Ole Miss Rebles Official Athletic Site, partner of CBSSports.com College Network. The most comprehensive coverage of ole on the web." /> http://grfx.cstv.com/schools/ole/graphics/spacer.gif" />
Ole Miss: Search Results

Results tagged “Matt Luke”

Corral Discusses Progress As He Settles Into Longo's System

CORRAL.jpg

Matt Corral's first taste of spring football has gone by quickly. From the natural adjustments any kid going from high school to college has to make, to the amplified speed of the game to trekking across the country from California to Mississippi to start a new chapter of his life, he's taking it all in stride.

"Culture shock," Coral said with a grin. "But I love it here. The people are really nice and I love the football. I don't think it can get better than this."

He even admits it still doesn't all seem real sometimes.

"It was surreal to me at the beginning thinking that I am really in college and in the SEC," Corral said. "This is really happening. That blew over after a couple weeks and then I started to get into the groove of things, getting in the film room when I am supposed to and doing the extra stuff the coaches have asked me so I could have possibility of getting on the field in my freshman year."

The four-star All-American's commitment and eventual signing in December seemingly served as a a firm shove of momentum for Matt Luke's first recruiting class as permanent head coach. He arrived on campus in January as an early enrollee with the purpose of getting a head start in spring football. The first step? The speed of the game.

"The only adjustment is being smart and knowing what you have to do quickly is all it really is at this level of football," Corral said. "It's making quicker decisions, way quicker than you made in high school."

"I was always taught the game doesn't speed up. Of course guys are bigger and faster but you also have the same number of guys just as big and fast."

Corral thinks he has adjusted nicely to the quickness of the defense and the need for him to process reads quicker. He has some help, too. Corral is benefitting from throwing to one of the more dynamic receiving corps in the SEC. That alone has called for some adjusting on his part.

"It's ridiculous," Corral said. "The first week I was out there in seven-on-seven, my balls were a little off because I am not used to how big and fast they are. That closed-quarter speed they have when the ball is in the air is something I had to adjust to. It wasn't hard."

He's also gained assistance from entrenched starter Jordan Ta'amu, a guy whose 2017 story alone is enough to help Corral understand he must be ready at all times. The old cliché says the back-up quarterback is only one play away, but in reality that is precisely the case. Ta'amu has helped Corral with the playbook among other things, knowing he was once in the freshman's shoes and acknowledging the importance of having him ready next fall.

The uncanny sense of calmness Ta'amu exudes has rubbed off on Corral as well, much like it did to his teammates when Ta'amu was inserted as the starter late last season.

"I do see the calmness in Jordan," Coral said. "He is very poised and the way he carries himself on and off the field shows what type of person he is."


If something were to happen, Corral feels ready enough to step in despite just dipping his toes into the SEC pool.
"I feel comfortable," Corral said. "I don't feel any pressure. If I were starting the first game then I feel like I would be prepared. I know the guys behind me would help me gain that confidence."

That said, he knows there is a lot he needs to improve on and work towards between the spring and the fall.

"It is just a matter of you knowing the playbook like the back of your hand," Corral said. "The playbook is simple. It is good because it works, but it is similar to what I ran in high school. A little different because some concepts don't work in the SEC that do in high school, but it is very similar."

Luke acknowledge his freshman quarterback has made great strides and thinks he could step into game action to run the offense in a limited capacity right now if needed.

"You can see the lightbulb go off a little after eight or nine practices," Luke said. "When you get out there in a game with people watching it is a little different, but the knowledge is definitely increasing.

He's also grateful that Corral will have ample time in the offseason to develop further.


Ole Miss has its spring game on Saturday in which the format will be similar to recent years with the defense being spotted 27 points and the offense trying to catch them. Corral and Ta'amu will see a lot of reps as Matt Luke hopes to get off around 80 or 90 snaps in the scrimmage.

"The good thing is he has two more practices, then a summer and an entire fall camp to get even better," Luke said. "The arm talent is there. It is just more of being able to function without thinking. You don't play as fast when you are having to think. The talent is definitely there and you see him making strides. That is encouraging."

Luke Talks Weekend Scrimmage, Pleased With Progress

13163091.jpeg
Ole Miss is now nearing the culmination of spring football with the Grove Bowl being just over a week away, and the Rebels dabbled into some live football action this past weekend with a controlled scrimmage in which the coaches stayed on the sideline and the offense and defense squared off against each other. Matt Luke wanted to see where his team stood more than two weeks into spring ball.

"We did some situational stuff with some red zone, third down and stuff but really we just put the ball down and played to see where we were," Luke said. "There were a lot of positives and also a lot of stuff we need to get cleaned up. We slowed down today and really honed in on some stuff. The tempo, going fast, we wanted to slow down today. Try to teach some stuff and get guys' fits right and getting them chasing the ball."

The offense dominated early during the red zone portion of the scrimmage. Phil Longo's squad gassed the defense with an up-tempo pace. The defense weathered the storm and made a couple of plays on the later drives. Luke is beginning to understand that, as a head coach, he is going to be concerned with one side of the football no matter what, but he was pleased to see both sides go at one another.

"I think the offense started out really strong in the scrimmage early on in the red zone. In the third down period they were really good," Luke said. "I was happy to see the defense fight back and get some turnovers in later drives. I am learning quickly as head coach you are not going to be happy in spring ball. You are going to be upset one way or another. I did like the ebb and flow of practice. It was good to see the defense fight back."

Ole Miss has some veteran starters sidelined for spring ball as a precaution towards some nagging injuries. None of the bumps and bruises will affect the team heading into the fall but nonetheless has kept some guys off the field this spring. It's forged an opportunity for some younger players to get experience as this team tries to add depth, particularly on the defensive side of the football.

Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said last weekend he would like to see his defense play with more confidence. Luke thinks this is part of the learning process as these young players get used to the speed of the game.

"The little things are lacking because they are thinking and still trying to process what they are doing," Luke said. "They don't see the formation or the intricacies. They know what to do they just don't understand yet. You are trying to get them to understand so they can play instinctively and aren't out there thinking."

Luke thinks it will eventually click as the cerebral part of the game turns into instances and allows them to play freer and faster.

"I think it is mainly the younger guys," Luke said. "We have a lot young guys out there with three defensive linemen out. The young linebackers are showing flashes and the only way you get those guys ready is to put them out there in the fire. That is kind of the growing pains but you have to put them out there to learn."

Ole Miss has dealt with a couple more injuries this week as A.J. Brown tweaked a knee trying to get into the end zone in the scrimmage. Luke doesn't think it is serious but is not taking any chances as Brown has been limited early on this week.

