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Three areas to watch as No. 3 Ole Miss faces Tennessee for Homecoming on Saturday.

'Third Down for What'

Tennessee is very dangerous, Ole Miss football head coach Hugh Freeze said, because its talented, particularly if it gets momentum and confidence during the course of the game.

The talents starts on defense, led by senior middle linebacker A.J. Johnson, a preseason All-American who leads the Southeastern Conference in tackles per game (11.3). Tennessee ranks top-20 nationally in scoring defense (19.2 ppg allowed), total defense (316.3 ypg allowed) and passing defense (160.2 ypg allowed).

One of the more interesting situational matchups will be third downs, where Tennessee leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in defensive third-down conversion (26.4 percent), and Ole Miss ranks fifth in the SEC and 22nd nationally in offensive third-down conversion (46.8 percent).

"They have good cover guys and they have good athletes and can play some man coverage to get after you with the pass rush," Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke said. "They have a nice third-down package where they bring in some more speed and take out a D-lineman. They're flying around and playing really hard, playing with an edge."

Landsharks Not Satisfied

The Ole Miss defense has been regarded as one of the best in the nation, if not the best in the nation, giving up just 11.8 points per game, which leads the SEC and ranks second nationally. 

The Rebels are also tied for the SEC lead and eighth nationally with 16 turnovers forced, as they have scored almost as many touchdowns (4) as they have allowed this season (6).

Ole Miss shut out Texas A&M in the first half but allowed three second-half touchdowns, including two touchdowns on the last three drives of the game, which has not sit well with members of the defense.

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

"We gave up way too many points," senior cornerback Senquez Golson said. "It was a great thing we won, but after the game as a defense, we talked and said that it was not acceptable if you want the big games."

Big Games for Wallace, Nkemdiche?

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace is coming off his lowest passing total, having completed 13-of-19 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions, but it didn't matter because the running game topped 150 yards and the defense accounted for two touchdowns in a 35-20 win over Texas A&M.

Depending on the flow of the game, Saturday might present an opportunity for Wallace to air it out and help his campaign for individual awards and honors.

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

Like Wallace, sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche finds himself in the conversation for individual awards and honors, having been named to various outlets' midseason All-America team and added to the Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List.

Nkemdiche has put up modest numbers, totaling 14 tackles with a tackle for loss and one sack, and now faces a Tennessee offensive line that ranks last in the SEC and 121st nationally, giving up 3.83 sacks per game.

"He does so many good things in there, but his production's just not up as far as stats and numbers," Ole Miss 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."

Highlights from today's media opportunity with SEC Nation host Joe Tessitore and analysts Tim Tebow and Marcus Spears discussing the show's visit to Oxford for the SEC matchup between No. 3 Ole Miss and Tennessee. 

Tessitore recalls calling the first college game for the Rebels' star-studded sophomore class, Tebow talks about Bo Wallace's improvement as a quarterback, and Spears sees similarities between this year's Ole Miss team and his 2003 LSU team that won the national championship.

SEC Nation Host Joe Tessitore

On the backdrop of The Grove for SEC Nation...

"When I have done Ole Miss games before, I always get to the stadium early, so I can walk through The Grove and take that all in. It should be pretty special to have the SEC Nation set fired up. 

"When you look at our set, it should scream Ole Miss to you. When you look at it, you know what you're watching. That's one of the things I like about our set. You look at it and you know you're watching grand Southern football. It fits in beautifully here. It looks like it could be part of your campus. 

"I like how open it is, and it allows us to play to the crowd. You will see us tomorrow, when we're live on the air, stand up, turn to the crowd and interact with them during commercial breaks. This is a magic ride kind of season here, so it's going to be a celebratory kind of morning."

On the sophomore class, having called their first college game...

"That group, you knew. I could remember that afternoon, sitting there and hyping up (Robert) Nkemdiche in his debut, and you just knew it was going to happen. And to be able to say a year later that they have even over-delivered on all the hype, it's true. 

"It was an incredible recruiting class that, in a span of 18 months, has Ole Miss competing for a national title. That's as good as a group you're going to see. But it takes that kind of a group. It takes guys who buy in and all believe. Laquon Treadwell was a huge part of that. 

