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The Season: Ole Miss Football Episode 9

Rebels Fall Short in Death Valley

BATON ROUGE, La. -- Ole Miss had its chances. 

The Ole Miss defense made seven points stand up for the better part of four quarters, forcing four turnovers and limiting LSU to just three points on its first three trips to the red zone. 

But LSU finally broke through, going ahead 10-7 on a 3-yard touchdown pass with 5:07 left in the game. It capped a 13-play, 95-yard drive that included 12 runs before the scoring play.

"Our kids fought," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "Our defense gave us a chance to win the game, to be in the game, but we could not manage any points."

On the ensuing drive, Ole Miss moved into LSU territory before the Rebels were stopped short on  3rd-and-2 and 4th-and-1, giving the ball back to the Tigers.

With LSU likely needing just one first down to run out the clock, the Ole Miss defense forced a three-and-out to give the offense one last chance, as the offense took over at their own 25-yard line with 1:09 left on the clock.

Ole Miss had its second chance, driving to the LSU 30-yard line with nine seconds left on the clock, converting a key fourth down and drawing a defensive pass interference penalty, before quarterback Bo Wallace was intercepted at the 1-yard line, his first interception in SEC play.

"There were nine seconds on the clock and thought we could sprint out," Freeze said. "(Bo) needed to take the flat throw or throw it out of bounds. Worst case, we were at the same spot. We were trying to get it to the left hash or left middle, and we didn't get it done there."

"Bo would tell you, we were pretty clear that we were going to take the flat throw or throw it bounds, and then try a field goal. He must have felt like he had a touchdown play there with the clear-out. I wish we could have done that over for sure."

Ole Miss was outgained 406-313, converting just 15 first downs and going 5-of-17 on third down. The Rebels were limited to 137 yards on 34 carries, while Wallace finished the game 14-of-33 for 176 yards with a touchdown and an interception.

Between the scoring drive late in the first quarter and the last two drives of the game, the Rebels punted on seven straight possessions, including five three-and-outs. 

On of the key plays of this stretch included a 34-yard touchdown run for running back I'Tavius Mathers called back on a holding penalty.

"They're pretty good, number one," said Freeze of LSU's defense. "They were able to stay in 2-high on first and second down and stop our running game for the most post. We struggled there. Laremy (Tunsil) was out for most of the second half. We had to move some people around and that caused us some issues where we played some younger kids.

"We had a couple of chances. We just didn't seem to win many of the one-on-ones. They tackled extremely well and put us in a lot of third down, and we converted hardly any."

With the loss, Ole Miss moves to 7-1 overall, 4-1 in Southeastern Conference play, but by virtue of its win over Alabama and remaining games against Auburn (Nov. 1) and Mississippi State (Nov. 29), both at home, the Rebels remain in control of their destiny in the SEC Western Division and likely the College Football Playoff.

"They're hurt," said Freeze of the team's demeanor after the game. "They have to figure out how they want to handle it. We're not the only team in America that's going to go through this. If you had told me this team was going to be where we are right now, all of us would have been pleased. We're obviously not pleased leaving here after the season we have had. 

"This stretch is tough. I knew going through this stretch was going to wear on you physically and mentally. The thing is, we still can control everything we want with the schedule that lies ahead. They're down, they're disappointed, and hopefully we'll respond the correct way."

The Rebels' next game with No. 5 Auburn serves as a defacto playoff game, as both teams enter with one loss on the season.

"We're ready for the next one," Wallace said. "We're thinking everyone is going to have one loss now. We have Auburn coming to our place next week. That's what we have our mind on."

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."

Freeze, Miles Talk Ole Miss-LSU Rivalry

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

For the full SEC teleconference, go here.

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

Opening statement...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Opening statement...

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

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

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

On Ole Miss...

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

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

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

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

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

On Ole Miss defensively...

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

On the win at Florida...

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

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

SEC Nation Talent Talks Ole Miss on Visit

Highlights from today's media opportunity with SEC Nation host Joe Tessitore and analysts Tim Tebow and Marcus Spears discussing the show's visit to Oxford for the SEC matchup between No. 3 Ole Miss and Tennessee. 

Tessitore recalls calling the first college game for the Rebels' star-studded sophomore class, Tebow talks about Bo Wallace's improvement as a quarterback, and Spears sees similarities between this year's Ole Miss team and his 2003 LSU team that won the national championship.

SEC Nation Host Joe Tessitore

On the backdrop of The Grove for SEC Nation...

"When I have done Ole Miss games before, I always get to the stadium early, so I can walk through The Grove and take that all in. It should be pretty special to have the SEC Nation set fired up. 

"When you look at our set, it should scream Ole Miss to you. When you look at it, you know what you're watching. That's one of the things I like about our set. You look at it and you know you're watching grand Southern football. It fits in beautifully here. It looks like it could be part of your campus. 

"I like how open it is, and it allows us to play to the crowd. You will see us tomorrow, when we're live on the air, stand up, turn to the crowd and interact with them during commercial breaks. This is a magic ride kind of season here, so it's going to be a celebratory kind of morning."

On the sophomore class, having called their first college game...

"That group, you knew. I could remember that afternoon, sitting there and hyping up (Robert) Nkemdiche in his debut, and you just knew it was going to happen. And to be able to say a year later that they have even over-delivered on all the hype, it's true. 