"I like the competitiveness. That is why he is who he is. He was trying to score. You like to see that," Luke said.

Greg Little is dealign with a tight back and is limited also.

Overall, Luke knows this team has a long way to go as do most teams in the spring, but he is pleased with the progress as this team wraps up the spring.

"I think there are some signs that we are," Luke said. "The kids are pushing one another and there is a sense of togetherness, not so much offense and defense. That is what we are trying to get accomplished."

Swinney Emracing Leadership Role Among Rebel Running Backs

Untitled 38.pages
When Eric Swinney looks around the running back group meeting room, he can quickly see he's now the oldest guy in the room. That comes a leadership role he's beginning to embrace.

He's now taken it upon himself to mentor some of the younger running backs that Matt Luke has been bullish on throughout spring ball.

"It's different taking on a leadership role," Swinney said. "I am trying to help the new guys out like Isaiah and Armani (Linton), even Scottie. Telling them to study the playbook, get in the film room and getting the calls even when they are not on the field."


Luke said after practice on Tuesday the two biggest surprises of the spring have been newcomers Isaiah Woullard and junior college transfer Scottie Phillips. Swinney tends to agree with his head coach.


"They're learning the system really fast and making plays, man. Isaiah is quick an strong. Scottie is making big time plays and they're going to do well for us," Swinney said.

Swinney's a guy who's endured a pair of catastrophic leg injuries, the second coming on his first touch in game action after surviving the first in the Rebels' 2016 season opener against Florida State. It forced him to sit out a second straight college season.

Last year, Swinney finally got back onto the field, carrying the football 41 times for 195 yards. It was a start, and more importantly, Swinney began to feel like his old self again.


"I am not really adjusting to it, but I feel like I am getting back to myself a little bit when I am out there," Swinney said.

He says he's put on more weight and has become a more deliberate back as a result of the injuries. Aside from that, he doesn't feel any major lingering effects anymore. He's healthy again.

"Everything feels like it has balanced out," Swinney said. "My body is feeling great. I am taking care of myself. Just learning how to take care of my body has really helped me."

Swinney's enjoyed seeing some newcomers emerge around him. Between he and D'Vaughn Pennamon, he hopes this team will begin to compile some depth in the backfield. Phillips and Woullard's emergence will only add to that.

"We're working well together," Swinney said. "We're competing out there just working every day and getting in the film room. We're trying to make this team better."

Ole Miss is now on the back end of of spring practice as the culmination nears with the Grove Bowl in two weeks. The Rebels are banged up and have held some guys out of practice as a precaution. It's allowed some of the younger players to get more reps, like Ben Brown on the offensive line. He's been working with the first team the last couple of days.

"It helps out a lot," Brown said. "It's a lot faster paced for sure. There are a lot of very talented players. I am just happy to be getting the reps."

Brown got adjusted to the speed of the college game as a freshman last year as he redshirted and the coaching staff is hopeful he will be a contributor this fall to pad the offensive line depth with the departure of Daronte Bouldin and Rod Taylor. Depth up front helped the Rebels battle some attrition on the offensive line last season and kept the running game afloat late in the season.

"I feel really prepared," Brown said. "Getting to learn from the older guys has been a big time help."

Rebels Return to Spring Practice

13163092.jpeg

Ole Miss returned to the practice field after a week-long hiatus during spring break. The Rebels are now in the second half of spring football, culminating with the Grove Bowl on April 7.

"There may have been a couple of mistakes from the layoff, but the energy was good," head coach Matt Luke said of the team's return to the field. "I thought they were physical. They had good session with weights yesterday to kind of get back into the swing of things and I thought it was a good practice."

Luke was bullish on two positions in particular, the running backs and the linebackers, two spots the Rebels have holes to fill from departures from the 2017 team and also two positions with some of new faces that will need to contribute next season. He was pleased with how the linebackers have been playing downhill against the run and the consistency of their reads.

"I really like that they're taking on Coach Sumrall's personality and playing physical," Luke said. "I saw a couple of physical plays that I haven't been seeing. Them playing down hill against the run and being physical. Josh Clarke made a really good play blowing up a play in the hole. There are some really good things going on, but obviously a long way to go and plenty to improve on."

On the other side of the football - one of the positions the linebackers have been tasked with neutralizing - Luke had high praise for newcomer Scottie Phillips at running back before the team departed for spring break. He hasn't changed his tune since on the the number one junior college running back in the country.


"I was cautiously optimistic before they got there but now, Scottie broke another long run towards the end of practice. We are really really pleased with them," Luke said.

The Armini Linton project at running back took a small setback as he's been dealing with a hamstring injury. But Luke and the staff saw enough of the former defensive back to feel confident about keeping him on the offensive side of the football for the foreseeable future. Linton played running back in high school. While the concept isn't completely foreign, he's using the spring to learn the playbook and various blocking and running reads.


The Rebels return D'Vaughn Pennamon and Eric Swinney at this position, two guys who have game experience and a decent bit of SEC touches. Luke knows what he as in them. He wants to use spring ball to see what guys like Phillips and Isaiah Woullard bring to the table, as well as the newly-transformed Linton.

"They have to keep coming," Luke said. "They've made some mistakes but they keep coming along. Swinney has been solid. He knows what to do. We want to see some of those new guys."

Ole Miss has a number of guys banged up through offseason surgeries and the natural attrition that comes in the football offseason. It's allowing other guys to get more reps in practice as the Rebels attempt to build depth next fall. Tight end Octavious Cooley is a one player who has benefitted from increase practice time with Dawson Knox being sidelined with a foot injury.


"Looks like he has his weight in check and looks like he is in the best shape he has been in since he has been here," Luke said. "That has really helped him become more consistent by not just making one good play, but several in a row. We are really pleased with that."

Luke envisioned possibly playing Cooley and Knox at the same time next season.


"It gives us the flexibility to play some 12 personnel with he and Dawson out there at the same time. It is really exciting to see him playing the way he is," Luke said.

The same is true on the defensive line with Benito Jones and Qaadir Sheppard nursing injuries. None of the injuries will affect guys going into fall camp, so the staff is framing it as a positive in the sense that they can focus on getting younger players ready to contribute next fall.

"It's the same thing with Ross (Donelly) and Sincere (David)," Luke said. "They are getting more reps than they've ever gotten before and it's making them better. It will get us depth when Benito (Jones) and Qaadir (Sheppard) come back. It will just make us better."