"I'm one of those geeks who follow recruiting, so I know the role he played in corralling everyone and buying into the vision early, a vision that's pretty easy to buy when Hugh Freeze is selling it."

SEC Nation Analyst Tim Tebow

On Ole Miss...

"What stands out is the heart they play with offensively and defensively. Everybody talks about the Landshark defense flying around, but you look at guys like Jaylen Walton fighting through tackles. That's just heart. They play together and they play as a family.

"Spending the day with Coach Freeze and the team yesterday, you could really see that and the environment they set. It seems like it's a fun time for all these players right now."

On Bo Wallace...

"He's improved a lot. In SEC play, he doesn't have a turnover. He's making big plays, but he's also not making big errors in the biggest of games. That's been huge, especially when you have a big-time defense. 

"What I like most about Bo is that courage and leadership and that 'it' factor he has, like on that 3rd-and-9 last week versus Texas A&M. 

"He knows where the sticks are, he fights through the line of scrimmage and he dives and goes over a defender to get the first down. That ultimately led to a touchdown, and they went up 28-7 and that was a huge play in the game. He has that 'it' that you can't necessarily teach."

SEC Nation Analyst Marcus Spears

On the backdrop of The Grove for SEC Nation...

"It's awesome. We should have a pretty good crowd. This is their network. That's how we resonate on campus. People understand we're more personable and we know the history of each school. It will resonate with people, and hopefully it's hyped up out here. It's a pretty big game. 

"Tennessee is not whatever they think they are. Tennessee has played everybody down to the wire. They have lost some close games. They're one of those teams on the cusp. The energy in the crowd should be good tomorrow."

On Robert Nkemdiche...

"He's a man's man. He's a beast. He plays with a high intensity level. He can knock guys back and he has great bend. I know I sound like a pro scout, but he can win with leverage and he wins with tenacity. He has it all, all of the tools. He can be a D-end or a D-tackle in the NFL. That poses a lot of problems for offensive lines. 

"First of all, you can move him, and he can be as effective from different positions. That's what I like about him. More than anything, I like his attitude and I like the way he plays."

On the transformation of Ole Miss under head coach Hugh Freeze...

"Coach Freeze has done a tremendous job. He's implemented a philosophy with this football team. He's put guys in place and he's recruited well. In order to stay atop this league, you have to have players. That's what it really boils down to. 

"All these coaches, we call them great, and we say they won so many games. It's about these players. The coaches, structurally, put them in the right position and put them in successful spots to make plays, but it comes down to the talent and the talent level. 

"We talk about Alabama, LSU, Auburn, all these schools that have been at the top. It's about talent, and now Hugh Freeze has a team that's as talented as anybody in the country. 

"You have a great quarterback who's playing really consistent right now, not turning the football over, offensive line, (Laquon) Treadwell out on the corner making plays.

"And this defense. It reminds me of the '03 LSU Tigers. It's a good mix, and it's a great group of talent, and it's coming together. Everybody is believing in what they're doing. That's to Coach Freeze's credit. It's about those guys he's putting out there on the football field, and I'm sure he would tell you the same thing."

On comparisons between the 2003 LSU team and this year's Ole Miss team...

"It starts with winning games. It starts with a belief system that you can compete against anybody in the country, that you have the talented and the play-makers to win every football game. That was our train of thought. We thought we were stacked in enough positions that there was no team you could roll out in college football and say LSU was not physically better or LSU did not have level of talent. 

"Ole Miss is in that same boat right now. Alabama has a tremendous amount of talent like they have always had, but if you go man for man in the whole country, I stack this Ole Miss team up against anybody, especially on defense."

On the Ole Miss running game...

"What Ole Miss is doing as well as anybody right now, is they're winning games defensively, and you can do it. That has been proven in the NFL and that has been proven in college, but I think Bo Wallace gives them the extra oomph that they need to win big games and put themselves in position to be in the College Football Playoff.

"The run game is a little different. Sometimes your team ins't built that way, but throwing these quick bubble screens is the same as a handoff. Getting these guys in space to make plays in the open fields is the equivalent of a handoff. Everything is not deep down the field.

"We look at turning around and handing the ball off to the running back as the run game. A lot of these teams are revolutionizing that by throwing quick hitches to receivers, then they beat a corner and they might go to the house. They have implemented stuff like that to help them out a lot. 

