dodson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins have taken a lot of first-team reps and have shown out thus far in fall camp.

12. Without much fanfare, junior Quintavius Burdette moved from cornerback to slot receiver during the spring and entered fall camp as a backup behind sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo. The two-sport athlete, who also competes on the Ole Miss track & field team, has gotten his share of first-team reps with Adeboyejo and sophomore tight end Evan Engram, who has also lined up in the slot.

13. In special teams work, freshman Gary Wunderlich, the No. 1 kicker prospect coming out of high school, has split reps with redshirt freshman Will Gleeson at punter and redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and senior Andrew Fletcher at kicker. Wunderlich has the strongest leg of the group but he must improve his consistency.

14. When asked after practice Thursday, Freeze said Gleeson was in the lead at punter. The Melbourne, Australia, native gives the team some options to do some out-of-the-box stuff, such as the rugby-style punting from his Australian football background. Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Tim, who plays for Rutgers, the younger Gleeson has played the American game for about two years.

"I basically had to forget all my instilled knowledge of kicking Australian football on the run low and hard, and basically kick it high and as long as possible in two steps with hang time," Gleeson said.

15. We're 18 days away from the season opener against Boise State, but here's an interesting profile of first-year Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and his stamp on the program after the departure of long-time Broncos coach Chris Petersen for Washington. Prior to his arrival at Boise State, Harsin was the head coach at Arkansas State (2013), where he followed Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn (2012), who followed Freeze (2011).

Rising junior running back I'Tavius Mathers turned in the highlight of the Grove Bowl Saturday with a 96-yard run before he was caught from behind by rising sophomore defensive back Kailo Moore to prevent him from scoring the touchdown.

"He's made some plays," offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "He made a move yesterday in practice, one of the best I have seen. He put a safety, sat right on his back to score a touchdown. 

"The other thing is, you saw on the long play today, the only guy who caught him today was Kailo, who's a sprint champion. He obviously has some speed. He's deceptive. People think because he's stockier that he's not as fast as he really is."

Rising sophomore Mark Dodson also had a solid game with two carries for 10 yards and two catches for 69 yards with a 24-yard touchdown catch from redshirt freshman DeVante Kincade. Rising sophomore Jaylen Walton, who did not play Saturday, as well as redshirt freshmen Eugene Brazley and Jordan Wilkins will also figure in the mix at running back.

"These guys are all making big runs," said Werner of the running backs. "That puts a lot of pressure on whoever that starter is. You better be healthy and you better produce. Otherwise, someone behind you is going to step in."

Backup Quarterback Battle To Continue Into Summer

Rising senior quarterback Bo Wallace was 10-of-21 for 152 yards with a 25-yard touchdown to rising sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell during the goal-line session. 

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner noted he took a big step this spring, while the battle for the second-string job continues between redshirt freshmen Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade.

Buchanan was 6-of-10 for 100 yards, while Kincade was 5-of-8 for 57 yards with a 24-yard touchdown pass to rising sophomore running back Mark Dodson.

"It's neck and neck," said Wallace of the competition behind him. "One will have a good day, and then the other one will have a good day. They're both two different players, though, so situationally you can see both of them. It's a tight battle, and those guys are competing."

"I like the way those guys are playing right now," Werner said. "We still have long way to go to get them game-ready, but I'm really pleased with both of them. Jeremy Liggins comes in and you can see that he can get physical in the short-yardage-type stuff. He can keep on progressing, too. It will be interesting to see what happens throughout the summer and summer camp."

Transfers, Mid-Year Additions Change Look Of Defense

Two transfers, defensive back Anthony Alford and defensive lineman Fadol Brown, and three mid-year additions, defensive back C.J. Hampton, defensive end Marquis Haynes and linebacker Christian Russell, bolstered the Rebels on the defensive side of the ball in the spring. 

Haynes punctuated his first spring with seven tackles and two sacks in the Grove Bowl Saturday. He looks to help improve the pass rush, as does rising senior C.J. Johnson who returns after missing the last nine games last season due to an ankle injury.

"It starts with C.J.," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of the pass rush. "Just having him back defensively is huge. Not having him for eight or nine games last year really hurt our defense. His pass rush and ability makes a huge difference to what we want to do. Carlos Thompson has made vast strides in pass-rushing situations. 

"Marquis (Haynes) is another guy, who it hasn't clicked with, but his motor runs so hard. Sometimes when he's going the wrong place, he's still athletic enough to do the right things. Robert (Nkemdiche) and Bryon (Bennett) have important. I don't think there's any question our pass rush has improved."

Moore, Coleman Named Most Improved Of Spring Practice

When asked about who surprised during the spring, rising senior wide receiver Collins Moore was the first player Freeze mentioned. Moore, who stepped in for an injured Vince Sanders, was presented with the Eli Manning Award for the most improved offensive player during the Grove Bowl festivities.

"He has always made plays for us," Werner said. "We just weren't sure where he would fit in because we have so much talent at wide receiver. Because of an injury this spring, he got to step in there and play, and he made a bunch plays for us all spring. I was proud of him."

On the other side of the ball, rising senior Cliff Coleman, who has settled in at the Huskie position, was presented with the Jeff Hamm Memorial Award for the most improved defensive player.

"He's not the best athlete on the team, but he's smart and he's gotten stronger," Wommack said. "Those two things. He makes very few mistakes, and physically, you're not going to throw him around out there. When you play guys like Laquon Treadwell and Evan Engram, those guys will run you over, knock you around and catch the ball. Cliff's got himself strong enough that he can defense those type players."

First Look At The Egg Bowl

The Egg Bowl returns to Thanksgiving night for the first time since 2003, which is also the last time Ole Miss won in Starkville. 

Thursday's game is the 110th meeting of one of the nation's most-played rivalries and the 86th "Battle of the Golden Egg," as the two schools stated playing for the trophy in 1927. The Rebels (7-4, 3-4 SEC) look to defend the Golden Egg and improve their bowl standing, while the Bulldogs (5-6, 2-6) are playing for bowl eligibility.

