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Three and Out: Keys to Ole Miss-Texas A&M

Three areas to watch as No. 3 Ole Miss travels to No. 14 Texas A&M on Saturday.

Battles in the Trenches

The Ole Miss D-line against the Texas A&M O-line, headlined by defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche for the Rebels and left tackle Cedric Ogbuehi for the Aggies, will get the most attention, and deservedly so.

"They are a good offensive line," defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "No doubt about it. "They have recruited well for a while at that position. It seems like they lose first-round picks and then replace them the next year."

But the other matchup in the trenches, the Ole Miss offensive line against the Texas A&M defensive line, is equally intriguing. The Ole Miss O-line, by all accounts, had their best performance of the season in the win over Alabama, while the Texas A&M D-line leads the SEC and is tied for eighth nationally with 19 sacks.

"Our offensive line has gotten better," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "It's very hard to move the ball consistently on (Alabama's) defense. We made plays when we had to. Our offensive line played pretty solid for most of the game."

"They definitely gave me time to throw," quarterback Bo Wallace added. "It's one of the best jobs they've done since I've been here."

Leading the way for the Aggies is defensive end Myles Garrett, who already owns the freshman school record with 6.5 sacks, which ranks second in the SEC and sixth nationally. He is also 1.5 sacks shy of Jadaveon Clowney's SEC freshman record for sacks.

"They're physical and fast," running backs coach Derrick Nix said. "Starting with their D-line up front, those guys are athletic. One of their defensive ends, No. 15 (Myles Garrett), is sort of like our C.J. Johnson and going against him."

Making Special Teams Special

Ole Miss knocked off Alabama due in no small part to some big plays on special teams.

There was the forced fumble by Channing Ward and recovery by Kailo Moore that set up the game-winning touchdown. 

But there was also the brilliant punting of redshirt freshman Will Gleeson and a pair of long kickoff returns by Mark Dodson and Jaylen Walton that helped flip field position in favor of the Rebels.

Gleeson particularly has been a weapon for Ole Miss in that regard, averaging 45.1 yards per punt, which is third-best in the SEC and 14th-best nationally. He has also landed nine of his 16 punts inside the 20, including five inside the 10 and two inside 5.

On the other side of the coin, there was some shakiness on field goals and extra points, with a missed field and a pair of missed extra points. After Freeze re-opened the placekicking competition, freshman Gary Wunderlich beat out senior Andrew Fletcher and redshirt-freshman Andy Pappanastos. 

Wunderlich has been the primary handler of kickoffs and connected on his first and only career field-goal attempt, a 46-yarder, against Alabama.

"He has always been very steady on the long ones," said Freeze of Wunderlich. "It's on the shorter ones that he gets a little quick and has been a little bit inaccurate. But I think he deserves a chance to get into a game and let's see. He hasn't missed one in a game other than an extra point that he got a little quick on. I'm going to give it to him and see what he does."

Preparing for the '12th Man'

The capacity of Kyle Field is 106,000, and Texas A&M is projecting 109,000-plus fans for the game Saturday, which would set a state of Texas football attendance record. 

Ole Miss has been piping in noise to practice this week to prepare for the crowd noise, but it will be the first true road experience for the first-year starters, such as junior center Ben Still and freshman guard Rod Taylor.

"I have a headache right now from the noise," Freeze said. "We have been blaring the speakers about as loud as we can. I can't hear anything that's going on with them, so that's probably pretty accurate with what we will get. We have seemed to handle it fairly well.

"Bo has been in those places before so that helps. We have a few new linemen who haven't, so that's always something that you have to adjust to a little bit, and hopefully we helped them get accustomed to it this week."

Stout Defense Starts with Nkemdiche

Through five games, sophomore Robert Nkemdiche has put up modest statistics, totaling 12 tackles with a tackle for loss, sack and quarterback hurry, but his impact has gone beyond the numbers.

Nkemdiche has been an integral part of an Ole Miss defense that ranks second nationally in scoring (10.2 ppg allowed) and leads the nation in fewest touchdowns allowed (three). The Rebels have also allowed just 4.1 yards per play, best in the SEC and fifth-best nationally.