"Eventually, it will come town to a game or this year, where they will have to figure out to establish the run game. If they can, they will have success. They are just as good as anybody, if they show they can do that."

On the Ole Miss defense...

"You have to overcome to so much as a football team playing against this defense. The way they play, not only the way they play, but they creative turnovers. And that's huge. 

"A team can only give up 305 yards per game, which they consider pretty good, and they only gave 70-80 rushing yards, and they consider that pretty good, but when you have a defense like this that does that and creates turnovers and scores, it's tough to beat. 

"We led the league in scoring touchdowns on defense when we won the national championship. It's a formula that you can win with, and they have the guys to do it."

What They're Saying: Midseason Honors

At the halfway point of the regular season, Ole Miss is 6-0 for the first time since 1962, when it went 10-0 and earned a share of the national title. It's No. 3 ranking in the national polls is its highest since being No. 1 in the 1964 preseason poll. 

With its success through the first six games, Ole Miss featured prominently in outlets' midseason honors and predictions for the rest of the season.

From CBS Sports: Dennis Dodd names Cody Prewitt the defensive player of the year, and Jerry Hinnen names Senquez Golson the most surprising player. Dodd, Hinnen and Jerry Palm all predict Ole Miss will win the national title, among other mentions.

From CBS Sports: Robert Nkemdiche, Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt were all named to the outlet's midseason All-America team.

From ESPN.com: Gene Wojciechowski ranks Ole Miss No. 2 in his top 10 and seeds Ole Miss No. 2 in his four-team playoff, among other mentions in his awards for the first half of the season.

From ESPN.com: Chris Low forecasts the winner of the Egg Bowl will play for the SEC Championship, and Ole Miss will be included in the four-team playoff.

From ESPN.com: Laremy Tunsil and Senquez Golson were named to the outlet's midseason All-America team. 

From ESPN.com: Evan Engram, Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche, Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt were named to the outlet's midseason All-SEC team

From ESPN.com: Todd McShay names Hugh Freeze coach of the year and Cody Prewitt a prospect on the rise in midseason awards handed out by himself and Mel Kiper Jr. (Insider)

I'll go with Freeze, but I couldn't argue with Mullen, either. Freeze and his staff have done a great job of developing a lot of young key contributors, and they've also worked with QB  Bo Wallace to get him to play within the scheme and limit mistakes, which has been critical to the team's success so far. The Rebels are 6-0 for the first time since 1962, including consecutive wins over Alabama and at Texas A&M.

The entire Ole Miss defense (aka the "Landsharks") has been sensational. But Prewitt is the senior captain who shows up every week. He's not exceptional in any area, with just average straight-line speed at 6-1 and 220 pounds, and he's likely a midround NFL draft pick. But he's a very good all-around football player whose best quality is his football smarts. He came up big Saturday with a 75-yard pick-six. 

From ESPN.com: Brock Huard ranks Bo Wallace No. 6 among his top 10 quarterbacks in the nation. On a scale from 1-10, he rates him as a 9 on college production and rates him a 7 on NFL skills. (Insider)

The state of Mississippi is the belle of the ball at the midway point, and it's no surprise that QB play and defense are the signature staples of both teams' success. Hugh Freeze and Dan Mullen place a premium on QB run, decision-making and controlling tempo from the QB spot, and while Bo is not the physically imposing athlete of his in-state counterpart Dak, his ability to limit mistakes and play his best in the second half and fourth quarter in particular (six TDs/six INTs in first halves, nine TDs/0 INTs in second halves) is why the Rebels are unblemished.

In fact, Wallace's fourth-quarter efficiency (269.2) is tops in the country. Freeze told me in Week 2 that his defense was title-worthy, and if Bo and the Ole Miss offense could stay healthy up front, they could compete for the ultimate prize. So far, so good in Oxford.

From NFL.com: Daniel Jeremiah names Laremy Tunsil the best offensive line in the nation, and Gil Brands predicts head coach Hugh Freeze will win coach of they year and Ole Miss will will the national title.

From NFL.com: Bryan Fischer predicts Ole Miss will win the SEC West.

From Sports Illustrated: Brian Hamilton predicts Hugh Freeze will win coach of the year, and Andy Staples predicts both Ole Miss and Mississippi State will make the four-team playoff.

