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Key Stretch Starts with Tough Test in LSU

After an up-and-down non-conference slate that included wins over Creighton, Cincinnati and Oregon, all away from home, and losses to Charleston Southern and Western Kentucky, both at home, Ole Miss learned a lot about itself in the first week of Southeastern Conference play.

In their league opener, the Rebels went on the road and pushed No. 1 Kentucky to overtime, and then four days later, cruised to a wire-to-wire 65-49 win over South Carolina. One of the keys, head coach Andy Kennedy said, has been finding the right combinations on the floor.

"With us, every player has a strength and a weakness," Kennedy said. "I'm trying to have combinations to cover ourselves. We're getting better at that."

For the Rebels, the right combinations start with their two leading scorers in junior guard Stefan Moody (14.8 ppg), the high-volume scorer, and the senior guard Jarvis Summers (14.4 ppg), the game-manager, who are learning how to play together in the backcourt.

"The biggest thing is Moody has more assertive, as opposed to watching Jarvis," Kennedy said. "He's becoming more assertive and, now he's helping Jarvis. A lot of times early in the season, we were ball-watching a lot. Everybody was watching Jarvis dribble around, and nobody knew how aggressive they needed to be. We're starting to figure that out."

South Carolina head coach Frank Martin, who saw the duo up close and personal this past Saturday, likened Moody to an NFL defensive back because of his freakish athletic ability and described Summers as "probably the least-heralded player in the SEC that's really good." Through two SEC games, Moody and Summers are averaging a combined 21.0 ppg and shooting a combined 49.0 percent from the floor.

"I thought the way they play, I have always felt that (Jarvis) Summers was the heartbeat of their team," LSU head coach Johnny Jones said. "As solid as he is, is the sense of urgency and toughness that he plays with, even when they had Marshall Henderson on the team.

"The different look right now is the newcomer (Stefan Moody) that they have that did take a lot of those (Henderson-type) shots and played so well against Kentucky the other night gives them the feel of Henderson. He's a very capable scorer that can make shots."

After 1-1 start in league play, the Rebels enter a key stretch, where they play three straight games against RPI top 45 opponents, starting with LSU (No. 45) on Wednesday night.

"These are two teams that everybody has in the tournament," said sophomore forward Sebastian Saiz of LSU and Arkansas (No. 13 in the latest RPI). "At the end of the day, they're going to be in the tournament. So to get both of them is going to be really good for us."

LSU is led by sophomore forwards Jarell Martin and Jordan Mickey, who are averaging a combined 32.7 ppg and pulling down a combined 19.2 rebounds per game. Martin ranks third in scoring (16.8 ppg) and third in rebounding (8.6 rpg), while Mickey ranks sixth in scoring (15.9 ppg), second in scoring (10.6 rig) and leads the league in blocked shots (3.6/game).

"The conservation with LSU starts with Martin and Mickey, two great players, and they have really taken a big leap forward as you expect from year one to year two," Kennedy said. "They're two guys who caused you a lot of matchup problems because of their size and versatility."

Last season, Kennedy said, their biggest deficiencies were rebounding margin, defensive rebounding percentage, and an inability to finish close to the basket, all areas where Ole Miss has improved from last year to this point in the season. 

Against No. 1 Kentucky, the nation's longest team and the league's leader in rebounding margin, scoring defense, field goal percentage and blocked shots, Ole Miss was outrebounded just 34-32 and outscored the Wildcats 30-26 in the paint.

Led by Martin and Mickey, LSU provides another tough test for Ole Miss in each of those respective areas, as the Tigers rank fifth in the league in rebounding margin (+5.2/game) and second in blocked shots (6.3/game).

"Kentucky is the biggest team in college basketball and they would be the second-biggest team in the NBA, so if we can do that against Kentucky, we can do that against anybody else," said Saiz, who scored a career-high 20 points in last year's meeting with LSU."

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."

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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.

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