"He does so many good things in there, but his production's just not up as far as stats and numbers," defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "But as far as technique and all that, he's constantly getting better like I've always said about him. 

"He has a desire to get better. He just absolutely loves defensive tackle now where before, he didn't know if he wanted to play that. He's playing very well for us. You don't really notice it until all of a sudden you realize you're in the top five in total defense. Something is happening up front where he is."

Watching the film Wednesday, Kiffin also noted the improvement freshman Marquis Haynes has made through five games this season. Haynes started the season opener against Boise State and recorded his first career sack against Memphis.

"I was telling my guys how good Marquis Haynes is becoming for being a true freshman and really playing with zero game experience," Kiffin said. "He's constantly getting better, and the sky is the limit for him. He's so athletic. I see him getting better and better every week."


Wunderlich Wins Placekicking Job

After some shakiness in the kicking game in the win over Alabama, head coach Hugh Freeze re-opened the placekicking competition, and freshman Gary Wunderlich beat out senior Andrew Fletcher and redshirt Andy Pappanastos.  

"Gary is going to get the start," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We'll go from there, but it's his to win or lose."

Wunderlich, an Under Armour All-American and rated the No. 1 kicker in the nation by Rivals.com, has been the primary handler of kickoffs and connected on his first and only career field-goal attempt, a 46-yarder, against Alabama.

"He has always been very steady on the long ones," said Freeze of Wunderlich. "It's on the shorter ones that he gets a little quick and has been a little bit inaccurate. But I think he deserves a chance to get into a game and let's see. He hasn't missed one in a game other than an extra point that he got a little quick on. I'm going to give it to him and see what he does."

Prepping for Garrett

Texas A&M boasts one of the nation's best pass rushes, recording 19.0 sacks, which leads the SEC and is tied for eighth nationally. And it started with freshman Myles Garrett, who was rated the top defensive end prospect in the nation. 

Garrett has started only two games, but he already owns the freshman school record with 6.5 sacks, which ranks second in the SEC and sixth nationally. He is also 1.5 sacks shy of Jadeveon Clowney's SEC freshman record for sacks.

"He is a phenomenal talent," Freeze said. "He's really quick-twitched. He has some good pass-rush moves that shows he's worked on in his craft. He's a guy who you better know where he is."

Similar to piping in noise to prepare for what is expected to be 106,000-plus fans at Kyle Field, which would be a state of Texas football attendance record, Ole Miss is trying to simulate Garrett in scout team work this week.

"Victor Evans is the best we have," said Freeze of simulating Garrett. "He's a special athlete for sure. It's hard to prepare for him."


Ole Miss, Texas A&M Share Similar Progressions

Highlights from Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin on the SEC teleconference Wednesday, ahead of Saturday's game in College Station.

For the full SEC teleconference, go here.

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze (starts at 1:23:16 mark)

Opening statement

"We're looking forward to going to College Station. It's one of the great venues in college football. It's certainly going to be a great challenge because of the atmosphere and the wonderful team that Kevin (Sumlin) has put together. 

"It's going to be a tremendous challenge stopping those guys and playing in that environment. It's going to be very tough, and we're looking forward to it, and I'm sure they are too. They're hungry to get back out and play after the loss they suffered last weekend. It will be a great SEC West game."

On refocusing his team after a big weekend and a big win...

"Every week, either you're going to be on the bitterness of a difficult loss or you're on the the high of an emotional win. Either one, we try to treat the same, and that is we have our normal Sunday meeting where we talk about the recent game and physically put it in the trash and then get back out and get going for the next one.

"It's worked for us on the bitter end. We have had some difficult losses in our two-plus years here and we have bounced back the next week from those and played really well. I don't know if we've had a lot of experience yet on this side of it. We had just the one last year when we beat LSU, which was ranked sixth at the time. I do like what I see right now in our preparation, and they follow the coaches' lead and move on very quickly."

On the difference with this year's Texas A&M team compared to the two previous years...

