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Luke Breaks Down the Offensive Line

The center and right tackle position battles have been two of the biggest story lines of fall camp, but as the Rebels prepped for their second preseason scrimmage Wednesday night, they are closer to solidifying the depth chart along the offensive line.

"It's starting to shape up," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "Right now, there's still a pretty good battle going on at center with Ben (Still) and (Robert) Conyers, and then Conyers being able to move out and play tackle gives us some flexibility there. Rod Taylor has come on, understanding with more reps he gets. He's very talented. The more reps he gets, the better he's going to get there (at guard). Craig Frigo has been impressive. He can give us some depth there (at guard). 

"The issue we have right now is tackle, trying to figure out the mixing and matching when we're subbing. In early games, you want to be able to play some guys, especially with our tempo, so the challenge right now is to figure out the best rotation."

The discussion along the offensive line starts with sophomore Laremy Tunsil, a freshman All-American, who will anchor the line at left tackle and has made a jump from his freshman to sophomore season.

"He's much more confident," Luke said. "I know it's hard to believe with a guy of that ability, but his ability level has really risen. I have been very impressed with him as a leader and his knowledge of the game. He's gotten a lot stronger. He's kept his weight right where it needs to be, in the 305-pound range. He's moving really well. I have seen the biggest improvement in his run-blocking, trying to finish people. He took the challenge to get stronger and finish in the run game."

Inside, juniors Aaron Morris and Justin Bell have been constants at left and right guard, respectively, with Taylor and Frigo the primary backups there. Morris, who missed all of the 2013 season and was limited in spring drills with an ACL injury, has showed no ill effects during fall camp.

"I have been impressed with him," Luke said. "He has a little tendinitis from coming back from the knee injury, but he's gone every rep of every single thing. He hasn't come out. I'm hoping he will continue to get in football shape as we go through this second big scrimmage of preseason."

There has been shuffling on the line with redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin moving outside to tackle and leaving Taylor inside at guard. Bouldin is battling fellow redshirt freshman Davion Johnson for the fourth tackle spot behind Tunsil, junior Fahn Cooper, who appears to have solidified the starting right tackle spot, and Conyers.

"He's doing well," said Luke of the move for Bouldin. "I have been very pleased. We tried Rod out there a little bit, but with a young guy, it's better to leave him at one spot. Maybe as the season progresses, we can play some more tackle. Daronte has been in the offense longer and knows the offense. He's done well out there on the edge. He's been a pleasant surprise at tackle because I had him slotted as a guard in my mind."

Overall, Luke said, they're a couple of guys away from being where they want to be depth-wise, but they are comfortable with six to eight players in the offensive line. One area he looks for marked improvement this season is the run game.

"Our line is built to get better in the run game," Luke said. "We're bigger and more physical. Fahn gives us some punch there at right tackle because he's a big, physical guy. The run game will be good. We'll be physical. We still have to continue to try to block No. 5 (Robert Nkemdiche). That's hard for anybody, but when he gets into those 1-on-1 match ups, we have to step up and protect and we have struggled to do that against him."


Ole Miss Ranked No. 18 in SI Preseason Poll

Sports Illustrated unveiled its preseason top 25 Wednesday, including its four playoff-bound selections in No. 1 Florida State, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Oklahoma and No. 4 Ohio State. In addition to Ole Miss at No. 18, other Southeastern Conference teams included in the top 25 were No. 7 Auburn, No. 11 South Carolina, No. 12 Georgia, No. 14 LSU, No. 20 Texas A&M and No. 22 Missouri.

Ole Miss had one of the SEC's best attacks at times last season, averaging 6.0 yards per play and a league-leading 78.3 plays per game, but execution was often a problem. The Rebels ended the year next to last in the conference in red zone efficiency (73.9%). That inability to finish kept Ole Miss from contending in the SEC West last season. Senior Bo Wallace holds the keys to coach Hugh Freeze's up-tempo offense. Sophomore receiver Laquon Treadwell and sophomore tight end Evan Engram should give Wallace plenty to work with through the air, while tailbacks I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, who combined for almost 1,100 rushing yards last year, will man the backfield.

For a complete scouting report on Ole Miss from Sports Illustrated, click here.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze, on the status of Tee Shepard: "We are getting different opinions, but it doesn't look good. It is a rare injury that he could try to push through and get fixed after the season. However, there is the chance that scar tissue could form and affect him long term. We certainly think he has a career in football and we want to do everything we can to preserve that career. The final decision has not been made; we are waiting on one final opinion from one of the top doctors that deals with this injury every day, but right not it doesn't look promising."