"The Egg Bowl intensity is always going to be about as high as you get in a given game," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "With them having to win to a bowl like we were last year, if it's possible to ratchet it up a little more for your kids, particularly your seniors, that's something that will do it if it's possible. You don't have to have that to make this game feel emotional. But if there's anything that would make it more, it would be those factors."

"I know they're going to play hard against us," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "Their backs are against the wall. We know how that feels. They're in the same situation as we were last year. They're going to come out and play, so we have to be ready for them."

Keeping The Momentum

Freeze said they gained considerable momentum after last year's Egg Bowl win. That win clinched bowl eligibility and a berth in the BBVA Compass Bowl, which may have been a determining factor for several recruits in their decision.

And on National Signing Day, Ole Miss landed a consensus top-10 signing class, which included eight Mississippi prospects, headlined by Huskie Tony Conner (Batesville) and cornerback Derrick Jones (Eupuroa).

The Rebels look to reclaim the Egg Bowl and continue to build momentum with a win Thursday night.

"I have seen it work both ways," Freeze said of the recruiting impact of winning the Egg Bowl. "There's not any recipe you can put on it. I know that it doesn't to win, and it's going to help you with some. But by the time February rolls around, there are a lot of things that have occurred, people have made decisions and relationships have been built. It's not the only factor, but it doesn't hurt, and it will help in some cases."

Wallace Feeling Better


Wallace was back at practice Monday and said he is at the end of his flu-like symptoms he suffered from in Saturday's 24-10 loss to No. 8 Missouri.

"There won't be any effect at all," Wallace said of any lasting effects. "Tomorrow, I'll be almost 100 percent almost."

Despite the fatigue and feeling awful, Wallace was was 26-of-42 for 244 yards with an interception. 

"It was awful," Wallace said of Saturday. "I knew I was going to attempt to play. It was just hard to focus Saturday on what I had to do at the hotel, when I was just worried about trying to feel. I played OK. Definitely, I could have played better. It's something I'm not proud of."

Looking Back, Looking Ahead: Wallace-to-Moncrief

In last year's meeting, the Ole Miss offense exploded for 24 unanswered points in the second half to take a 41-17 lead, as the Rebels went on to win 41-24 and clinch bowl eligibility. 

Wallace was 15-of-22 for 294 yards with five touchdowns and two interceptions. His favorite target was junior Donte Moncrief who had seven catches for a career-high 173 yards and three touchdowns.

"They're a little different than they were last year," Freeze said of Mississippi State's coverages. "They will still do some of the same stuff, but the percentages are different."

A year later, Wallace ranks third in the SEC in total offense (286.0 yards per game) and fourth in passing (264.4 ypg), while Moncrief ranks top 10 in the SEC in receiving (72.8 ypg), receptions (4.5/game) and receiving touchdowns (5).

"We showed them some looks that we didn't show earlier in the year," Wallace said of last year's meeting. "We will have a few new wrinkles in this week just like every week, and hopefully we will able to score some point on them."

Uncertainty At Quarterback For MSU


For Mississippi State, sophomore quarterback Dak Prescott ranks fifth in the SEC in total yards (251.6 yards per game) and leads the team in both passing (171.3 yards per game) and rushing (80.2 ypg). 

However, Prescott has missed the last two games due to injury and is listed as the backup on this week's depth chart to freshman quarterback Damian Williams, who is 14-of-27 for 186 yards with an interception this year. Williams also scored the game-winning touchdown with a 25-yard scamper in a 24-17 win over Arkansas last week.

Senior quarterback Tyler Russell, who has started the last two games, is not listed on the depth chart, having been replaced by Williams in each game due to injury. All this uncertainty at quarterback presents a different challenge to Ole Miss this week.

"I really don't know exactly what's going on," Freeze said. "I know they have been resting Dak, and the other two have played in the last few game. I saw where Tyler left the game last weekend at the end. I don't know what the significance of that is. We have to prepare for all three I think. Fortunately, two of the three are very similar and do the same things, and the other is still similar. They are like watching us on film. They do most of the same stuff that we do. You don't like not knowing, but that's the situation we're in, so we have to prepare for all three."

The Bulldogs are averaging 438.0 yards per game, which ranks ninth in the SEC and would also break the school record of 422.0 yards per game set in 1982. Another weapon in the offense is junior wide receiver Jameon Lewis, who leads the team with 49 catches for 635 yards and five touchdowns, to go along with three rushing touchdowns and three passing touchdowns.

"They want to run the football and then play-action pass, just like our offense does," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "It's an advantage for us, and both defenses, because we get to see this type of thing all the time. We have to prepare for it all."

Another Look At No. 8 Missouri

Head coach Hugh Freeze meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

Ole Miss is the only school in the upper half of the SEC statistical rankings in every major offensive and defensive category. This week, the Rebels face one of their toughest tests on both sides of the ball in No. 8 Missouri. 

The Tigers defense ranks second in the SEC and 14th nationally in rushing defense (111.9 ypg). Missouri has held opponents under 150 rushing yards in all but one game (Georgia), while the Ole Miss has been held under 150-yard mark four times this year, including each of their three losses.

"They're one of the best rushing defenses in the nation," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "It presents a challenge for us. We're not near as good offensively when we can't run the ball. It puts us a bit in a disadvantage in having to protect against a D-line like this, especially. There's a premium on being able to run it."

"The strength of their team is up front," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "We know that, and that's probably going to be where the game is won and lost."


Offensive line coach Matt Luke meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

On the defensive line, senior defensive end Michael Sam leads the league and ranks sixth nationally with 10 sacks and also leads the league and ranks fifth nationally with 16 tackles for loss. On the other side, junior defensive end Kony Ealy, ranks fourth in the SEC with 6.5 sacks and leads the team with 13 quarterback hurries.

"They provide probably the biggest challenge we have had all year from top to bottom," Luke said. "They're good in every spot. It's not like they have one guy you can focus on. (Sam) has the most sacks, but the other ends provide their own challenges. One of them is faster; one of them is bigger, and they're two inside guys are good, so you can't slide your line a certain way and protect against one guy."