"They are more athletic on defense. Offensively, they don't have the threat of a guy extending plays quite like (Johnny) Manziel, but they are deeper at receiver and they really stretch you from sideline to sideline, and their quarterback plays extremely well. Their offensive line is one of the better ones I've seen in a long, long time. They're really good and athletic, and they do a good job.

"The only real difference you see is they may be a bit more athletic at every spot, but they don't extend plays quite like we have experienced the past couple of years."

On earlier players laying the ground work for the current success...

"I think of Donte Moncrief, Ja-Mes Logan and Gilbert Pena, and I'm sure I will forget somebody that is very key to us. Evan Swindall, Pierce Burton and Emmanuel McCray are others. They were solid kids that were 100 percent bought-in to our core values and doing things the right way. Mike Marry is another. 

"Those kids that I knew were bought-in really helped us overcome the negativity that may have existed when we got here within the team. They helped hold others accountable to the little things that I think is the reason you can bring a team together and start winning."

On Texas A&M defensive end Myles Garrett...

"He is a phenomenal talent. He's really quick-twitched. He has some good pass-rush moves that shows he's worked on in his craft. He's a guy who you better know where he is."

On Kevin Sumlin and the progressions of Ole Miss and Texas A&M over the last three years...

"We're old friends and we go way back and we did come in to the league at the same time. We've kind of made sure we knew what was going on in all those meetings and didn't embarrass ourselves too much. He's helped me through that. There are a lot of similarities in our progressions.

"We both believe in tempo offense. He may throw it a little more than we do, even though we can do that. Our defense is playing so well right now that I try not to do anything that causes us to get too far out of whack and stay in the game until late in it."

"There are a lot of similarities as far as how we're going about building it and recruiting. He's recruiting really well, and we have done OK in recruiting. Our philosophies are very similar. He's a player's coach, I know that about him, and hopefully our players would say the same about me."

Texas A&M head coach Kevin Sumlin (starts at 1:31:35 mark)

Opening statement...

We're coming off of a disappointing loss last weekend at Mississippi State. We look forward to this week. We have another huge challenge. Ole Miss is a team playing really well. They're one of only 10 undefeated teams left in the country. 

"This will be our first SEC game at home. That will important for us to get back to Kyle Field and play at home. Our guys have approached the week in a good way and ready to get back on the field again."

On Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace...

"He is one of the few veteran quarterbacks in this league. This our third time playing against him. Bo has had his ups and downs over his career, but this year, he has really played like a true veteran. He made plays to win the game last week in a critical moment in a big game. There is no substitute for experience. 

"There's no doubt you see his leadership and his ability to be in the system for the amount of time he's been in the system. You see his confidence level and the confidence the coaching staff has in him with the situations they put him in. He's improved. He understands what they're trying to do, he's operating at a high level right now, and he's a big reason for their success offensively."

On defensive end Myles Garrett...

"He's a very talented young man. He was the number one defensive end in the country as a prospect. He's extremely explosive and naturally gifted. He's working on his technique, which is something all young guys are going to do. He's starting to see different blocking schemes, which is the greatest compliment. He was frustrated, and we explained to him that was the best compliment to pay him. 

"He's gone through that phase of it. Right now, it's a hard time for all talented freshmen that are playing or have been starting midway through the season, particularly in this league. He's still very young, he's raw, and he's getting better. Over the course of time, he's going to pick up weight and get stronger. He will be the first to tell you there's still a lot of room for him to improve."

On what a win over Alabama can do for your program...

"Alabama is such the standard program for college program, particularly when you're in this league because of their success over the course of the last decade of so, particularly when you're in the West. It becomes not only a big deal for your team, but also for your fan base and your university to say you can compete with the top of the league. It helps in recruiting, too.

"You don't me to tell you what it can do for you. All you have to do is look at the postgame at Ole Miss, and that will tell you enough and how big it was for them."

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

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

    in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades

    Fiftyyears fan said:

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

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

    Karen Holden said:

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

    in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance

    Trent browning said:

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

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

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