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Veteran Defenders Key Turnaround for Rebels

The hallmark of the turnaround of the Ole Miss football program has been the Landshark defense, one that leads the nation in scoring defense and fewest touchdowns allowed, and it starts with the core group of veterans who have seen it all during their college careers.

From a 2-10 season in 2011, to the program's first nine-win regular season since 2003, the unit has steadily improved, from the league's statistically worst defense in 2011, giving up 32.1 ppg, to the ninth-best defense in 2012 (27.6 ppg), to the seventh-best defense in 2013 (23.7 ppg), to the best defense in the league and the nation (13.8 ppg) entering their matchup with No. 6 TCU in the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl on Wednesday.

"When I look back, at the last few years, since I was a freshman, it's almost been a little overwhelming," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "Ole Miss was a dream of mine, and to see and to feel like I was a part of Ole Miss becoming what it is now and what it's going to be in the future has been a huge blessing for me. It's going to be one of those things that sticks with me for the rest of my life.

"I think I speak for all the seniors when I say that this means so much to us because we did come from so far down. I think it was 2-10 my freshman season, but at the same time I never lost faith in Ole Miss, I never lost faith in the program. It just made me want to work that much harder and when this new coaching staff came in, it rejuvenated us."

Four-year members of this year's senior class, such as Prewitt, have helped lead Ole Miss to three straight bowl games, the program's highest national ranking since 1972 and the program's highest final regular-season ranking since 1963, defeating No. 1 Alabama and No. 4 Mississippi State in the process.

"People kept talking about Ole Miss as almost being there, almost there, that they almost won this game or almost won that game, and we got to the point where we want to get there," Prewitt said. "We want to be in the national run consistently. We want to create one of those elite programs like Alabama or Auburn.

"We don't want to be one of those teams when they see us on the schedule that they write us off, and that was the main thing for the seniors. We wanted lead a team that was not going to be a pushover anymore. We wanted to be an elite program in the nation."

And then there are those players like junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, also a member of the 2011 signing class, who will be playing his final college game with many of his close friends and teammates. He knows that game is important going into the 2015 season, but he's not ready to turn the page on 2014.

"It's emotional, man," Johnson said. "It's going to be as emotional for me like it is for them. Our class has been through so much. That 2-10 year took a lot out of all of us. Being around those guys, it's going to be really emotional for me. I don't really like talking about it. I'm not ready for it to happen. I'm definitely going to miss those guys."

A win over TCU would give the Rebels their first 10-win season since 2003 and perhaps their first top-five final ranking since 1962, when they finished No. 3 in the nation, but that has not been the core focus for the core group of veterans throughout bowl preparations.

"I feel like this program, me, Cody, Senquez (Golson), a lot of the seniors, we talked to each other before the season started and we told each other that it's not only about this year, but it's about the longevity of this program," graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "We want to come back one day and say we had an instrumental part in building something that was strong."

What They're Saying: Ole Miss-LSU Pregame

Ahead of a rivalry renewed on a national stage, complete with a visit of ESPN's "College GameDay" and the mystique of a Saturday night game in Death Valley, here's link roundup of videos and stories from local and national media regarding the SEC West showdown between No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 23 LSU:

VIDEO: Ole Miss Film Room, breaking down the Rebels' defense, from ESPN.com

VIDEO: Can LSU establish the run against Ole Miss? from ESPN.com

VIDEO: LSU's chances of scoring on Ole Miss from ESPN.com

Freeze at home with Ole Miss, writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com

'Grandpa' D.T. Shackelford plays key role on Ole Miss defense, writes Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com

Wallace's experience an asset for Ole Miss, writes Jungkyu Lee of ESPN.com

Ole Miss-LSU: Why Rebels can run table and win national title, writes Coy Wire of Fox Sports

Weekend Watch List: Ole Miss-LSU a precursor to brutal SEC West stretch, writes Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports

SEC teams not done knocking each other off, writes John Zenor of the Associated Press

No. 3 Ole Miss relies on tough defense for wins, writes David Brandt of the Associated Press

Ole Miss much different since last visit to LSU, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Australian punters are on both sides of LSU-Ole Miss, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Ole Miss carries defensive streak into LSU game, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Five things to know about the LSU vs. Ole Miss game, writes Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com

The LSU-Ole Miss rivalry is back with a vengeance, writes Ron Higgins of NOLA.com

Numbers that Matter: Ole Miss vs. LSU, writes Bill Bender of Sporting News

Here's two videos from Ole Miss and one video from LSU to get you ready for Saturday:

 

 


LesMiles.Net - OleMiss Trailer from LSU Football on Vimeo.