Spring Practice Rolls On For Ole Miss

13163091.jpeg

Ole Miss is now knee deep into spring ball and endured its fifth practice on Wednesday afternoon. Head coach Matt Luke says he has been pleased with the development of some the younger players in the early stagesof spring ball.

"The energy has been good," Luke said. "A lot of young guys have gone out there and shown the willingness to take coaching. That is really what I am looking for is to see who will step up. Which one of the young guys is going going to step up and play for us. Who of the older guys are going to step up and lead us? These are the things I am looking for."

The coaching staff has gotten its first glimpse of four-star quarterback Matt Corral over the last week. Luke says he's shown flashes and the talent is definitely there. It is about the consistency that welcome as he gets more acclimated to college football.

"He's been good," Luke said. "Maybe a little inconsistent through four days, but he should be in high school right now, so for him to be out there running the offense with the number two's is great. He has gone out there and made some really good plays and really good throws. A lot of it is installing the offense and there is a learning process there."

Corral has made a couple of complex reads and identified coverages well, which has allowed him to show the strength of his arm.

"The arm is really good," Luke said. "He is really talented. He can make all of the throws and has really good arm strength. It is can he be consistent? He has done well so far."

Defensively, Luke said he has been pleased with the linebackers, arguably the most important position for the Rebels to develop in the spring and into the fall.

"They're eager to learn and I thin they know everyone is watching them and their development. I think they have a chip on their shoulder and I like that about the group right now. They are making process and trying to get each other better," Luke said.

Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler have been running with the first team, but the competition has been heating up.

"We need some size in the box," Luke said. "We need to be physical there. There is a lot of competition. Sanogo has been coming on strong. I have been really pleased with him."

The biggest surprise to Luke so far? Running backs Isaiah Woullard and junior college transfer Scottie Phillips.

"To me they have really flashed in the first four days," Luke said. "Those guys have hit a couple creases and have been really impressive."

The team has had the luxury of continuity in the sense that the same coordinators are still here and the same systems are in place. Its made installing packages easier as guys have retained information easier and made things room more smoothly.

"There is a lot of retention," Luke said. "Your day one install is actually probably three days worth of install compared to last spring just because there has been so much carryover. That is a positive."

The Rebels will be off at the end of this week through next week and will return the week after for nine more practices leading into The Grove Bowl.

Luke Discusses 2018 Team as Spring Practice Arrives

10122289.jpeg

The focus will be on players and not plays, Ole Miss head football coach Matt Luke proclaimed at his Tuesday press conference opening spring football, referring to how valuable the 15 practices the Rebels get are to developing younger players and building depth heading into the fall.

"We have a nice mix of experience yet are also focusing on some young guys and new guys getting quality reps and building depth," Luke said. "We really want to get these young guys reps to see what they can do."

While Luke noted the staff will expand on new schemes implemented last year on each side of the football, the continuity of having the same coordinators still in place will put them further along and leave more time for developing young talent.

"Since we kept the same systems we are going to be much further ahead from a schematic standpoint so we want to get these young guys who either redshirted or were on scout team last year some reps and work on building our depth," Luke said.

Luke went over who of the returning players will and will not participate in spring practice based on various offseason surgeries and injuries. Below is a list of where the players stand:

OFFENSE
Out: Dawson Knox, D.K. Buford. D'Vaughn Pennamon
Limited: Alex Givens, Demarcus Gregory (knee), Scottie Phillips, Sean Rawlings.

DEFENSE 
Out: Austrian Robinson, Benito Jones, Qaadir Sheppard
Limited: Ken Webster (groin), C.J. Miller

"They have minor injuries from training the last month and will be limited to start. It is nothing serious," Luke said of the limited participants. He also noted that he does not fear anyone missing time in the fall despite being held out for the spring.

This spring season will give the coaching staff a glimpse at a couple of players at new positions, like Armani Linton, who will transition from safety to running back in an effort to build depth with the departure of leading rusher Jordan Wilkins.

"He's just a big, talented athlete," Luke said. "When you have guys like that on the bus you just want to find the right seat for them. He is a very big athlete and is very intelligent. I think he can help us somewhere. He really came on last year on special teams. I think he needs to play somewhere and we are just trying to find the right spot."

Linton could move back to safety depending on how the transition goes, but Luke is optimistic this will be a good fit.

Brenden Williams moved from linebacker to defensive end and newcomer Vernon Dasher will move from linebacker to star, a hybrid linebacker with more coverage responsibilities.

Along with Linton, newcomer Scottie Phillips, who will be limited at the beginning of spring ball, is expected to immediately compete for playing time at running back. Phillips comes in as the number one rated junior college tailback in the country and will be thrust into a mix consisting of D'Vaughn Pennamon, Eric Swinney and D.K. Buford.

"Anytime you take a junior college player you are expecting him to compete for playing time," Luke said. "That's what we want to see. He is the number one junior college running back in the country. There is going to be a really good competition at running back."

Defensively, the number one priority will be developing linebackers, a spot in which Ole Miss lost leading tackler DeMarquis Gates and a position the Rebels were slightly thin at last season. Luke feels confident about veterans Detric Bing-Dukes and Willie Hibbler at this position, but after the addition of a recruiting class that brought in a slew of new linebackers he is excited to see what some of the younger guys have to offer at this position.

"Detric and Willie will start there, but really Mohamed Sanogo, Josh Clarke and Zikerrion Baker are the guys we want to see what they can do. It is going to be a huge spring for them," Luke said. "We have more guys coming from high school but they are not here yet. We really want to see what these young guys can do. I am cautiously optimistic about those guys because they have waited their turn. They have gotten stronger and have been in the system. I am excited to see them out there making calls and flying around."

Aside from that, Luke would like to put his stamp on this football team, something that was difficult to do in 2017 without an offseason to prepare. He wants to build on the momentum the end of the season brought and take full advantage of the 15 practices allotted to the team.

Luke Named Grand Marshal of Biloxi's Mardi Gras Parade

10017809.jpeg

Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke will return to home to the Mississippi Gulf Coast in February. Luke was named the Neptune Parade Grand Marshal and will lead the Krew of Neptune's annual Mardi Gras Parade.

The parade is scheduled for Feb 10 at 5:30 p.m. in downtown Biloxi.

It's been quite the year for Luke, who was named permanent head coach of the Rebels in November and was recently featured on ESPN's Coaches Film Room during the college football national championship game as a part of ESPN's Megacast coverage of the event.