It's not only the personnel, but also their scheme and movement, which presents a great challenge for the Ole Miss offensive line, both in run blocking and pass protection.

"They do a good job of movement," Luke said. "They're never in the same place. They move about every snap. They're a moving front and don't let you double-team because they're constantly moving, twisting and mixing up the front and making it tough on you. 

"Nothing is ever easy, and you always have to figure something out. You can't just do your assignment; it's always movement, so that's a unique challenge for us."

Jones, Wommack Prepare For Missouri Tall, Speedy Receivers


Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

On Monday, junior cornerback Senquez Golson compared the Missouri group of receivers to playing against three or four Mike Evans from Texas A&M. 

In the Oct. 12 meeting against Texas A&M, the Ole Miss defense, notably Golson, held Evans to a season-low 46 yards on four catches and without a touchdown, but Missouri presents a different challenge this week with all four of its starting receivers listed at 6-foot-2 or taller.

Sophomore Dorial Green-Beckham and senior L'Damian Washington (6-foot-2), who each have 500-plus receiving yards and nine touchdowns, are listed at 6-foot-6 and 6-foot-2, respectively. For the Rebels, Golson and sophomore cornerback Mike Hilton are listed at 5-foot-9 and 5-foot-8, respectively.

"Most of the time you have one guy who is 6-5 guy, but to have several like they have is unusual," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "All three, they can run and catch the football. It's going to be a good challenge for us."

"We can't make them any taller," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "There's nothing we can do about that. We have to go with what we got and work the fundamentals to try to challenge those guys."


Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

Another cornerback in the mix for Ole Miss will be freshman Derrick Jones, who made his college debut at No. 1 Alabama and has started three games since then. At 6-foot-3, he can help the Rebel defense match up against Missouri's tall receivers.

"After recruiting, I hoped he was going to be a safety, but I'm glad to have him as a corner," Wommack said. "I didn't realize he had the kind of hips and speed that he has. A lot of times long guys like him struggle with change of direction, but he's got all those things. He will make a bunch of money someday."

Dungy Visits Campus, Scott Returns

Tony Dungy, who won a Super Bowl as head coach of the Indianapolis Colts, visited campus Wednesday. He spent time with head coach Hugh Freeze, spoke to the team and signed the equipment room Wall of Fame.

"He's one of my heroes," Freeze said. "It's a special time for him to come. He spent about an hour with me in my office and then spoke to our team for about 20 minutes. I'm honored to have a man that stands for what he stands for and has done this job at the highest. Hopefully that helps and inspires us to finish strong.

His message? Choose the narrow gate. The wide road is what most folks go on.

"The whole theme of his books is there are very few uncommon people, therefore success won't be enjoy by the common man," Freeze said. "He challenged us to be uncommon in the way we do things, particularly the little things."

Scott Bolsters Backfield

Senior running back Jeff Scott, the team's leading rusher, has been sidelined since the Texas A&M game with a bone spur. He has had two good days of practice in a row and is expected to return Saturday against Troy. 

"He's doing good," running backs coach Derrick Nix said. "The last few days, he's looked great. We're going to try to bring him along slowly for the game on Saturday. We'll have a couple of packages to get him involved. Just do what he can do and not try to run him into the ground right off the bat.

He will also resume his punt returning duties, Freeze said Wednesday.

"He had a good day today," he said. "That's two days in a row. And unless something sets him back between now and then, I feel like he will do that for us."

Scott has rushed for 434 yards and two touchdowns on 53 carries this year. Behind Scott, sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers has 370 yards and two touchdowns on 60 carries, while fellow sophomore running back Jaylen Walton has 329 yards and five touchdown on 70 carries.

"I think that's the whole idea that we're trying to get here at Ole Miss, especially in the running position back position room," Nix said. "We want competition. We want guys to come out and every day and in every rep in practice and in individual work and during the course of the game. I don't know that it helped speed his recovery up but it made him anxious to get out and make plays.

Freshman Mark Dodson, who set career highs with seven carries for 57 yards and recorded his first career touchdown against Idaho, will also remain in the mix at running back.

"Mark has shown he can do a little bit of everything, be an inside guy and an outside guy," he said. "And again, it's about getting different packages to get them all involved in the game."

Familiar Foe In Troy

Saturday marks the first ever meeting between Ole Miss and Troy in football, but Freeze and some of his assistants have coached against the Trojans when they were at Arkansas State. 

When Freeze was the offensive coordinator in 2010, the Red Wolves lost 35-28 on the road, and then with Freeze as head coach in 2011, the Red Wolves won 45-14 at home to win the Sun Belt Conference title outright and finish undefeated in league play with a perfect 8-0 record.

"Very little," said Freeze, of how Troy has changed since he was at Arkansas State. "It's a new defensive coordinator but it's very similar. They maybe play a little more man. I went back and watched my two years against them, and it's still similar."

Troy leads the Sun Belt Conference in passing (324.4 ypg) and total offense (47.5), which rank 15th and 23rd nationally, respectively. The Trojans also rank second in the league and 35th nationally in scoring offense (34.6).

"They always have offensive weapons that are scary," Freeze said. "They've been able to put up points against anybody they have played this year with the exception of one team. They are a scary team offensively because they are going to spread you out and they are athletic. (Corey Robinson), he's one of nation's leaders in passing yards. I have played against him and know he can throw it, so we'll have a challenge there for sure."

"When they had the other quarterback, (Deon Anthony), they changed quite a bit because they were running some of the same stuff that our offense runs with a little more option and so forth," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, who also served as Arkansas State defensive coordinator in 2011. "They tried to do a little bit of that for a game or two, but they're more similar to what they were two years ago with (Corey) Robinson play quarterback."

Robinson holds 11 Troy and Sun Belt Conference career records, including both the school and league marks for passing yards, passing touchdowns and total yards. His 24 300-yard passing games leads all active players in the NCAA.