Freeze, on Shepard's eligibility if he doesn't play this season: "He would have two (years) to (play) two (years). He's three (years) to (play) three (years) right now, but there's hopefully a basis for an appeal to get a year back. You can't do that until after his eligibility is done.

Freeze on Issac Gross: "He's fine. He was back yesterday at practice. He seemed to be his old self. He had a little neck strain, but he looked good yesterday at practice."

Freeze, on the offensive line: "We're pretty close to solidifying our depth chart. We worked a lot of combinations. We moved Daronte (Bouldin) to right tackle. We decided we're going to leave Rod (Taylor) inside. Davion (Johnson), Fahn (Cooper), Laremy (Tunsil) and Robert (Conyers) are getting work at tackle. Robert is going between center and tackle. There are going to be some guys who have to play two spots, but we're pretty close."

Jaylen Walton, on the running backs: "This is the most talented group because of depth. We're all young, all around the same class. I played against Mark (Dodson), I'Tavius (Mathers) and Jordan (Wilkins). All of them are going to be good backs."

Walton, on Akeem Judd: "Out of all the running backs, Akeem is the bruiser. He's the hard-nosed runner out of all of us. He's coming along, learning all the plays and all the assignment. He's picking it up pretty well."

Vince Sanders, on missing spring drills: "It was very frustrating. Any time you miss you wish you were out there with your guys practicing. It was frustrating, but I know I had to stay positive because I was looking forward to camp."

Sanders, on being overlooked: "I understand you can't get too caught up in the media. I have been here for a long time now and my name has never been up there because we had other guys. I don't let that get to me too much."

Matt Luke, on Sean Rawlings: "He's doing well. He's been doing some center and tackle. He has a similar body type to Conyers. As he grows, he will be in line with that. He's done well. He's picked up the offense. We would love to be able to redshirt him and Jordan Sims, if I can, but I don't know if I will be able to or not. We'll see how it goes."

Luke, on Craig Frigo: "He's exactly what you're looking for in terms of his demeanor in football. He's a tough guy. I asked him to play some tackle early on and he did that, but I see him contributing at guard, with him and Rod being able to sub for Aaron and Justin."


 

Battling The Elements Thursday Night

One of the core values for the Ole Miss football program is mental toughness. With a rivalry game in a hostile environment, it will carry a greater importance. 

"You're going into a hostile environment, and that's the biggest thing," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "When you're playing here, you have your home-field advantage. When you're playing there, it's a hostile environment and nobody likes you. It's kind of you versus the whole stadium."

One challenge is the weather, with the temperature expected to dip into the 30s, maybe the upper 20s, which is something similar to what they faced in the 24-10 loss to No. 8 Missouri this past Saturday. Head coach Hugh Freeze said they have to be mentally tough to handle it.

"I did not think we handled the weather well the other night," Freeze said. "I don't talk about those things a lot, but I did talk to our team about it today. I didn't think we handled it really well, particularly when we got behind."

Another challenge is the 55,000-plus fans at Davis Wade Stadium, with the sound of cowbells. Each of the past two days, Ole Miss has had cowbell sounds, along with the usual loud music for road games, piped into practice in the Manning Center.

"We better get used to that," Freeze said. "I'm not sure how that process is going there with the regulations that they have on them. I'm certain in this game we will hear some."

"Barry (Brunetti) said that it's one of the toughest places he has played, so that's what I'm anticipating," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said, referring to Brunetti's start at quarterback in the 2011 game at Mississippi State.

Length, Size In Mississippi State's Front Seven


Freeze had praise for the Bulldogs' front seven, led by sophomore linebacker Benardrick McKinney and junior defense end Preston Smith. McKinney and Smith are tied for the team lead with 2.5 sacks. McKinney also leads the team with 61 tackles, while Smith leads the team with 6.5 tackles for loss.

"Their length and size of their front, they are one of the longer defenses you will face," Freeze said. "Their linebackers are tall, and their front is huge. It is difficult to win one-on-ones, so you have to create double teams, and their linebackers are good at running around and making plays. In the passing game, they do a great job of spot-dropping, and they're so long, that those windows to throw in don't stay open very long. 

"You have to take care of the ball. They're great at getting turnovers, and when you turn the ball over, you're not nearly as good. We have to be balanced, so we can be effective in throwing. The last thing you want with who we are is to get into a situation where they know we have to throw."