Luke to be Part of Coaches Film Room During National Title Game

9938467.jpg

Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke will participate in ESPN's Coaches Film room during Monday night's national championship game between Georgia and Alabama.

The Coaches Film room is part of ESPN's MegaCast for the championship game that includes 20 different productions of the game. These alternative productions will be available across at least 10 different platforms and all will be available on the WatchEspn App. Luke will be joined by numerous head coaches from across the country including the the likes of Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Colorado State's Mike Bobo, Kevin Sumlin and former Ole Miss head coach and current Duke head coach David Cutlciffe among others. Luke played his final collegiate game for Cutcliffe 1998.

It is the fifth edition of this MegaCast that includes the Coaches Film room and has been popular enough that ESPN offered the broadcast during the two playoff games for the first time. The coaches will watch the game together and discuss the various intricacies of the game like breaking down X's and O's and sharing their insight. It will be broadcast on ESPNNEWS and will feature limited commercial breaks. Luke will also be on the Coaches Film Room Pregame show on ESPN2.

Kickoff between Georgia and Alabama is slated for 7 p.m.

Luke Ready for Opportunity at 'Dream Job'


Matt Luke & Family

OXFORD, Miss. - Matt Luke gripped the podium and grinned toward a crowd of media after being introduced by Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork as Ole Miss' next head football coach. With tears in his eyes, the 41-year-old turned to his right to thank his wife and two kids. He also turned to his left to thank Bjork and Chancellor Dr. Jeff Vitter for an opportunity that fulfilled his dream.

At some point after Ole Miss' 31-28 win in the Egg Bowl last Thursday night, some time during the more than five-hour long window Bjork sat in a room with Luke - a period that spanned from Friday to Saturday night - Bjork decided that the head coach he'd been searching for since late July was sitting in front of him and had been for the last five months.

"I really saw the beginning of a culture change," Bjork said. "That was pretty impressive. And the fact, ultimately, that he stuck in there and won in the end and never gave up is a huge sign that this coach is pretty special."

His Ole Miss connections aside, Luke sold Bjork on a plan, a vision for his alma mater's football program that is trying to navigate through a period of NCAA-infused turmoil, something made a search for a coach even murkier than it already was.

"It is impossible to quantify how much angst and uncertainty that our NCAA case has impacted our fans, let alone a coaching change in July," Bjork said. "I take ownership in everything that happens in our program, good and bad. I am sorry that our great University and the Ole Miss family have endured so much. This is a first step towards moving forward and the next step is one day closer."

Bjork seemed set that Luke was the man to help Ole Miss find more stable ground. He made it clear on Monday that Luke's plan was the most detailed, impressive and plausible of the eight candidates he engaged with. Bjork said the search was extensive and exhausted all reasonable options.

Luke had the benefit of a four-month long interview on the field, but he wasn't selected because it felt like the safe choice. It was what was said in that room on campus between them in those two days, the plan Luke outlined to Bjork on Friday night and reinforced after a night of sleep on Saturday, is what earned him the keys to his dream job at 41-years-old and just 12 games of experience under his belt. By Sunday morning, Bjork consulted with Vitter and went through the other possible avenues. By the early hours of that afternoon it was clear to them they'd found their man.

"I talked about my vision for this program," Luke said. "To me, building and changing this culture, the NCAA is not going to affect that. We've been through a lot of adversity, and we're going to come through this no matter what. But it's going to take hard work, discipline and toughness."

It is a hire that may be perceived as a gamble by some, but after months of instability, Luke sold Bjork on his workman-like mentality and a desire to rebuild this program from the ground up, including its battered image.

"He will evaluate our current program and make the necessary changes," Bjork said. "He will bring accountability, structure and continue to change the culture in the program. His tough-minded, no-nonsense attitude, his blue-collar approach, his non-stop year round work ethic is exactly what we need for our program. Coach Luke improved our team from last year, despite only having one week to prepare for the job."

Luke realized a dream on Monday. He can permanently move into to the office a few doors down from where he stood grasping the podium with excitement. It will come with challenges. He is coaching in the toughest division in college football against the best coaches in the profession. The looming NCAA sanctions, no matter how light or severe, will serve as one as well. That hasn't deterred him from believing in the plan he sold Bjork on.

"Ole Miss sells itself, and there are people who want to be at Ole miss," Luke said. "There is some uncertainty. People are waiting to see what happens. But there is a lot of interest and we're going to be right there either way. We only have 12 seniors. We only have 14-17 scholarships based on attrition for this class. We're going to be fine in this class."

It also hasn't intimidated him into trying to be someone he is not.

Luke's final days as a player at Ole Miss in 1998 saw him play the role as a translator between David Cutcliffe's new staff and his team in preparation for a bowl game after Tommy Tuberville's abrupt departure following the Egg Bowl.

He played with a severe MCL injury and stood in the offensive and defensive huddles trying to foster communication between his team and the unfamiliar staff. It was those three weeks of bowl practice that forged his desire to become a coach.

Luke has spoken with Cutcliffe, Tuberville and many of his other mentors in the recent days as he's tried to process what has been handed to him. They all had a similar message. They told him to be himself and that it was good enough because he was ready. That's all Luke has tried to do from the beginning when he stepped to the plate with his university in a tight spot. It was good enough to be the glue that held the program together despite a season that was set up for failure. It was good enough to give him a fair shot at landing the job. Ultimately, it was good enough to earn it.

"From the very beginning of this on July 20th to right now, I've held true to that and I've been myself," Luke said. "The beauty of it is that I've been raised under a lot of good head coaches and I've had a lot of great experiences. I've tried to take the best from every single person I've been around, put that in with my love for Ole Miss, and you have your own coaching style."

Bjork bought into Luke's vision and the two will be seen as steering this ship together. For the last six months, he's searched all over to find the right fit for the Rebels. He thinks he has found one in Luke's four-month long interview.

"The players believe in him," Bjork said. "Envision, with a full offseason to recruit, make the right adjustments, we can see that his plan will translate to success."

Rebels Ahead of Schedule in Year Three

It's sometimes easy to forget where the Ole Miss football program was just three short years ago, when Hugh Freeze was interviewing for the head coaching position.

The Rebels had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight Southeastern Conference games. 

Three years later, No. 8 Ole Miss is 8-2 (4-2 SEC) and remains alive in the SEC Western Division race and the College Football Playoff discussion, but that was not the original plan, and Freeze is glad the Rebels have gone off-script.