"It was an incredible recruiting class that, in a span of 18 months, has Ole Miss competing for a national title. That's as good as a group you're going to see. But it takes that kind of a group. It takes guys who buy in and all believe. Laquon Treadwell was a huge part of that. 

"I'm one of those geeks who follow recruiting, so I know the role he played in corralling everyone and buying into the vision early, a vision that's pretty easy to buy when Hugh Freeze is selling it."

SEC Nation Analyst Tim Tebow

On Ole Miss...

"What stands out is the heart they play with offensively and defensively. Everybody talks about the Landshark defense flying around, but you look at guys like Jaylen Walton fighting through tackles. That's just heart. They play together and they play as a family.

"Spending the day with Coach Freeze and the team yesterday, you could really see that and the environment they set. It seems like it's a fun time for all these players right now."

On Bo Wallace...

"He's improved a lot. In SEC play, he doesn't have a turnover. He's making big plays, but he's also not making big errors in the biggest of games. That's been huge, especially when you have a big-time defense. 

"What I like most about Bo is that courage and leadership and that 'it' factor he has, like on that 3rd-and-9 last week versus Texas A&M. 

"He knows where the sticks are, he fights through the line of scrimmage and he dives and goes over a defender to get the first down. That ultimately led to a touchdown, and they went up 28-7 and that was a huge play in the game. He has that 'it' that you can't necessarily teach."

SEC Nation Analyst Marcus Spears

On the backdrop of The Grove for SEC Nation...

"It's awesome. We should have a pretty good crowd. This is their network. That's how we resonate on campus. People understand we're more personable and we know the history of each school. It will resonate with people, and hopefully it's hyped up out here. It's a pretty big game. 

"Tennessee is not whatever they think they are. Tennessee has played everybody down to the wire. They have lost some close games. They're one of those teams on the cusp. The energy in the crowd should be good tomorrow."

On Robert Nkemdiche...

"He's a man's man. He's a beast. He plays with a high intensity level. He can knock guys back and he has great bend. I know I sound like a pro scout, but he can win with leverage and he wins with tenacity. He has it all, all of the tools. He can be a D-end or a D-tackle in the NFL. That poses a lot of problems for offensive lines. 

"First of all, you can move him, and he can be as effective from different positions. That's what I like about him. More than anything, I like his attitude and I like the way he plays."

On the transformation of Ole Miss under head coach Hugh Freeze...

"Coach Freeze has done a tremendous job. He's implemented a philosophy with this football team. He's put guys in place and he's recruited well. In order to stay atop this league, you have to have players. That's what it really boils down to. 

"All these coaches, we call them great, and we say they won so many games. It's about these players. The coaches, structurally, put them in the right position and put them in successful spots to make plays, but it comes down to the talent and the talent level. 

"We talk about Alabama, LSU, Auburn, all these schools that have been at the top. It's about talent, and now Hugh Freeze has a team that's as talented as anybody in the country. 

"You have a great quarterback who's playing really consistent right now, not turning the football over, offensive line, (Laquon) Treadwell out on the corner making plays.

"And this defense. It reminds me of the '03 LSU Tigers. It's a good mix, and it's a great group of talent, and it's coming together. Everybody is believing in what they're doing. That's to Coach Freeze's credit. It's about those guys he's putting out there on the football field, and I'm sure he would tell you the same thing."

On comparisons between the 2003 LSU team and this year's Ole Miss team...

"It starts with winning games. It starts with a belief system that you can compete against anybody in the country, that you have the talented and the play-makers to win every football game. That was our train of thought. We thought we were stacked in enough positions that there was no team you could roll out in college football and say LSU was not physically better or LSU did not have level of talent. 

"Ole Miss is in that same boat right now. Alabama has a tremendous amount of talent like they have always had, but if you go man for man in the whole country, I stack this Ole Miss team up against anybody, especially on defense."

On the Ole Miss running game...

"What Ole Miss is doing as well as anybody right now, is they're winning games defensively, and you can do it. That has been proven in the NFL and that has been proven in college, but I think Bo Wallace gives them the extra oomph that they need to win big games and put themselves in position to be in the College Football Playoff.

"The run game is a little different. Sometimes your team ins't built that way, but throwing these quick bubble screens is the same as a handoff. Getting these guys in space to make plays in the open fields is the equivalent of a handoff. Everything is not deep down the field.

"We look at turning around and handing the ball off to the running back as the run game. A lot of these teams are revolutionizing that by throwing quick hitches to receivers, then they beat a corner and they might go to the house. They have implemented stuff like that to help them out a lot. 

"Eventually, it will come town to a game or this year, where they will have to figure out to establish the run game. If they can, they will have success. They are just as good as anybody, if they show they can do that."

On the Ole Miss defense...

"You have to overcome to so much as a football team playing against this defense. The way they play, not only the way they play, but they creative turnovers. And that's huge. 

"A team can only give up 305 yards per game, which they consider pretty good, and they only gave 70-80 rushing yards, and they consider that pretty good, but when you have a defense like this that does that and creates turnovers and scores, it's tough to beat. 

"We led the league in scoring touchdowns on defense when we won the national championship. It's a formula that you can win with, and they have the guys to do it."

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

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

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

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

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

    Karen Holden said:

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

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

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

    in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia

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