Another player to note in the front seven is freshman defensive lineman Chris Jones, who has started three games for the Bulldogs, two at defensive tackle and another at defensive end. He leads the team with nine quarterback hurries, ranks second with two sacks and tied for third with five tackles for loss.

"Any time that you're a freshman playing in this league, you better be pretty good," Luke said. "The biggest thing is adjusting to the speed of the game in this league. Any time you are able to do that as a freshman, it's good."

Wallace, Other Health Updates

Wallace battled flu-like symptoms in the 24-10 loss to No. 8 Missouri this past Saturday. He is close to 100 percent, Freeze said Tuesday.

"He still felt some lingering effects this morning," he said. "We'll get him off his feet today and hopefully get him back to 100 percent. He went through everything in practice, but he felt a little weak today."

Also on the health front, Freeze said he doesn't think senior cornerback Charles Sawyer (various injuries) will be able to go, and senior running back Jeff Scott (thigh bruise/bone spur) is questionable like he was Monday.

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."

Rebels Excited But Not Satisfied

Ole Miss is bowl eligible for the second straight year under head coach Hugh Freeze after a 34-24 win over Arkansas this past Saturday. The Rebels are also 6-3 for the first time since 2009, when the started 8-3 before finishing with a 9-4 record. As excited as they are about being bowl eligible and the 6-3 start, the coaches and players are not satisfied.

"I like that the expectation level has risen," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "They're not just satisfied with getting six wins but trying to build this program to where we all want it to be.

"It's a sense of accomplishment," sophomore offensive lineman Justin Bell said. "It shows that we're better than we were last year. We're not where we want to be but we're far from where we used to be."

Ole Miss continues with its fifth of six straight home games, as the Rebels (6-3, 3-3 SEC) step out of Southeastern Conference play on Saturday for its first ever meeting with the Troy Trojans (5-5, 3-3 Sun Belt). 

"I don't think it a challenge of focus," Luke said. "We have to focus on us and getting better. That's the main thing. We want to finish going up, and to do that, each game has to be improvement. And there are certainly a lot of areas of improvement from the Arkansas game, and that's a good thing. Our goal is to focus on us, get better and finish these three games playing our best football."

"Our mindset is so much on nine wins that we know we have to be prepared to play and reach that goal," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said.

Wallace, Passing Game In Focus


After a stat correction from Saturday's game against Arkansas, Wallace is now credited with a career-best 416 passing yards and 428 total yards, which both rank No. 2 in school history, to go along with three touchdowns. He also ranks top 25 nationally in total offense (283.2 ypg) and passing (264.8 ypg).

He moved into fifth place in school history in career total offense yards (5,942), passing Jevan Snead and Archie Manning this past Saturday, and sixth place in career passing yards (5,386), fourth in passing touchdowns (36) and second in 300-yard passing games (7). 

"It was a goal of mine to do that," said Wallace, of his place in the record books. "It's surprised some people that it's happened so early, but I'm a confident. I think I'm the best when I walk out there, whether I am or not. 

"I just got to keep improving. There are so many things I can still get better at. Last offseason, I didn't really get a chance to get better physically. This year, I'm really excited about the offseason to do that."

Led by Wallace, the Rebels finished with a season-high 428 passing yards and eclipsed 500 yards for the third straight game and the fourth time this year. They had two receivers with over 100 receiving yards for the first time since 2003. 

Ole Miss has four receivers with over 200 receiving yards for the year, not including freshman tight end Evan Engram who is out for the year with an ankle injury. 

"We're really fortunate to have all of those guys," Luke said. "Coach Heard does a great job. Those guys play hard and are very unselfish. There are times e have asked them to block on the perimeter, and they have done that. It's good to see those guys step up and make plays."

Freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell has a team-high 49 catches for 424 yards and three touchdown, followed by junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief with 41 catches for a team-high 647 yards and team-high five touchdowns. 

Senior Ja-Mes Logan has 35 catches for 496 yards and three touchdown, and junior wide receiver Vince Sanders has 10 catches for 204 yards and a touchdown, to go along with a team-leading 20.4 yards per catch.

"I'm not looking at who I'm throwing to," Wallace said. "We have great receivers everywhere. When I make a read, I don't care who it is." 

"As receivers, we feel like we're the group of this team that gets everybody going," Sanders said. "When we make a play, the offense flows. When don't make plays, the offense struggles. As a group, we feel like the group goes through us."