"My original plan that I had, that I actually presented in my interview, was that we would be going to a bowl game this year," Freeze said. "The goal was to be very competitive and find a way to get enough wins to go to a bowl game. That was the original plan, but we're excited it didn't work out. I'm glad I was wrong."

Many of the seniors endured that 2-10 season in 2011, and their buy-in, doing the little things and holding the team accountable, Freeze said, has been a reason the turnaround has happened as fast as it has.

With two games remaining in the regular season, Freeze said they have talked about the possibilities at their fingertips and what they can go earn by finishing strong.

"It's kind of bittersweet that it's coming to an end," senior cornerback Senquez Golson said. "But we have a chance to finish as one of the best team in Ole Miss history. I'm ready to see what happens. I came in at 2-10, and for me to maybe leave 10-2, that would say a lot about where we came from over these few years and where the program is headed."

"Let's get No. 9," Freeze said. "Senquez is a little bit ahead of his coach there. I'm thrilled in year three for us to be were we are. It's way ahead of schedule. Of course, we want to finish strong. Anything above this now certainly expedites our journey a little faster, but you have to go earn it. The only thing I can think about is playing at Arkansas on Saturday and hopefully competing at a level that gives us a chance to win it in the fourth quarter."

Starting Five Back Together

Ole Miss had its starting offensive line back for practice this week, a group that helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start with left tackle Laremy Tunsil, left guard Aaron Morris, center Ben Still, right guard Justin Bell and right tackle Fahn Cooper.

Still missed the LSU game and played through injury against Auburn, while Tunsil missed the Auburn and Presbyterian games and Morris missed the Presbyterian game.

"It will be interesting to see him go back out and play after three weeks off," said offensive line coach Matt Luke of Tunsil. "He's anxious to get back out there, but he's practiced and tested out well. He's done everything. I look for him to be 100 percent, or close to it."

"He can't play receiver," said Bell, when asked if Tunsil had any limitations in practice. "If anything, that's probably his only limitation."

Behind the starting five, Robert Conyers gives Ole Miss options at center and tackle, having started the last three games at both spots, while Rod Taylor has gained valuable experience and earned his first career start against Presbyterian.

Luke said Morris and Bell will start, as they did through the first seven games, but he looks for Taylor to play as many snaps as both of them, giving Ole Miss a three-man rotation at the two guard positions.

"He's really come on, said Luke of Taylor. "Getting in there and playing, sometimes a light bulb goes off. The more you play, the better off you are. He's played really well the last two weeks against Auburn and Presbyterian. He graded out the highest of all the linemen, so I'm really proud of him and the development he has showed."

Landsharks Brace for Hogs Ground Attack

Arkansas is one of just two teams in the nation with two running backs to rush for 800-plus yards, boasting two of the Southeastern Conference's top five rushers. Junior Jonathan Williams ranks fourth averaging 93.2 yards per game, while sophomore Alex Collins ranks fifth averaging 88.6 yards per game.

Williams and Collins have benefited from running behind a massive offensive line averaging 328.4 pounds per player, larger than any NFL starting offensive line.

"We don't really look at size," sophomore defensive end Fadol Brown said. "I mean, you can look at guys like Issac Gross, who's been holding his own since his freshman year, and C.J. Johnson. I guess athleticism and movement makes up for some of the size."

Arkansas ranks fourth in the SEC averaging 232.9 yards per game and ranks third averaging 5.45 yards per carry, but they have had significantly more success in non-conference play than conference play. 

The Razorbacks average 151.8 yards per game and 4.00 yards per carry through five conference games compared to 354.5 yards per game and 7.13 yards per carry in non-conference game.

"It's the best run game we've seen all year long," Brown said. "Every game, they come with it. They just try to power you off the hole, pound you constantly and run the same plays over and over to try to get you out of the gap."

In its eight wins, Ole Miss allowed just 96.1 rushing yards per game and a 2.82 yards per carry average. In its two losses to LSU and Auburn, Ole Miss allowed 256.0 rushing yards per game and 5.07 yards per carry average.

Arkansas, like LSU and Auburn, emphasizes the run, so Brown and the Ole Miss defense expects their success to go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.

"This game is going to be on us and nobody else, just like the LSU game was on us," Brown said. "We have to be physical up front and dominate the line of scrimmage. If we don't do that, then we don't have a chance."

Freeze, Rebels Focused on Auburn Showdown

Not only will Saturday's matchup between No. 4 Auburn and No. 7 Ole Miss feature the first-ever meeting of top-10 team in Oxford, but it will feature half of the top four of the College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings with Auburn at No. 3 and Ole Miss at No. 4.

Auburn and Ole Miss are the top two one-loss teams in the rankings, followed by Oregon at No. 5 and Alabama at No. 6, giving the Southeastern Conference Western Division four of the top six teams. There are still four games remaining among the four teams, starting with Saturday's matchup.

"My first reaction was that we will always be the answer to one of those AFLAC trivia questions," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We'll be answer for one of them when the duck comes across the TV screen. That was really what I thought.

"I have great respect for the selection committee, and we are honored to be in the discussions at this point, but it's way too early. It's good for our fans. It gave them a little boost and hopefully will get them to bring some more energy into the stadium Saturday. There's a lot of ball left and the only one (ranking) that really matters is on Dec. 7 when that final one comes out."

Rebels Ready for Balanced Auburn Attack

Ole Miss leads the nation in scoring defense (10.5 ppg allowed) and has given up a nation-low eight touchdowns. Ole Miss also leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally, giving up just 4.35 yards per play. 

Auburn ranks third in the SEC and 15th nationally in scoring offense (39.3 ppg) and ranks second in the SEC and 10th nationally, averaging 6.91 yards per play.

Something has to give.

For Auburn, it starts with the league's top rushing attack 281.0 ypg), led by league's second-leading rusher in running back Cameron Artis Payne (118.7 ypg) and seventh-leading rusher in quarterback Nick Marshall (83.0 ypg).

Marshall's improvement as a passer and a talented group of receivers, led by JUCO transfer D'haquille Williams (34 catches, 527 yards, five TDs), have made the Tigers more balanced this season.

"The minute you commit too many to controlling him, they have guys who make you pay and pay with explosive plays," said Freeze of Marshall. "Gus (Malzahn) has always done a great job of disguising his looks, motions and shifts. 

"He does a great job with a lot of eye candy and things that can get your eyes in bad positions and cause you to make mistakes that give them explosive plays. Our goal will remain to be steady and discipline and hopefully not give up too many explosive plays."

Optimism on Injury Front

The injury situation continues to improve, as it appears offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil, safety Cody Prewitt and defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche will all return to action against Auburn, having practiced Tuesday and Wednesday.