"He's got a quick release," Wommack said. "He's thrown for a lot of yards in his career and his high school. He's had his ups and downs at times, he's been banged around, he's been inconsistent at times, but he is dangerous from the standpoint of having a great arm and a quick release."

Rebels Continue Arkansas Preparations

Head coach Hugh Freeze meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

Robert Nkemdiche will return against Arkansas, having missed the LSU and Idaho games after suffering a hamstring injury against Texas A&M. The freshman defensive lineman has played in and started six games, recording 15 total tackles (11 solo) and four tackles for loss.

"He looks really good," defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "He looks quick and light on his feet. We just got make sure he's 100 percent. He's still feeling it a little bit out here. He's down 15 pounds. I don't know if that's a good thing or bad thing, but he looks really quick out here. It's just him picking up the mental side again."

Nkemdiche will move inside to defensive tackle, where he started against Alabama, while junior Bryon Bennett will remain outside at defensive end, where he started the last three games.

"That's the plan with who we got right now with C.J. (Johnson) being out for the year and Bryon doing a good job out there," Kiffin said. "Maybe that's Rob's future, so that's where we're at right now.

"He's physical enough. He gives those guys problems inside because of how quick he is, and he's not afraid to get physical. It's just natural for him."

Nkemidche and the Ole Miss defense will be tasked with an Arkansas offense that has rushed for at least 200 yards in six of nine games and average 211.2 rushing yards per game, which ranks third in the SEC. The Razorbacks also lead the league and rank fifth nationally allowing just 0.78 sacks per game.

On the offensive line, Arkansas has opened each of the last four games with the same five starters, including a pair of freshman guards in Denver Kirkland and Dan Skipper, who have started each of the last five games.

"They look like freshmen that are getting better every game," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, of Kirkland and Skipper. "They didn't play them as much early in the season. Both of them are going to be really good football players. You see them make mistakes at times, but they're getting better every time."

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack meets with members of the media following Tuesday's practice.

'We're not afraid to use any of the four'

With senior running back Jeff Scott out each of the last two games with a thigh bruise, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton have carried the load on the ground for the Rebels.

Mathers carried the ball 12 times for 51 yards against LSU, then notched his first career 100-yard rushing game with 138 yards on 14 carries, including a career-long 64-yard run for a touchdown, against Idaho.

Walton rushed for two touchdowns in both games, as he set career highs with 19 carries for 106 yards against the Tigers, then rushed 11 times for 86 yards against Vandals. With those four scores, he now leads the team with five rushing touchdowns this year.

"They took the bull by the horns, so to speak," running backs coach Derrick Nix said. "It's never been about their ability. They had just been waiting for the opportunity to get on the field and show what they could do. 

"I'm glad a year ago they got the little experience that they did, so right now, they don't any type of stage fright, and the big lights don't bother them at all. They just go out and perform to their capabilities and do the things they could always do."

The Idaho game was also an opportunity for freshmen Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore, as Dodson set career highs with seven carries for 57 rushing yards and recorded a 30-yard touchdown catch, the first score of his career.

"He earned the right to get some looks," said head coach Hugh Freeze, of Dodson. "I'm not afraid at all to play him. He'll probably get a carry or two."

"He's had more excitement and enthusiasm about practice," Nix added. "Not that he didn't have it all year but you could see more of a bounce in his step. I feel like he has a real shot of helping us out on Saturday."

The status of Scott for Saturday remains uncertain, but Freeze is confident about his other four running backs.

"I like the way they're going about their business," he said. "They're taking the chances they have been given and made the most of it. All four of them have looked good in some things this week. We're not afraid to use any of the four. Jeff, I'm not sure. We'll have to make that call tomorrow."

Running backs coach Derrick Nix meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

Tunsil, Golson Continue To Progress

Freshman offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson have played in every game this season, with Tunsil starting five games at left tackle and Golson playing extensively at guard.

"Laremy has played solid the entire time," Freeze said. "He's really special. It's a little easier to play on the edge. We threw Austin in the middle in that first game, and there is a lot of different things happening in there. It's been more of a process, but he's improving and not making as many mistakes."

Offensive line coach Matt Luke has also been pleased with Tunsil and Golson.

"He does a lot of things well," said Luke, of Tunsil. "He can get bigger and stronger, but technically, that's what makes him special. He does a lot of things naturally. He's good with his hands and has a really good base with his lower body. He's a natural pass protector. We're very fortunate to have him. He's playing really well overall."

"He's probably not the prototypical guard," said Luke, of Golson. "He's more of tackle, but because of the seniors we have at tackle, he has stepped in there for us and played it well for 40-50 snaps a game at least.

Tunsil's emergence at left tackle, where he has started each of the last four games, has allowed senior offensive lineman Emmanuel McCray to move around and contribute at both tackle position, left guard and tight end, when the Rebels are in their six offensive lineman set.

A strong Arkansas defensive line is led by senior defensive end Chris Smith, who is tied for second in the SEC and tied for 13th nationally with 7.0 sacks. As a team, the Razorbacks rank third in the SEC and tied for 27th nationally with 22.0 sacks.

"They're very good," Luke said. "Their front four collectively is as good as we have seen. 86 (Trey Flowers), 42 (Smith), 91 (Darius Philon), 54 (Byran Jones), all those guys are good players. I have been very impressed."

Offensive line coach Matt Luke meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.


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


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


But Ole Miss had been close under Freeze. 


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


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


Head coach Hugh Freeze meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.

After going through a "laundry list" on injuries in Monday's weekly press conference, head coach Hugh Freeze had some good news on Wednesday with the possible return of defensive tackle Issac Gross and linebacker Temario Strong.

"It looks like we might get Issac (Gross) and Temario (Strong) back," said Freeze after practice on Wednesday. "Temario surprised us today and was moving around quite a bit better than what they expected. We might get him back. Those are the only two I expect at this point to get back."


Ole Miss was hit particularly hard on the defensive side of the ball, where it is expected to be without starting defensive ends Robert Nkemdiche and C.J. Johnson, as well as starting cornerback Mike Hilton and backup defensive end Carlos Thompson.