Game-Manager Bo

Head coach Hugh Freeze admitted the offense played well enough to manage the game and let the defense win it. 

Ole Miss leaned on its running game, rushing for 160 yards on 35 carries, while Bo Wallace completed 13-of-19 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions. 

Most importantly, the Rebels won the turnover battle and protected the football, which proved to be a winning formula, as the Rebels cruised to a 35-20 win at Texas A&M.

"One thing he's done for us, when our defense is playing well, we're really trying to manage the game," said Freeze of Wallace. "His numbers the other night could have been a lot better because we had some things in the passing game. In that environment, when you're playing in front of 110,000 that are itching to be a factor in the game, the last thing I want to do is give them anything to be excited about."

Wallace is the only SEC quarterback to rank top-four in the SEC in total offense, passing yards and pass efficiency. He also ranks second in the SEC, completing 68.5 percent of his passes, and ranks third in the SEC, averaging 9.4 yards per attempt.

Most impressively, since the second half of the season opener, Wallace has thrown 14 touchdown passes and only three interceptions. He has also not turned the ball over through three games in SEC play.

"I feel so much more relaxed going into games," Wallace said. "I know if we punt the defense is going to go out and make a stop. I'm going into games confident and feeling good. I'm definitely not trying to force any balls."

Defense Limits Explosive Plays

The Ole Miss defense leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally, giving up just 4.31 yards per play. A large part of that success is due to limiting explosive plays. 

Opponents have run 428 plays this season. Among them, Ole Miss has allowed 64 plays of 10-plus yards, 19 plays of 20-plus yards and six plays of 30-plus yards, all of which rank among the top-20 nationally.

"I've always been a believer from being an offensive coach, if you make an offense have to drive a consistent drive, over and over again for 60-70 yards, we make mistakes on offense," Freeze said. "You're going to block a look wrong or something. It's very difficult if you don't get explosive plays. 

"When you get explosive plays, those drives get easier. If you really have to grind out first down after first down and then convert in the red zone, it's difficult. Our team has given up very few explosive plays and then we've been stingy when it does get in the red zone and made people settle for field goals."

This emphasis showed against Texas A&M, an explosive offense that ranks among the nation's leaders in yards per play and long plays from scrimmage. Ole Miss limited Texas A&M to 5.2 yards per play and just three plays of 20-plus yards, both of which were well below its season averages.

"We were playing a pretty good offense the other night at their place," Freeze said. "Over the last three years, they've probably been the No. 1 offense in the nation in yards and points, top three for sure. I would have to say we've improved. You're only judged by your last game, as we all know."

Prewitt Wants More on Defense

The Ole Miss defense ranks among the nation's leaders in most categories and has drawn praise from opponents and pundits alike, but safety Cody Prewitt, the reigning SEC Defensive Player of the Week, is his own harshest critic.

"I would give us a 'B' right now," Prewitt said. "I'm sure people from the outside would look in and say A-plus. Knowing the defense and knowing everything that goes into it, I would give us a B, maybe a B-plus, because I know about the small things that most people don't recognize -- small fits here or there, or missed assignments here or there. I would give us a B-plus, but on effort, I would give us an A-plus."

Ole Miss held the explosive Texas A&M offense to 20 points and shut out the Aggies in the first half for the first time in the Kevin Sumlin era. The three touchdowns allowed were just the fifth, sixth and seventh touchdowns allowed this season and only the second and third allowed by the first-string defense.

"That was aggravating for us," Prewitt said. "We want to be the No. 1 defense in the nation. For them to score 20 points on us is aggravating for all of us. That's one thing we have taken upon ourselves. We have a couple of more games to prove we are the defense that people think we are."

Related Links: 

Big Picture: Ole Miss' nasty D could have next Ndamukong Suh & more, writes Bruce Feldman of Fox Sports 

AP voters who put Ole Miss No. 1 really like Rebels' defense, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal

Ole Miss' defense is college football's most impressive unit, writes Matt Brown of Sports on Earth

Observations from the Best Seat in the House -- Oct. 12

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What They're Saying: Ole Miss-Texas A&M

Behind an efficient offense and dominant defense, No. 3 Ole Miss defeated No. 14 Texas A&M, 35-20, on the road in front of a record-breaking crowd of 110,633 at Kyle Field. Here are some Ole Miss-Texas A&M related links and Tweets:

AUDIO: Ole Miss-Alabama Highlights from David Kellum of Ole Miss IMG

Where will Ole Miss rank after Texas A&M takedown, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger

Hostile crowd has no effect on Ole Miss, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal

Rebels had no hangover, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal

Bo Wallace's place key to Rebels' recent, and possible future, success, writes Sam Khan Jr. of ESPN.com

Instant Analysis: No. 3 Ole Miss 35, No. 14 Texas A&M 20, writes Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com

Ole Miss rolls past Texas A&M, stakes claim to No. 1 ranking, writes Craig Stephenson of AL.com

What we learned from Ole Miss 35, Texas A&M 20, writes Mike Herndon of AL.com

There is no doubting Ole Miss' Landshark defense after win over Texas A&M, writes Barrett Sallee of Bleacher Report

Ole Miss dominates Texas A&M, moves to top of playoff projection, writes Jerry Palm of CBS Sports

College Football Rewind: When the SEC turns, it turns fasts, writes Jon Solomon of CBS Sports

Either Mississippi State or Ole Miss deserve No. 1 ranking, writes Laken Litman of USA Today

Three and Out: Bo Wallace, Ole Miss continue hot start with win over Texas A&M, writes Martin Rickman of Sports Illustrated

And in case you missed it, "Gigged: Ole Miss Cruises at Texas A&M" and "Landshark Defense Silences Record Crowd" on Ole Miss Blog. Speaking of the Ole Miss defense, here's the story of the Ole Miss Landshark from ESPN's Tom Rinaldi.

Landshark Defense Silences Record Crowd

COLLEGE STATION, Texas -- What could Ole Miss do for an encore?

After a thrilling win over No. 1 Alabama, Ole Miss put its No. 3 national ranking on the line on the road at No. 14 Texas A&M. 

Playing in front of a state of Texas and SEC record 110,633 fans, Ole Miss went wire to wire with a 35-20 win that never felt as close as the final score indicated.

"We knew it wasn't a fluke," defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche said. "We knew we were ready for Texas A&M. Both games, we knew we were supposed to win. We don't really care what the media says. We're going to keep playing and keeping getting better as a team."

Outside of a few moments in the third quarter, the Rebels took the crowd out of the game, taking a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter and going into halftime with the same 21-0 lead. 

By the end of the game, most of the 110,000-plus had cleared out of Kyle Field, and the small but vocal pockets of Ole Miss fans drowned out their Texas A&M counterparts.

"It was important to come out with a great intensity in a hostile environment," Nkemdiche said. "The defense was great. We came out and didn't let them get anything. We went into halftime 21-0 and that was really big for us."

That intensity started with a defense that's one of, if not the best defenses in the nation.

Ole Miss held Texas A&M to 455 yards of total offense, a 5.2 yards per play average, with a significant amount of the yardage coming in the fourth quarter when the game was out of reach. 

The Aggies entered the game ranked third nationally in total offense (583.2 ypg) and scoring offense (47.8 ppg) and fifth nationally in yards per play (7.5).

"I couldn't be more proud of the staff and the kids on defense and the way they're playing," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We stressed tonight in the second half because the offense didn't stay on the field enough. Those last couple of drives showed. The offense takes the blame for that. But any time you get defensive scores, it's big for you."

The Ole Miss defense, behind two touchdowns, equaled Texas A&M's scoring output, if not for the Aggies' last touchdown as time expired. 

Safety Cody Prewitt put Ole Miss ahead 21-0 with a 75-yard interception return for a touchdown, and linebacker Keith Lewis, making his second start of the season, pushed the lead out to 35-7 with a 21-yard fumble return for a touchdown.

"We executed the game plan," Prewitt said. "We play how we're coached. We have great coaches and they have harped on all season to take the ball away and score."

The three touchdowns allowed were just the fifth, sixth and seventh touchdowns allowed this season and only the second and third allowed by the first-string defense.

"We're probably going to get ripped for letting them score 21 (sic) points because that's the level of expectation we set for ourselves," Nkemdiche said. "We have to do a job next week of cleaning things up and come out and play a better game.

"If somebody scores on us, someone wasn't doing their job because of the talent level and the people we have on defense. Nobody should score on us, no matter what."

With No. 3 Mississippi State's win over No. 2 Auburn, poll talk and playoff talk will only intensify going forward, particularly in the Magnolia State that took center stage in the college football world for the second straight week. Freeze was very candid in regard to the subject after the win over Texas A&M.

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

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

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

VIDEO: Ole Miss Football: Fins Up (Part 2)

In case you missed it, Fins Up (Part 1) from last year:


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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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