"Every one them is going to give it a go," Freeze said. "With the stretch of games we have gone through without a break, it takes a toll on you both physically and mentally, some more than others. They did get some dings the other night (against LSU) that will probably keep them for being 100 percent, but they are going to give it a go for sure."

Center Ben Still was also listed day-to-day by Freeze on Monday, and his status remains uncertain, having worked individually Tuesday and Wednesday. The plan, Freeze said, is for him to practice with the team Thursday and see how he handles it.

"One day will tell us if he's ready to handle what we're going to face Saturday," Freeze said. "It will be nice to have him for sure because we had three possession the other night where it really hurt us in that game because of the injuries. It would be nice to have him thrown in there and let Robert move around and help us. We'll see how he does tomorrow."

Safety Chief Brown, who was thought to be out for the year, dressed out but did not play against LSU. With Prewitt dinged up, Brown has received significant practice reps at free safety.

"I expect to see him play some Saturday," Freeze said. "We'll see how he responds. It's a long season, but my guess would be we're going to need him before it's over."

AUDIO: Week 10 SEC football coaches teleconference (Freeze starts at 1:03:00 mark, Malzahn starts at 1:47:25 mark)

How the playoff committee to its first ranking decision, writes George Schroeder of USA TODAY Sports

Three and Out: Keys to Ole Miss-Alabama

Three areas to watch as No. 11 Ole Miss faces No. 1 Alabama on Saturday.

Wallace Gets Another Shot at Alabama

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace has said he wants to be the first quarterback to get Ole Miss to Atlanta, and becoming the first quarterback since Eli Manning (2003) to defeat Alabama would be a big step forward in achieving that goal.

Wallace keeping his composure, ESPN.com's Edward Aschoff said, is one of the keys to victory for Ole Miss.

The Southeastern Conference's active leader in most passing categories, Wallace ranks second in the SEC and 13th nationally passing (317.8), but he's been up and down some this season, and he's coming off a game against Memphis where he completed 22-of-37 passes for 248 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions.

"His mindset never changes," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "He'll be as confident as any kid on the field entering Saturday's game. He's always that way. It's a really good quality about him. He's very resilient. He'll be looking forward to this game."

Alabama ranks fifth nationally in total defense (250.3 ypg), second only to Ole Miss among SEC teams, but the Crimson Tide have been more susceptible to the pass than the run. 

On the ground, Alabama ranks second nationally, giving up 62.0 yards per game, including just 2.67 yards per attempt, while through the air the Crimson Tide rank 25th nationally, giving up 188.3 yards per game and 5.8 yards per attempt.

"It's obviously a big challenge playing Alabama," Wallace said. "They're a top-five team and the distractions are going to be here. It's a great opportunity for our team. We're excited about the challenge, and we know it's going to be a good game." 

Eliminating Negative Plays, Staying on Schedule

The biggest mismatch on paper is the Ole Miss rushing offense against the Alabama rushing defense. The Rebels' rushing offense ranks 76th nationally, averaging 160.8 yards per game, and ranked 82nd nationally, averaging 4.0 yards per attempt, while the Alabama rushing defense ranks second nationally.

Ole Miss has showed more two-tight sets to help in the run game, and sophomore Jeremy Liggins has found success in short-yardage situations, converting three third-and-shorts, three fourth-and-shorts and scoring a 2-yard touchdown in his 10 carries this season.

"It's a tall task to consistently do it," said Freeze of running the football against Alabama. "You have to be balanced. You have to mix it up and find things that give your kids a chance to do what you're asking them to do, but it's a difficult defense to do it against." 

Eliminating negative plays, staying on schedule and staying out of third-and-longs, offensive line coach Matt Luke said, are among the little things it takes to win close games, and those little things start with running the ball effectively and finding balance offensively.

"They're big and fast," Luke said. "They have a lot of good players. They have a very good scheme. They mix it up quite a bit. They're a very, very good team, and we're going to have to play very, very well to run the ball."

Tough Test for Stout Defense

If called upon, whether to keep Ole Miss in the game, or win the game, can the Rebel defense rise to the challenge as they have so far this season?

Through four games, the Ole Miss defense has been among the nation's best, giving up just 8.5 points per game, which leads the SEC and ranks third nationally. 

More impressively, the Rebels have given up just two touchdowns this season, the fewest in the nation.

"I don't know if we have had a better effort than that in our two and a half years here," said Freeze after holding Memphis to three points and 104 total yards in a 24-3 win this past Saturday. "They were really phenomenal. That was a team that was putting up some really good numbers."

In Alabama, the Ole Miss defense faces a balanced attack, one ranked 16th nationally in scoring offense (42.0 ypg), 19th in rushing offense (258.5 ypg), 12th in passing offense and fourth in total offense (594.3 ypg), headlined by senior quarterback Blake Sims and junior wide receiver Amari Cooper.

Sims ranks second nationally in completion percentage and fourth in passing efficiency (190.3), leading the SEC in both categories, while Cooper leads the nation with 163.8 receiving yards per game, and leads the SEC with 10.8 receptions per game and five receiving touchdowns.

"The most impressive thing with Sims is his accuracy and how efficient he's been running the offense," Freeze said. "He's completing a huge percentage of his passes and throws the deep ball extremely well.

"Cooper is arguably one of the top three receivers in the nation, if not the best, and he's been super explosive. You have to guard him on runs because of the screen game, and you have to guard him on the deep ball. He's a difficult matchup for everybody, including us."

Striking The Right Balance Offensively

Ole Miss has been held under 100 yards rushing in each of its last meetings with Alabama, a 33-14 loss in 2012 and a 25-0 loss in 2013. Running the ball effectively and finding a balance is one area, the coaches and players have said, that would go a long way on Saturday.

"Top to bottom, they're a great team, arguably the best team in the country," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "We have to play really, really well to win. We have to protect the football. When a break comes our way, we have to score. We have to be efficient in the red zone. 

"We have to try to eliminate negative plays, stay on schedule and stay out of third-and-longs. We have to do the little things it takes to win close games and win close games in the fourth quarter."

Behind senior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Rebels rank third in the SEC and 13th nationally in passing offense (335.5 ypg), but they rank 11th in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 160.8 yards per game. Alabama, meanwhile, leads the league in rush defense, giving up just 62.0 yards per game

Ole Miss has found more consistency on the ground in recent games, rushing for 214 yards on 35 carries against Louisiana-Lafayette and 178 yards on 42 carries against Memphis, but Alabama undoubtedly will provide the toughest test yet.