Treadwell Among Nation's Best, Tunsil Honored



Treadwell, who caught a game-high passes for 39 yards and a touchdown against Arkansas, now has a team-high 49 catches for 424 yards. His 5.4 catches per game leads SEC freshmen and ranks third among freshmen nationally. It also ranks fifth in the SEC and 56th nationally.

"You look at him and he looks like an NFL receiver right now," Wallace said. "He's done a great job. He can get so much better. He probably has the best hands on the team, him and Donte, probably. He'll work on his route-running and mature. His body will get better. You guys are going to have a lot of fun watching him."

Another freshman, Laremy Tunsil, was honored as SEC offensive lineman of the week, as he helped Ole Miss to the second-most passing yards in school history and the third straight game of 500-plus total offense yards.

Tunsil has played in every game and started six at left tackle, and he is one of two true freshmen in the nation to be his team's full-time starting left tackle.

"Not when he's a five-star who comes in, looks the way does and works the way he does," said Wallace, of a lack of trust with a freshman left tackle. "I trust him as much as everyone else up there."

"The proof is in the pudding," Bell said. "You see his footwork. He's a natural-born athlete. I was amazing especially comparing my freshman year to how he is now. It's great and it only gets better from here. He does everything pretty well. There's always room for improvement. He does everything pretty well. He hits his landmark, shoots his hands, and most importantly, he keeps his feet moving."

Bowl Projections For Now Bowl-Eligible Rebels

After Saturday's game against Troy (11 a.m., ESPNU), Ole Miss plays its sixth of six straight games at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and finishes the seven-game home slate with with a primetime showdown against No. 9 Missouri on Nov. 23 (6:45 p.m., ESPN). The Rebels wrap up the regular season on Thanksgiving night against intrastate rival Mississippi State (6:30 p.m., ESPN).

In this week's bowl projections, ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach and Brad Edwards and CBSSports.com's Jerry Palm all have the Rebels in the Music City Bowl, while SI.com's Stewart Mandel has them in the Gator Bowl.


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.

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.

Comeback Falls Short On The Plains


No. 24 Ole Miss rallied in the second half and got to within five, 27-22, early in the fourth quarter, after Bo Wallace connected with Donte Moncrief for two touchdowns. Auburn later added a field goal with just over three minutes left, and Ole Miss had a final chance down one possession, but the comeback fell short, as the Tigers held on for a 30-22 win at Jordan-Hare Stadium.


"It was a disappointing loss," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I thought they were well prepared and they were a great football team, but we had out chances. And certainly, we can't give them points off turnovers like we did and we have to score touchdowns when we get the opportunity. We had the ball three times with chances to take the lead and then could not protect... There are little things that they did better than us tonight."


Quarterback Bo Wallace completed 25 of 48 passes for a season-high 336 yards with two touchdowns and two interception. It was his fourth career 300-yard passing game, which is second-most in school history behind Eli Manning. However, he was also sacked six times, including back-to-back plays on the Rebels' final offensive possession.


"We lost a lot of one-on-ones," Freeze said of protecting Wallace. "When you feel like you have to abandon the run a little bit, they certainly can tee off and that happened a lot. We certainly feel like we got beat quite a few times.


"They played a lot of man-to-man coverage just like everyone has done here lately. We had people open. We did drop some balls and made some good plays here and there, but you have got to protect. We did not protect very well."



"Anytime you give up that many sacks, it goes back to down and distance, and us being behind the chains a lot in 3rd-and-long situations," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "I thought we had an opportunity to win the game (on the last drive), and we just didn't get it done. We got to get back to work."


On the other sideline, quarterback Nick Marshall led all players 14 carries for 140 yards and two touchdowns. He also completed 11 of 17 passes for 93 yards.


"He had a phenomenal first half," Freeze said of Marshall. "He is an athletic guy, and we struggled to contain him at time. I thought we did a better job in the second half on him. He is a good player, and they make you defend the entire field. They have a player back there like him that is hard to defend."


For Ole Miss, Saturday marked the third straight road game and the fourth out of the first five games of the seasons. The Rebels return home for six straight home games over the next seven weeks starting with No. 9 Texas A&M and last year's Heisman Trophy winner Johnny Manziel.


"We look forward to going home," Freeze said. "The road does not get much easier but at least we will have our people behind us and pulling for us like we have experienced on the road. We will keep fighting, I know, but that's a hurting locker room right now, and it is disappointing."