"We ain't got but so many," said Freeze Tuesday of defensive line. "We're going to play four down linemen. I really don't know who is playing exactly where right now."


Bryon Bennett, listed as a co-starter at defensive tackle with Carlton Martin, also got some reps at defensive end in practice this week, opposite senior defensive end Cameron Whigham.


"It was fun," said Bennett of defensive end, where he also started against Texas A&M last week. "I played a little in high school, but there's still a lot to get used with adjustments and stuff... There's more reading. It's more fun going against the tackle.


"It's a next-man-up attitude. Everybody is excited for the game and wants this win. We're trying to stay fresh, stay healthy and be ready for the game." 


Defensive lineman Bryon Bennett meets with members of the media following Tuesday's practice.

Starting running back and leading rusher Jeff Scott was held out of practice Tuesday and Wednesday, and Freeze said Wednesday that he doesn't expect him to play on Saturday. The running back position would then fall on I'Tavius Mathers (22 carries, 137 yards for the season) and Jaylen Walton (34 carries, 129 yards).


"I feel good," said Freeze Wednesday of Mathers and Walton. "Both of them have proven they're ready to have that responsibility that comes their way. I have been pleased with their performance and think we'll be fine there."


"I feel like we can pick it up," said Mathers Wednesday. "We always have to be ready. I just have to play my role."


The injuries have also affected the special teams units, such as punt return, where Freeze said Wednesday that wide receiver Korvic Neat would return punts in Scott's absence, with Trae Elston as his backup. 


Cornerback Carlos Davis, who Freeze called "a great cover guy," will be back this week, and the possible return of Strong will also help the special teams units, but Freeze said Tuesday it did take a hit this week, and they're going to have to call on guys to play even more snaps because of injuries.


The injuries may also affect tempo, as Freeze said the Rebels will likely use a similar strategy to last week against Texas A&M.


"We managed the first half not going tempo to try to limit the opportunities that Texas A&M had and get to halftime in the game, and it worked," said Freeze Tuesday. "We were probably more patient than we would be, but it worked, and it gave us a chance at the end. We will probably manage the tempo similarly this week."


 
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack meets with members of the media following Tuesday's practice.

Offensive line coach Matt Luke meets with members of the media following Wednesday's practice.


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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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


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


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



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


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


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

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

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


D. Nkemdiche Nears Return From Injury

Head coach Hugh Freeze meets with the media after Wednesday's practice.


Doctors told sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche that a return for Saturday's game at No. 1 Alabama was possible. From there, it was rehabbing two or three times a day and doing everything possible to be back after suffering a torn meniscus during the season opener against Vanderbilt.


As early as Monday, when Nkemdiche did drills with linebackers coach Tom Allen, he realized it was possible. When he came into the training room on Tuesday morning, it wasn't swelling, then after practice on Tuesday, he came back this morning, and there was no swelling. 


After practice on Wednesday, both he and head coach Hugh Freeze were confident that he will make the trip to Tuscaloosa.


"I felt good," Nkemdiche said. "I felt better than I did yesterday, and it looked great this morning. it's exciting because I feel like tomorrow morning, it's going to feel better than it did today."


"He looked good" Freeze said. "He didn't have much swelling today. If that is the case tomorrow morning, we will put him on the travel squad."

Nkemdiche, an All-SEC performer last season, led the team with 82 tackles, 13.0 tackles for loss, four forced fumbles and three interceptions, and it's not just that production, but the overall depth at the linebacker position, where the Rebels have missed him this season.


"We have missed him a lot," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "In some spots, we don't have much depth. When that happened, we had to move a guy that was playing Mike linebacker over to Stinger linebacker. D.T. (Shackelford) had to catch up on all the things that we got a thousand reps on."


In Nkemdiche's absence, Bryant has started the last two games at Stinger linebacker and leads the team with 26 tackles and four tackles for loss.


"We knew all along that through fall camp that was one of our strongest two-deep positions with those two guys there," Wommack said. "We actually created some defensive packages so they would both be on the field at the same time because Serderius has come so far. Having them both back would be huge for us."


Last season, led by Nkemdiche, Ole Miss ranked second in the SEC, tied for 11th in the nation, with 38 sacks. Through three games, the Rebels have just four sacks, which is a by-product of defensive scheme. 


Wommack said they have played a lot more zone coverage and haven't pressured as much as in the past. As a result, they haven't given up as many big plays, an area of emphasis this season. 


Through three games, Ole Miss has allowed 32 plays of 10+ yards, which is the second fewest in the SEC and tied for 14th fewest in the nation, and just 9 plays of 20+ yards, which is tied for the second fewest in the SEC, tied for 20th fewest in the nation.


Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack meets with the media after Tuesday's practice.


Sawyer Adds Depth At Corner


After missing games against Southeast Missouri and Texas, senior cornerback Charles Sawyer is back and will play Saturday. He adds depth and will split time at boundary corner with sophomore Mike Hilton. He also gives them more versatility and will help in nickel and dime situations.


"Charles is doing good," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "He's back and flying around, making plays in practice. We're looking forward to having him back. He gives us that much depth there at the cornerback position.

"In the Texas game, Mike (Hilton) and Senquez (Golson) played pretty much every snap. At times, they got winded, but with Charles being back, you can put him in the game, and you can rest either Senquez and Mike and try to keep fresh guys on the field."

Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones meets with the media after Wednesday's practice.


Hooks, Jones Progress At New Positions 


Freeze and his staff introduced two position changes last week, with junior Lavon Hooks now splitting reps between his original position, defensive tackle, and his new position, tight end, and moving from freshman Derrick Jones from wide receiver to cornerback.


Hooks is listed as a third-team defensive tackle behind juniors Carlton Martin and Bryon Bennett and has also gotten reps at tight end, where the 6-foot-4, 302-pounder played some in high school.


"He is learning," Freeze said. "He is swimming a bit at TE, so we kind of scaled back for this week, but we do have one package for him. He understands that and gives us a different look. 