"They're just pretty good," Luke said. "They're big and fast. They have a lot of good players. They have a very good scheme. They mix it up quite a bit. They're a very, very good team, and we're going to have to play very, very well to run the ball.

"You don't want to be one-dimensional against any team," sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil said. "You want to run the ball, pass the ball, mix it up."

Replacing Alford on Defense, Special Teams


Without sophomore Anthony Alford, who decided to leave the Ole Miss football program and pursue a professional baseball career, players are thrust into bigger roles on defense and special teams.

Alford, who transferred to Ole Miss in January 2011, played in all four games this season as a backup to junior Trae Elston at Rover safety and punt returner. He registered six tackles and two punt returns for eight years.

"We had a great talk last night and this morning about what was best for him and his wife and his future," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I hate it for our team and for him because I love having good kids a part of us but he really felt like it was best."

In Alford's place, sophomore David Kamara and freshman C.J. Moore, who have both played primarily on special teams, stepped into the backup Rover safety spot in practice Tuesday. 

Freeze said they didn't have to shuffle a lot, but should they need to shuffle players going forward, senior cornerback Cliff Coleman and junior cornerback Mike Hilton both have previous experience at safety. On a semi-related note, sophomore Derrick Jones, who started the year at cornerback and then moved to wide receiver, practiced at cornerback Tuesday, providing extra depth there

"I know they're both athletic kids," said Freeze of Kamara and Moore. "They haven't been in the battles but really neither had Anthony. This was really his freshman year to be a defensive player. He has more experience than them from being in the early games, but we'll get them ready and I think they will do well."

On special teams, freshman wide receiver Markell Pack has been the primary punt return option, returning seven punts for 38 yards. Freeze also mentioned redshirt freshman Eugene Brazley stepping in as a punt return option.

Three and Out: Keys to Ole Miss-ULL

Three areas to watch as Ole Miss faces Louisiana-Lafayette in its home opener Saturday.

Wearing the Bull's-Eye

After a 2-0 start with wins over Boise State and Vanderbilt, Ole Miss moved up to No. 14 in the Associated Press poll, its highest ranking since 2009. 

Many are already pointing to the matchup with No. 3 Alabama on Oct. 4 in Oxford, but two home games stand in the way, starting with Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday.

"There's no question in my mind the bull's-eye that will be on our chest for this week with the group from Lafayette will be huge," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We expect to get their best shot and we have to be prepared for it."

There's also a mutual familiarity from when Freeze was the head coach at Arkansas State in 2011, which was also Mark Hudspeth's first season at Louisiana-Lafayette. 

"They didn't play their best the other night," said Freeze, referring to Louisiana-Lafayette's 48-20 loss to Louisiana Tech. "They turned it over and put them in bad spots, but I know we'll get their best, and just a couple years ago they either beat Florida or had them right to the wire.

"From being in that conference, I know how it is for those kids to get a chance to play in these arenas and these games. I know Mark will have them ready and it'll be a good game." 

Developing Offensive Line Depth

From week one to week two, the false start penalties decreased from eight to two, while the yards per rush average increased from 2.1 to 3.6, but the coaches continue to want to see improvement from the offensive line as the season progresses.

Freeze said Ole Miss will continue its offensive line rotation against Louisiana-Lafayette, with sophomore tackle/center Robert Conyers and freshman guard Rod Taylor seeing extended action in reserve roles. 

Freeze also mentioned Craig Frigo as a candidate for additional reps, but it remains to be seen if redshirt freshman offensive tackle Christian Morris has progressed enough to be game ready.

"He's got a ways to go," Freeze said. "The last couple of weeks, he's been with the scout team and hasn't been working the scheme that we're running. His technique is a ways away too because he hasn't played in a while. I'm glad we have him. We're going to bring him along because we could certainly use him before the year is over for sure, but he still has a ways to go." 

Freeze Eyes Two Areas for Improvement

In addition to continuing to work out ways to effectively run the football to be balanced on offense, Freeze mentioned two areas where he wants to see improvement going forward.

Offensively, Freeze wants to see improvements in red-zone scoring, where the Rebels have scored six touchdowns and kicked two fields goals in 10 trips to the red zone through two games.

"In the red zone, sometimes you have to be hard-nosed to run it in, and if they load the box, we feel pretty good about throwing it up to Laquon (Treadwell)," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "It's going to be one of those things, where we're either going to pound it in there, or if they want to put a bunch of people in the box, we feel like we have receivers who can make some plays."

Defensively, Freeze wants the defense to continue to limit explosive plays. He has said on more than one occasion, he's confident in the defense if the opponent has to drive the length of the field consistently. 

Through two games, the Rebels have allowed just eight plays of 20 yards or more, which has helped lead to allowing just 8.0 points per game, which ranks fifth in the NCAA and second in the SEC.

"We stopped the run primarily and we got some pressure on the quarterback and we didn't give up explosive plays and I think that's key for us this year," Freeze said after a 41-3 win over Vanderbilt. "We want to make people drive to earn points and I think we did that well."

Freeze, Luke Talk Offensive Line Progress

From week one to week two, head coach Hugh Freeze and offensive line coach Matt Luke are generally pleased with the progress along the offensive line.

The number of false start penalties went from eight to two, while the ground game improved from 34 carries for 71 yards, a 2.1 yard per rush average, to 50 carries for 180 yards, a 3.6 yards per rush average.

"They were prepared this week and there was some good and some bad," Freeze said Monday. "We have to continue to work on them understanding what we are facing and getting better at their technique, but there were a lot better things up front against a good defensive line." 

"There was some improvement from week one to week two, and I want to continue to see improvement as we go forward," Luke said. "That's the key on any team."

Sophomore offensive tackle/center Robert Conyers missed Tuesday's practice with a hip flexor, but Freeze expects him to practice tomorrow and play on Saturday against Louisiana-Lafayette. 

In his absence, junior Fahn Cooper got additional reps at right tackle, where he started each of the first two games with Conyers playing some behind him. Cooper was flagged for three penalties against Vanderbilt, including a holding penalty that resulted in a touchdown being called back.

"I was disappointed in those penalties because they cost us a touchdown and we had to settle for a field goal," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "Anytime you take points off the board, you're not pleased with that, but I do think for sticking a guy in there coming out of junior college without the benefit of spring practice, he's going out there and battling and doing well for what he has been asked to do. 

"He's going to keep improving as the experience happens. I remember when Pierce Burton went through some of those same growing pains."