Depth On The Offensive Line

The story with the offensive line continues to be its depth.

Earlier in fall practice, offensive line coach Matt Luke said they should have eight or nine players ready to go this season, and that depth is taking shape on the practice fields, as senior Patrick Junen returned to full-speed practice on Monday.

"Right now, we're probably looking at three tackles and maybe four guards, so seven, then you always have got to have another center ready, so seven or eight is a fair number," Luke said Tuesday of the offensive line rotation.

Ole Miss returns both of its starting tackles from last season, seniors Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton, at left tackle and right tackle, respectively. Luke said he expects them to be leaders this season, as they both enter year two as starters.

"For us to be good this year, our seniors have to play like seniors," Luke said. "I expect them to be leaders and role models for those young guys. Laremy (Tunsil) is going to play some, so they have to be able to handle that and help mentor him to be the player that he can be.

With McCray out due to a family issue, Tunsil earned first-team reps at left tackle in Saturday's scrimmage, and head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday that Luke said Tunsil graded out better than any freshman he has ever coached in a scrimmage. Tunsil also drew similar praise from one of his teammates.

"Laremy is a class act," McCray said. "He's definitely a talented kid. He has to keep a level head, learn how to practice harder and play hard when he's tired. As far as the fundamentals, there are little things here and there, but for him to be a freshman and as talented as he is, he will be just fine."

There has been a lot of competition at both guard positions, with junior Aaron Morris, senior Jared Duke, sophomore Justin Bell, senior Patrick Junen and freshman Austin Golson all getting reps there.

At right guard, Junen missed most of the spring and the first two weeks of fall practice due to injury, so Bell got most of the first-team reps there. On Tuesday, Junen got first-team reps due to Bell being held out with a minor back issue.

"He missed most of the spring and sat out," Luke said of Junen. "That's always hard. The good thing is he's played a lot of football. I don't think it will take him long once we get into the flow of the season. Obviously, conditioning is going to be an issue. He's not ready to play a full game yet. Hopefully, by the third or fourth game, he will be."

"Without a doubt," Luke said of Bell making a strong case to be the starting right guard. "He's been there, day in and day out. He's a great kid. He's competing his butt off. It's very, very important to him. I am very comfortable with Justin playing, if we had to start today."

Senior Evan Swindall returns at center, but behind him, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers and sophomore Ben Still have split reps there.

"I have still have got a few days to decide between (Robert) and Ben," Luke said. "They are going back and forth, splitting all those reps. It's a battle. I would say, right now, they're about even. I would feel comfortable with either going in there and fighting and competing. Obviously, we want Evan to get the majority of the reps, but he's always one play away, so they have got to be ready to play."

'Back Into The Swing Of Things'

After missing most of the spring and first two weeks of fall practice due to toe and wrist injuries, senior offensive guard Patrick Junen returned to full-speed practice on Monday.

"It was very frustrating," Junen said of missing practice. "Seeing my fellow seniors out there, guys who I have been here for four years with, going through it and not being out there with them, it's super frustrating. I'm finally getting back into the swing of things and trying to get back on the line."

After losing seasons in 2010 and 2011, then last year's 7-6 season, Junen said there's much more excitement going into this season.

"It's a great feeling seeing Coach Freeze come in and build a program that's winning," Junen said. "It's very exciting to be a part of that and be able to be there at the beginning of the transition and go through it."

Protecting Wallace, Increasing The Tempo

As Ole Miss prepares for Vanderbilt, senior offensive tackle Emmanuel McCray said they're not letting the preseason hype and expectations get in their mind at all, especially on the offensive line.

"We gave up too many sacks, and we had a lot of little things that we could have fixed," McCray said. "Toward the middle and end of the season, we honed in on the little things and did them better. We're trying to pick off where we left off and get better from there."

One of those things, McCray said, is protecting junior quarterback Bo Wallace, who underwent offseason clavicle surgery.

"With him coming off the surgery, we're taking it personal already, just because we already kind of feel responsible for last year's injury," McCray said. "You definitely don't want to see your quarterback hurt. And with the quarterback situation that we have, we never know who's next after Bo. We don't know that right now, so we need to keep him healthy as possible."

Another of those things is tempo, which the offensive linemen have talked about throughout fall practice.