"This year, he will work on both offense and defense unless something changes. In spring, we'll make a call one way or the other."

Jones is listed as a co-backup at boundary corner with senior Dehendret Collins behind sophomore Mike Hilton, with senior Charles Sawyer also in the mix at both field and boundary corner. Freeze said Jones has been looking really good, and defensive backs coach Jason Jones likes his size at 6-foot-3, 185 pounds.


"The size and speed that he has, that's what you want at corner," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "We made the move a couple of weeks ago. The bye week, we had a chance to throw him in there and give him a ton of reps. He's coming along and doing a great job. I'm looking forward to seeing him out there and see what he can do."

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner meets with the media after Wednesday's practice.


Alabama's Blitzes


In Monday's press conference, Freeze said Alabama head coach has been on the cutting edge of defense, from new wrinkles every game, to multiple defenses, to the exotic blitzes that he likes to draw up on certain downs.


Offensive coordinator Dan Werner talked more about those blitzes and how tempo on offense can help counter them. 

"You can tell that they're communicating every play," Werner said. "As soon as a guy motions, they're going to change their coverage because they want to be in a certain look for every single formation and every single personnel group, so there's a lot of stuff going on with what they do. 

"The thing that we want to do is obviously play fast because it makes them think about those checks a lot faster."


VIDEO: Freeze, Werner, Wommack


Head coach Hugh Freeze recaps the day of practice, looks ahead to Alabama and discusses the play of some of the freshmen.



Through three games, Ole Miss ranks fourth in the SEC in total offense (490.0 ypg) and fifth in scoring offense (38.0 ppg). The Rebels also rank second in the SEC, 25th in the nation, averaging 79.3 offensive plays per game. Offensive coordinator Dan Werner discusses quarterback junior Bo Wallace's progress, looks ahead to Alabama and assesses where the tempo has been relative to their expectations.


Ole Miss pitched a second-half shutout in a 44-23 win over Texas. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack looks back on those halftime adjustments, looks ahead to Alabama and assesses the progress of freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche.

Rebels 2-0 Headed To Texas


Head coach Hugh Freeze discusses Ole Miss' 31-13 win over Southeast Missouri State. He discusses the play of junior quarterback Bo Wallace, the return of sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers and his personnel decisions. He also assesses his team's depth and looks ahead to next Saturday's game at Texas. Kickoff from Austin is set for 7 p.m. CT and will be televised on the Longhorn Network, as well as affiliates throughout Mississippi and Memphis.


Wallace Looks Back, Looks Ahead To Texas


Junior quarterback Bo Wallace only played four series against Southeast Missouri before seniors Barry Brunetti and Robert Ratliff finished the game, but they all resulted in points. Wallace helped lead the offense three touchdown and a field goal, as the Rebels staked a 24-0 lead early in the first half. In the process, Wallace threw his first two touchdown of the season after rushing for two touchdown in last week's 39-35 win at Vanderbilt. 


A 64-yard pass to freshman tight end Evan Engram, his first career touchdown, and a 67-yard pass to junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief highlighted the first half, as the Rebels took a 31-0 lead into halftime, its largest lead since a 31-0 lead against Mississippi State in 2008.


"I thought he started ho-hum," Freeze said of Wallace. "We got explosive there and looked pretty decent on some drive. He made some good decisions and some good throws. I struggled at halftime whether or not to come back with him. I know he gives us the best chance to win. I felt like we needed to get others reps because we are going to need some others before it's over."


But it's one of the throws Wallace didn't make that's going to stay with him from the win against Southeast Missouri.


"I'm not proud of myself. I'm proud that we put up points the whole time. The one that's really going to be with me the whole night is the throw to (senior wide receiver Jordan) Holder I missed because that kid deserves a touchdown, and I missed him on it, so that one will stay with me."


Wallace and the Rebels are 2-0 for the second straight season, but both he and his offensive coordinator Dan Werner think he is further along this year compared to last year, when he completed 13 of 24 passes for 178 yard with a touchdown and three interceptions.


And with the rematch against Texas next week, there's some added motivation for Wallace and Ole Miss after last year's 66-31 loss in Oxford.


"I'm a lot more experienced," Wallace said. "The game is a lot slower, but I still have a lot of work to do. I got a lot of work to do, and I got to get it done this week."


"Light years ahead," Werner said of Wallace this year compared to last year. "Last year at this time, he was still trying to learn the offense and tempo. He has a good feel for what we're doing now. He didn't have the sharpest day today, but he still hasn't thrown a pick."

Engram Continues To Impress

In his college debut last week against Vanderbilt, freshman tight end Evan Engram caught five passes for 61 yards, and tonight against SEMO, he found the end zone for his first career touchdown. He finished with two catches for 70 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown catch.

"Evan is solid," Freeze said of Engram. "He's getting better and starting to understand what we're doing. And we're starting to understand what we can do with him and play to his strengths. He didn't get a lot of snaps tonight, but he had a good night when he was in there."

"When he came here to our camp, we really liked him, but he was a little undersized, so we wanted to see how he would do," Werner said, "He lit up the camp and made play after play. We ended recruiting him hard, got him, then he gained weight. Never did we think he could come in and be the player that he is right now. We felt like down the road in a couple of year, he would get bigger and be ready to go. He's a big-time player."

Bryant Fills In, Secondary Changes

Junior Serderius Bryant got the start at Stinger linebacker in place of injured sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, and he responded with career highs and team highs of 15 tackles, including eight solo tackles, and a tackle for loss.

"His assignments were solid," Freeze said. "Serderius is a good player. Him and Keith Lewis are good players. We need to stay healthy there. I don't think the linebackers had many breakdowns."

The Ole Miss defense also had four new starters in the secondary with junior Senquez Golson and sophomore Mike Hilton at cornerback, sophomore Chief Brown at Rover safety and freshman Tony Conner at Huskie.