From Sports Illustrated: Robert Nkemdiche and Cody Prewitt were named to the outlet's first team All-America team, and Senquez Golson was named to the outlet's second team.

From Sporting News: Matt Hayes ranks Senquez Golson No. 10 in his re-ranking of the top 25 players in the nation.

From Sporting News: Laremy Tunsil and Senquez Golson were named to the outlet's midseason All-America team.

Phil Steele also released his All-America and All-SEC teams, with Ole Miss featuring prominently on both team. Laremy Tunsil, Robert Nkemdiche and Senquez Golson were named to the first team All-America team, and Cody Prewitt was named to the second team. Tunsil, Nkemdiche, Golson and Prewitt were joined by Evan Engram on the first team All-SEC team, while Bo Wallace, Laquon Treadwell and Tony Conner were named to the second team.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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."


In the aftermath of Saturday's historic win, the Rebels' first win over win over a top-ranked opponent and the first win over Alabama since 2003, senior quarterback Bo Wallace was at the center of it.

After throwing three second-half touchdown passes, including the game-tying and game-winning scores, the fans stormed the field and mobbed Wallace and his Ole Miss teammates. They would later raise him up and carry him for a distance, and they would go on to tear down the goal posts.

With the game on the line, he completed each of his final three passes for 57 yards and two touchdowns, as he finished the game 18-of-31 for 251 and three touchdowns. 

"It was special because I know a lot of those guys that rushed the field are doubters, and for them to lift me up, it was special," Wallace said. "And it's huge for the seniors. Those guys have been through some rough times here. And to get a win against the No. 1 team in the country, it's definitely special."

"He just played so solid," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "On that last touchdown, that ball was right where it needed to be for us. Who knows what the next week holds, but tonight, Bo led his team to defeat the No. 1 team in the country. He deserves credit for being a big part of that."

Down 14-3 at the half, Ole Miss held Alabama scoreless on its opening drive and then put together a four-play, 66-yard drive, capped by Wallace's first touchdown pass, a 14-yard one to sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell to help set the stage for late-game dramatics.

"Our team has never quit, not one single time, not even when we got beat that first year bad by Texas here," Freeze said said. "They fought to the end. We're not going to quit. We're going to fight to the end. That was never really a question in my mind. 

"Whether or not we were going to stop Alabama and score points, I didn't know, but I knew our kids were going to fight. Playing for 60 minutes is a trademark of our program."


For the seniors such as Senquez Golson, it was one big step forward to the top after starting their Ole Miss careers at the bottom, playing through a forgettable 2-10 season. His transformation and emergence as a leader continued, as he sealed the win with an interception with 37 seconds remaining in the game. 

"I knew we were going to get a stop," Golson said.  "We're that good of a defense. I knew we were going to come up and make a big play. I didn't know who it was going to be, but I knew we were going to get a stop."

The interception by Golson provided the exclamation point to a dominant defensive effort, as the Rebels held the Crimson Tide to just 10 points. Alabama entered the day averaging 42.0 points per game on offense.

"They play for each and care for each other," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "They want to do good. They came from the bottom and are trying to head back to the top. 

"We have some good leadership and we have a nice mixture of seniors who have been here in the past and juniors and sophomores who are really talented play. The experience and maturity has helped them get to where they are now."

On one of the biggest weekends in school history, complete with the first-ever visit of College GameDay, it marked another moment of arrival for the program. 

"It's a great feeling," sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche said. "I have seen this team put in the work all through the week. We have worked toward this since spring practice. We have a new spirit. We believed we could do this, and that's where it started. We believed we could beat these guys, and we did."

With the schedule ahead, there are possibilities of many more moments of arrival, as well as Wallace's goal of becoming the first quarterback to lead Ole Miss to Atlanta and the SEC Championship game.

"Right now, we have to focus on winning the West," Wallace said. "If you win the West, with the opponents you're going to play, you're going to be in the conversation, and that's all you can ask for."


 

After Senquez Golson's interception to seal the win over Alabama, here's what the last 32 seconds looked like from the field, including the fans storming the field and then lifting up and carrying Bo Wallace.