"We feel faster," McCray said of the tempo. "We're still getting into tempo shape. It's looking pretty good. We're definitely ahead of schedule, but we're not where we want to be. We had a couple of guys who were out with injuries and surgeries, like (Patrick) Junen and Aaron (Morris) that still got to get in shape. But for the most part, we're moving faster and looking better."

Treadwell Continues To Impress

Freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell continues to make plays in the slot. He separates well, runs good routes and has shown an ability to catch the ball in traffic and also gain yards after the catch.


A couple of plays that stood out for him in team drills included a pair of touchdown grabs, one on a corner route throw from freshman quarterback Devante Kincade, the other on a swing pass from junior quarterback Bo Wallace.


"He's just getting more comfortable," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Treadwell. "He starts understanding things more. Quincy, also, made some good plays. I think the more comfortable they get, the faster they feel like they can play. And I think they see now how vital they are to us and how they fit into things. I thought they both had good days."


Kincade himself continues to impress and has gotten a lot of reps with the second-team offense and even a few with the first-team offense during fall practice.


"I'm real excited about him," Freeze said of Kincade. "I think he's going to be a really good player, and he wants to. He studies hard and works hard. He wants to be a leader."


A couple of notable plays from team drills included a long run by sophomore running back Jaylen Walton, then back-to-back completions from Wallace to Treadwell that resulted in a touchdown. 


On the defensive side, junior linebacker Keith Lewis had an interception in a red-zone drill, and junior linebacker Serderius Bryant delivered a big hit on freshman running back Jordan Wilkins.


In the 3-2-6 defensive look similar to yesterday, there were similar changes in personnel. Lewis replaced senior Mike Marry at linebacker, but also sophomore cornerback Anthony Standifer was an extra defensive back on the outside and moved sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette from outside to inside alongside sophomore Huskie Mike Hilton.


"I'm still concerned," Freeze said of the cornerback position. "We're real thin there. We really need to get Senquez and Charles back, and we're working hard toward that. But at the same time, you know you got to have some depth.


"I think we may have to consider moving Cliff (Coleman) back out there a lot more than we have. I think (Anthony) Standifer has had a good week, and I like his length, particularly in the red zone."


Conyers Gets Second-Team Reps At Center


Redshirt freshman Robert Conyers, who has worked primarily at right tackle, got second-team reps at center behind senior Evan Swindall.


"It's a little new, just trying to get used to it," Conyers said of the move. "I went from tackle to center, and just trying to get on the field, whichever way Coach Luke uses me."


Conyers said the move was prompted this past summer by offensive line coach Matt Luke.


"Coming in, Coach Luke told me to be ready to play everything," he said. "And this past summer, Coach Luke told me to start snapping. Back in workouts, I would go with Evan Swindall to get it right. Now, it's time to step up and starting it a little bit. It's just learning how to get the snaps down."


The biggest adjustment, Conyers said, is just the snapping and getting the ball right, adding that blocking responsibilities also changes with the move from tackle to center.


"Dealing with the bigger guys," he said of the adjustment. "Trying to get over and making the calls right. At tackle, you're just seeing the edge pressure and the blitzes. But at center, you got to see everything, and you got to push the tempo of the ball. I think that's where I can help a lot is running up and pushing the tempo of the ball."


NOTABLE


In a punt coverage drill, sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette and senior cornerback Dehendret Collins remained the outside gunners. And freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche remained one of the three personal protectors, alongside senior linebackers Mike Marry and D.T. Shackelford.


Senior Jared Duke got first-team reps at left guard ahead of junior Aaron Morris for the second straight day. Freshman Austin Golson got second-team reps at both right guard and tackle.


Shackelford got reps at defensive end for the second straight day, primarily with the second-team defense.

Junior defensive end C.J. Johnson was a full participant in practice and ran with the first-team defense, opposite freshman Robert Nkemdiche. It should also be noted that both senior defensive end Cameron Whigham and junior defensive end Carlos Thompson were held out of practice.

"He seemed to handle it pretty well," head coach Hugh Freeze said of Johnson. "He is going to have to just play through some pain. The doctors were here and everything looks good with the repair, he is just going to have to push through some of it and get himself back into shape."

Behind Johnson and Nkemdiche, sophomore Channing Ward got second-team reps at defensive end, opposite senior D.T. Shackelford, who moved from linebacker to defensive end, where he played some as a sophomore in 2010.