"I think there was a bust on their second touchdown when our guys rotated the wrong way," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "I don't think were a lot of busts in the game. It was a fairly simple game plan, and there weren't many mental errors."






Robert Nkemdiche, the consensus No. 1 high school recruit in the nation last year, is slated to start at defensive end, opposite junior C.J. Johnson, in his first college game.

His position coach, Chris Kiffin, and the other coaches are confident in Nkemdiche, and if anything, they will have to guard against his emotions and overexcitement.

"What we have been battling all fall camp is the notion that he feels that he has to make every play," Kiffin said. "We're trying to get him to play within the defense. Especially going out in the first game, I can't fathom the amount of pressure on him outside of all the other stuff. If he can just understand to go out and play the game like he has the last four weeks, then he will be fine.

"He's done a great job for a young guy coming in and having to learn the defense," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "There have been some issues with him jumping offsides, but you would rather have that then have a good who's sitting back. He's eager to play, very excited. Robert is as advertised."

Nkemdiche came a long way during fall practice, Kiffin said, from when he ran the first-team defense as early as Aug. 5, to entering his first college game.

"I was impressed with him picking up the defense like he did," Kiffin said. "He still has mistakes, obviously, but throwing him in right away, I think it was perfect for him. There was no, so to say, learning curve. The first two weeks, he was thrown in there, and we coached on the run.

"He would stay after meetings, just him and I, to go over that film, and then slow down and coach. Let him go full speed on the field, make a quick correction here and there, then in the film room, explain why he was doing something wrong and how it needs to be done."

Kiffin said Nkemdiche's technique "has varied," and "it's been up and down," but having gone back to watch film of South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney's freshman season, he said he saw a lot of the same things -- natural athleticism and making plays -- from Nkemdiche.

"I have seen both of them doing the wrong thing a number of times and making plays," Kiffin said. "So I'm not trying not to overcoach him. I want him to make plays and not play tentative. That stuff will come with experience."

A big challenge on Thursday will be getting Nkemdiche acclimated and handling the pressure of starting in his first college game.

"I talked to some of the older guys about it too, Cameron Whigham and C.J. Johnson," Kiffin said. "I got him rooming with C.J. Johnson on purpose the night before," Kiffin said. "I think that will be good for him, and out there as the game goes on, between plays and on the sidelines between series, those guys talking to him.

"It can't just be me every time. Those guys actually did it themselves. C.J. sees everything out there, so he's going to know if something is going on with Robert and let him know about it."

Freshmen In The Passing Game

Junior wide receiver Vince Sanders (collarbone) and senior Korvic Neat (knee) both suffered injuries during fall practice. With their injuries, freshman wide receivers Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo have taken on bigger roles in the Ole Miss offense.

Treadwell is slated to start at slot receiver, while Adeboyejo is a backup at one of the two outside receiver spots but will likely figure in the rotation on Thursday.

"Coming into the year, receiver was probably our deepest position," Wallace said. "And right now, we have two guys out, so recruiting those two guys definitely helped.

"Laquon is a big body. He helps you as a quarterback because defenders can't get around him to make a play on the ball. Quincy is a good route-runner. He's a little banged up right now, but he still looks good running around out there."

Another freshman, Evan Engram, is listed as a starter and expected a big role at tight end after losing seniors Ferbia Allen and Jamal Mosley from last year.

"He's going to really, really good," Wallace said. "He's one of the guys who's going to be a really good players. He's going to play a big role. He's a great receiving tight end. He's a mismatch for us, so he's going to play a big role for us."

Update On Mathers, Freshman Running Backs

Sophomore running back I'Tavius Mathers, who was listed as co-backup with fellow sophomore Jaylen Walton behind senior Jeff Scott, is about 80 percent, head coach Hugh Freeze said on the weekly teleconference on Wednesday.

"We think he's going to have a special year. He's put on some more weight. He's a physical runner for us, and he has some twitch to him, too. We think he's going to be a special back. He was hampered for quite a bit of camp with an ankle.

"I would say he's about 80 percent right now, so I don't know that tomorrow night you will see the true I'Tavius Mathers that you are going to see the rest of the year, but we're confident that once he gets back to 100 percent, he's going to be an important factor to our offense."

Also, on the weekly teleconference on Wednesday, Freeze was asked specifically about redshirting freshman running back Jordan Wilkins, one of three freshman running back in the mix for playing time, along with Mark Dodson and Kailo Moore.

"I would never decide to redshirt anyone this early, just because you never know," Freeze said. "I don't make up my mind this early to do that. I would like to redshirt him (Jordan Wilkins). He's going to be a good player, too. We just happen to have good depth at that position.

"We have got six guys that I believe are good players and would love to get to try to make it through the season with four of them and redshirt two. But again, it's too early to tell that."

One of the position battles both head coach Hugh Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack discussed after Saturday's scrimmage is Rover safety, where Freeze said sophomore Chief Brown is pushing sophomore Trae Elston.

"Chief will have a much bigger role than he had last year," Wommack said after Saturday's scrimmage. I see Chief as a starter who can play both either Rover or free safety. I really haven't decided who will start yet. Chief might be a starter in the first game."

Elston started nine game at Rover last season and finished fifth on the team with 61 tackles, along with six pass breakups, a sack and a fumble recovery.

"He's done well," Wommack said of Elston. "He knows the defense, inside and out. He's a physical guy. I kind of worry about the targeting rule with him, but he's just got to play smart in that area. I like Trae Elston. He's a good football player." 

Elsewhere in the secondary, at cornerback, senior Charles Sawyer has practiced, including some team drills, but has not participated in live contact drills. Injuries to Sawyer (shoulder) and junior Senquez Golson have given opportunities to other players at the position.

"I don't think we have been able to totally fix that because the injuries (Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson) to the two guys who have the most experience," Wommack said. "It was good situation for us that Bobby Hill and Anthony Standifer and some others got more reps than they would have gotten. We have to get those other guys back to have better depth in the secondary"

Sophomore Quintavius Burdette and senior Dehendret Collins continue to run with the first-team defense, and Wommack has been pleased with the play of both.