Behind Cooper and Conyers, the coaches are also bringing along redshirt freshman Christian Morris, who recently received a hardship waiver from the NCAA. He and redshirt freshman Davion Johnson split reps at No. 2 left tackle behind sophomore Laremy Tunsil.

"He looked good," Luke said. "He's rusty. He's probably a few pounds overweight just from not getting him as many reps on the scout team. He's rusty. We worked him in with the 2's some today and we're going to bring him along slowly. It's obviously good to have that extra body to get in there some. I don't know if he's quite game ready yet, but we're working toward that for sure."

Like Cooper, Luke expects freshman offensive guard Rod Taylor to improve as he gets more reps in practice and gets more experience in games. He and junior offensive guard Craig Frigo both saw extended action against Vanderbilt

"I was pleased," Luke said. "He played physical. He got beat on a pass rush right before the half, but I was pleased with him. He was out there bouncing around with a lot of energy. He played really physically and had some pancakes. He showed his ability and showed what we thought he could be."


Core, Others Not Surprised by His Fast Start

After setting career highs with four catches for 110 yards and two touchdown against Boise State, junior wide receiver Cody Core followed it up with four catches for 85 yards and another touchdown against Vanderbilt.

"I wouldn't say I saw it coming, but I knew something was going to come if I kept working hard," said Core of the start to his season.

In his new role as the team's No. 1 slot receiver, he's already set career high with his two-game season totals of eight catches, 195 yards and three touchdowns. He's averaging 24.4 yards per catch and he is tied for first nationally with five receiving plays of 20 yards or more.

"It's his first chance and first opportunity," Freeze said. "He didn't all of a sudden become talented. It's time now with Ja-Mes (Logan) and Donte (Moncrief) gone, it's time for a kid in the program to step up now and have his chance, and he's used that."

"I've always thought he could be a good player for us," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "I think it's just his opportunity. He's surprised me with how well he is (running) after the catch. He made some good moves after the catch in the Vandy game. I've always known he was able to play ball. It's really not a huge surprise." 


Rebels Continue Prep for Vanderbilt

Vanderbilt played three different quarterbacks in a 37-7 season-opening loss to Temple, with sophomore Patton Robinette getting the start and graduate student Stephen Rivers earning the majority of the playing time, as he completed 12-of-25 passes for 186 yards to lead the Commodores. 

Vanderbilt was limited to 4.41 yards per play and committed seven turnovers that directly led to 27 Temple points. Robinette, Rivers and redshirt freshman Johnny McCrary are all listed as co-starters entering Saturday's game

"You can't just go off that one game," Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said Tuesday. "I totally don't expect to see that offense this week. Our players are mature enough to know it's not going to be like that."

For Ole Miss, junior defensive tackle Issac Gross practiced Tuesday after missing the season opener against Boise State. While he did not know his official status, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said Gross practiced well and he fully expects him to be back for Saturday's game against Vanderbilt. 

The coaches are also excited about the return of junior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche. An All-SEC second team selection last season, Nkemdiche is expected to split time at Stinger linebacker with senior Serderius Bryant. There may also be third-down and 4-3 packages with both of them on the field.

"Last year, after the knee injury and surgery after the Vanderbilt game, I don't know that he ever recovered," head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday. "He always had a little gimp in his leg, and I don't see that during fall camp. I see a kid who is hungry to play and hungry to prove himself again. 

"He has gone through everything with us, and he's ready to play. It's just a matter of getting the game plan down this week. He and Serderius (Bryant) will split time at that spot.  I'm sure we'll have a third-down package for both of them on the field. We're excited to have him back."

Sophomore Derrick Jones had been listed as the No. 3 boundary cornerback behind junior Mike Hilton and senior Cliff Coleman each of the past two weeks. It might be something, it might be nothing, but Jones worked with the wide receivers during the portions of Tuesday's practice open to the media.

"There's great competition there (at cornerback)," Freeze said Monday. "The other guys are playing really well, not that he didn't play well. We'll need him before the year is up, but the great thing about football is you get to compete. We certainly try to play the best kids out there, and we love Derrick. I expect him to play a lot of football for us before his time is over. 

"Right now the others, Senquez (Golson) and Kendarius Webster and those, are playing pretty solid. There are some things Derrick is better at than they are. They didn't really threaten us, but if we get in the red zone against big receivers you'll see Derrick. There are certain things he has to continue to improve on."

Adjustments Along the Offensive Line


In Monday's press conference, Freeze challenged the offensive line after Ole Miss rushed for just 71 yards on 34 attempts, a 2.1 yards per rush average, in a 35-13 win over Boise State.

"We didn't play physical, and that's a result of the stemming and noise that was being made," Freeze said Monday. "We jumped offsides so many times. You know what we're saying to them, and they think they better not jump offsides so they were a little tentative. We got it fixed at halftime, but it was still not physical in the second half in the run game."

It appears the offensive line has answered that challenge in the practices since the Boise State game last Thursday.

"We made the adjustments at halftime and did much better in the second half," offensive line coach Matt Luke said Tuesday. "We can play more physical and obviously play better. That's the goal. You have to go out there and go to work and get your mistakes corrected. You kind of have a sick feeling even though you won the game and you want to try get that corrected going into game two."

Luke also noted some possible changes and the challenge of developing chemistry with playing different players in different spots along the offensive line.

"It will take a little while, but everyone has to do their job and step up and handle their job," Luke said Tuesday. "That will occur. We'll look at (Robert) Conyers at center some more and Fahn (Cooper) playing more and you're going to see Rod Taylor some at guard because the heat will be a factor and it will be important to keep some guys fresh."

"We'd never really played beside each other, but at the end of the day, we trust each other and that's the most important thing," junior offensive guard Justin Bell said Tuesday. "I feel like we got things clicking. We have worked real hard on this week, feeling each other out. I expect big things out of us."


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.


2  

Subscribe and Share

Tags

Recent Comments

    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

    Smithb733 said:

    I like what you guys are up too. Such smart work and reporting! Keep up the superb works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it will improve the value of my site

    in post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels

    Jamie laverty said:

    Bulmer I love you and ole Miss

    in post Fast Runner From Down Under

    Sharon Hamlin said:

    Hi! Really Bulmer is very fantastic & dedicated in his job. Really outstanding & well done... :-)

    in post Fast Runner From Down Under

    Sharon Hamlin said:

    Hi! Really motivating post & outstanding job did Bulmer .Loved it... :-)

    in post Fast Runner From Down Under