"We are moving him around to several positions and he was solely at end today," Freeze said of Shackelford. "He plays with a wide open motor and that is something you have to have on the defensive side of the ball. He is a great leader and any time he is out there people rally around him. His quickness is a lot better than it was this spring. He feels good and is getting more and more comfortable."

In the secondary, sophomore Chief Brown got some first-team reps at Rover ahead of sophomore Trae Elston. In a third-down situational competition, the defense showed what looked like a 3-2-6 base defense.

The notable personnel changes from the 4-2-5 to the 3-2-6 on the first-team defense were junior Bryon Bennett as the only defensive tackle, junior Keith Lewis replacing senior Mike Marry at one linebacker spot and the addition of freshman Huskie Tony Connor, alongside sophomore Huskie Mike Hilton.

"He is learning quickly and plays very physical," Freeze said of Connor. "He is still like any freshman and his eyes are in the wrong place some times, but he is everything we thought he would be and will be a really good player for us."

Options On Offensive Line

Not including senior Patrick Junen who has been held out of fall practice while recovering from offseason surgery, eight different offensive linemen have gotten first-team reps.

"There are several competitions going on right now, and that's part of the good thing about this camp. Last year, guys didn't really get pushed. We have a lot of competition going on at every position, and guys battling for their spot."

One of those competitions is right guard, where Junen and sophomore Justin Bell were listed as co-starters on the preseason depth chart. With Junen out, Bell has gotten most of the first-team reps there throughout fall practice.

"He's doing well," offensive line coach Matt Luke said of Bell. "Justin is a great kid. He tries to please in everything he does. He's a student of the game. He's very intelligent. He's paid his dues. He's worked hard, and he's really doing a great job while Patrick has been out. He has some things to work on in pass protection, but he's done a good job."

At the other guard position, junior Aaron Morris had gotten most of the first-team reps, but senior Jared Duke ran with the first team on Thursday.

"That's one of the battles going on right now," Luke said. "Jared has had a great camp. He's a little bit heavy, but he's had an unbelievable camp."

When senior Pierce Burton was held out earlier in fall practice, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers and freshman Laremy Tunsil both got first-team reps at tackle, and they now work with the second-team offense at right tackle and left tackle, respectively, behind Burton (right tackle) and senior Emmanuel McCray (left tackle).

"Laremy is doing well," Luke said. "He's a very, very talented freshman. And he's working to learn some things right now, but he's doing some things really well."

Another freshman, Austin Golson, has gotten second-team reps at right guard and might figure in the rotation on the offensive line this season.

"I expected him to come in and be tough, and nasty and hard-nosed," Luke said. "He was learning the system early, so he wasn't playing quite as fast. These last two days, I have really seen a change in him as he's learned the offense."

NOTABLE:

The defense won both team competitions, including the third-down situational competition.

A couple of highlights from individual drills: Freshman safety Derrick Jones had an interception on a jump ball against freshman wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. In the same drill, junior quarterback Bo Wallace connected with junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief on a fly route against sophomore cornerback Quintavius Burdette.

A couple of highlight from team drills: On the first play of the third-down situation competition, Wallace connected with Treadwell on a seam route between two defenders. Later in the competition, sophomore cornerback Anthony Standifer had an interception on a jump ball against sophomore wide receiver Cody Core.

In a full-team kickoff return drill, sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, freshman running back Mark Dodson and sophomore safety Trae Elston were the deep men. Three other freshmen -- Derrick Jones, Laquon Treadwell and Jordan Wilkins -- also got reps on the front line of the unit.

QUOTABLE:

Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace's decision-making: "It was better, but we still got to get there, and we will continue to have some discussions watching film. He's being real coachable right now, which is a really good thing. He doesn't want to make mistakes any more than any other kid. His are much more noticeable because of the position he plays."

Freeze, on Wallace's shoulder: "I think that's just something he's going to have to work through. Ryan Aplin at Arkansas State had the same surgery, and he said it took him months to where his bicep and elbow area didn't hurt him. I think we're coming through it. I think he's getting better."

Senior D.T. Shackelford, on practicing at defensive end: "I enjoyed it. I played a lot there my sophomore year before I got injured so I felt comfortable at end. I don't care if I play linebacker or defensive end, I truly don't. I just want to be on the field and be able to contribute. I feel good at both. I'm just ready to play."

Luke, on offensive line rotation: "I would say we could play, right now in my mind, eight or nine offensive linemen. That's not to say I have eight or nine ready right now, but I think by the end of fall camp, we should have eight or nine guys ready to go."

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