"Burdette has tried to go against #12 (Donte Moncrief) every time out here, and you get better every day that you do that," Wommack said. "He's had some rough days because of that, Donte is one of the best players in the nation at wide receiver. Burdette is a competitor. He's grown up, and I don't see him put his head down like he used to last year. I'm excited about him. 

"Collins has been very solid to me. I wish we could have played him at corner last year. We didn't have enough guys, and we were trying to get speed on the field. I think we absolutely have him in the right spot now. He's tough, he's physical, and he's a competitor. He does everything we need that corner to do." 

Earlier in fall practice, sophomore Mike Hilton, who has gotten first-team reps at Huskie, also got some reps at corner, but Wommack said on Saturday they are training him, at this time, to play corner. Behind Hilton at Huskie, freshman Antonio Conner has gotten reps, including some first-team reps alongside Hilton in passing situations.

"He's going to play a lot," Wommack said of Conner. "He'll play in the first game. He has been exceptional, especially for a freshman, assignment-wise," Dave continued. "He has a physical nature and is a natural playmaker."

Up front, freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche and sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross both practiced Saturday, and junior defensive end C.J. Johnson is expected to practice Monday. Wommack said he feels good about the depth there, when everyone is healthy, and sees a big role for Nkemdiche.

"He is going to play a lot," Wommack said of Nkemdiche. "We are going to keep those guys fresh by rotating them. I see him absolutely in the two-deep."

Developing Depth At RB, Offensive Line

Compared to last season, offensive coordinator Dan Werner feels better about the depth at both running back and offensive line.

It's a crowded backfield, led by senior Jeff Scott, who rushed 846 yards last season, and bolstered by a trio of freshmen in Mark Dodson, Kailo Moore and Jordan Wilkins. When asked on Saturday, Freeze said sophomore Jaylen Walton, right now, holds the No. 2 running back spot behind Scott.

On the injury front, Moore returned from concussion symptoms earlier this week, while sophomore I'Tavius Mathers (ankle) is out of his boot, and while he may not practice Monday, Freeze said he is close.

"Last year at this time, we had to move Randall Mackey to be the backup tailback," Werner said after Saturday's scrimmage. "This year, we have six or seven guys there. During the scrimmages, we're rolling them in and out. A guy knows if he doesn't make a right read or doesn't make a hard run, he's probably coming out and there's somebody else going in with a smile on his face." 

There has been a lot of competition on the offensive line in fall practice, notably at left guard, where both junior Aaron Morris and senior Jared Duke have gotten first-team reps. 

At other guard position, sophomore Justin Bell and senior Patrick Junen were listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart. With Junen out, Bell has gotten most of the first-team reps, but Junen is expected to practice Monday. 

Earlier in fall practice, offensive line coach Matt Luke said they should have eight or nine players ready to go this season, and Werner shared the same sentiment on Saturday.

"Last year at this time, we had five, maybe six guys that could play," Werner said. "This year, we've got about eight or nine, with Patrick Junen out right now. But from what I hear, he'll be back next week. Any time you have that many guys playing, it's just human nature you're going to play a little bit harder. You've got somebody behind you." 

In the previous Saturday scrimmage, junior quarterback Wallace completed 6 of 11 passes for 125 yards with an interception. Throughout this past week, the coaches said they were pleased with Wallace, and it continued on Saturday.

"All of the quarterbacks looked better," Werner said. "I thought we protected the football better. We still have some issues with that, which has been kind of our camp motto - protect the ball. I thought for the most part (Bo) made good decisions, and we scored a lot of touchdowns. He completed a lot of balls, so I was pleased." 

As for the freshmen, along with the three running backs, Laquon Treadwell continues to impress at slot receiver, where he has gotten most of the first-team reps, and drew praise from Freeze after Saturday's scrimmage. 

Quincy Adeboyejo is in the rotation at outside receiver, along with junior Donte Moncrief, senior Ja-Mes Logan and sophomore Cody Core.

"He's a guy that was a big-time recruit but not as high as a couple of (others)," Werner said of Adeboyejo. "But, man, he came out right away and showed he's really fast, he's really explosive. He understands how to get into zones and make plays. He's another guy that will play a bunch." 

On the offensive line, Laremy Tunsil has gotten most of the second-team reps at left tackle and earned first-team reps in Saturday's scrimmage with senior Emmanuel McCray out due to a family issue. Austin Golson has gotten second-team reps at both right guard and right tackle.

At tight end, Evan Engram, tights ends coach Maurice Harris said earlier this week, has separated himself some as a pass-catcher. Also at the position, Christian Morgan, who enrolled at Ole Miss in January, is expected to practice on Monday, as he recovers from a knee injury.

"If he goes through the next two weeks and feels like he can function," Freeze said of Morgan playing this season. "We're missing a lot of body types like his, if nothing else for short-yardage and special teams. I would like to see him play."

Wallace, Wommack, Werner Video


Junior quarterback Bo Wallace was 6 of 10 for 125 yards with an interception in Saturday's scrimmage. He said he felt he had three good practices entering Saturday's scrimmage, adding that he was disappointed in his read on the interception.


The defense had a pair of interceptions in the scrimmage, one by sophomore safety Chief Brown of senior quarterback Barry Brunetti, the other by junior safety Cody Prewitt of junior quarterback Bo Wallace. Freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche was held out of Saturday's scrimmage with a strained groin, but defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said he has been pleased with his progress in fall practice. Wommack said he feels good about 20 players knowing the defense, inside and out, that they could put in game, particularly at linebacker and defensive line. In the secondary, Wommack said it's about senior cornerback Charles Sawyer and junior cornerback Senquez Golson getting healthy, and younger players there getting better with their eyes.


Offensive coordinator Dan Werner said they didn't handle the rainy conditions very well, adding that they will get a lot of teaching out of the scrimmage before they return to the practice field for two practices on Monday. The lone scoring play in the scrimmage was an 8-yard touchdown pass over the middle from Brunetti to junior tight end Nick Parker.

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