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This is the second installment of Observations from the Best Seat in the House. The idea of this weekly feature will be to bring you all some of our observations from the previous week in Ole Miss sports. Let's get into it:

1. What a weekend. The football, volleyball and soccer teams went a combined 5-0-1 on the weekend, headlined by the 15th-ranked football team's 41-3 win over Vanderbilt at Nashville's LP Field, home of the Tennessee Titans.

2. Let's start there. Head coach Hugh Freeze may have downplayed the play of his team in his postgame press conference, but Saturday's win over Vanderbilt may have been the Rebels' most complete performance in the Hugh Freeze era.

3. Since the first half against Boise State, Bo Wallace has completed 35-of-44 passes for 559 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. Between the Boise State second half and Vanderbilt first half, he threw for 488 yards, which would have broken Archie Manning's single-game school record.

"He didn't make any bad decisions, or anything that was even close," said co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner of Wallace's performance against Vanderbilt.

4. A lot of it is the small sample size, but here are some more fun stats: Bo Wallace is seventh nationally averaging 10.7 yards per attempt and has accounted for a nation-best 15 passing plays of 20 yards of more. That's a big credit to Wallace getting the ball in the hands of his talented group of receivers.

"We had a good game plan, and guys were running wide open the whole night," said Wallace after the Vanderbilt game. "Guys made some plays after the catch, and we put up some yards."

5. Another note: The 41-3 win over Vanderbilt was the Rebels' largest margin of victory in an SEC game since defeating Mississippi State 45-0 in 2008.

6. On a very related note, the margin of victory (38) was also former football player Chucky Mullins' jersey number, while the total number of points (44) was also former Vanderbilt football player Brad Gaines' jersey number. The SEC Storied documentary "It's Time," centered on the the inspirational friendship between Mullins and Gaines, debuted on Thursday on the SEC Network.

7. Robert Nkemdiche called the defense's performance in the season opener against Boise State the new normal. The defense showed up again, as they allowed only a fourth-quarter field goal and 167 yards of total offense against Vanderbilt. Through two games, the Rebels have allowed just 4.19 yards per play and just eight plays of 20 yards of more.

"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," head coach Hugh Freeze said after the win over Vanderbilt. "We want to make people drive to earn points and I think we did that well."

8. Speaking of Nkemdiche, the former consensus No. 1 overall recruit recorded his first sack of the season, the third of his career, against Vanderbilt. It likely won't be his last.

9. It may get lost in the team's overall performance, but Cliff Coleman may have turned in the play of the game, making his first interception and returning it 39 yards for his first career touchdown to keep the momentum in the Rebels' favor and stretch their lead to 27-0 early in the third quarter.

10. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack earlier said this freshman class was a hit across the board. Through two games, Kendarius Webster has been the one who has stood out. He had a well-timed pass breakup late in the game against Boise State and had two massive tackles to keep the shutout intact against Vanderbilt.

11. The reigning national punter of the week, Will Gleeson did not see the field, as Ole Miss did not punt in a game for the first time since 2002. Andrew Fletcher connected on each of his first two career field-goal attempts, one from 31 yards and another 25 yards, while Gary Wunderlich made his collegiate debut kicking off four times with three touchbacks and one kick out of bounds.

12. College GameDay producer Lee Fitting has said the Ole Miss looks like a strong a candidate for a visit from College GameDay on Oct. 4 if Ole Miss and Alabama are undefeated. It would be their first trip to the Grove. Home games against Louisiana-Lafayette and Memphis stand in the way for Ole Miss, while home games against Southern Miss and Florida stand in the way for Alabama.

13. With that said, don't sleep on Memphis. Under second-year head coach Justin Fuente, Memphis put a scare into No. 11 UCLA before falling short 42-35. The Tigers rolled up 469 yards of total offense, led by second-year quarterback Paxton Lynch who threw for 305 yards and accounted for two touchdowns.

14. The Ole Miss volleyball team is the last undefeated team in the SEC. With a 3-0 weekend to win the Memphis Invitational, the Rebels improved to 7-0 on the season for the first time since 2007, when they started a school-best 9-0.

15. In their first match of the weekend at Memphis, the Rebels saved a match point down 14-13 in the fifth and decisive set before scoring the next two points to clinch the match. Those are the kinds of wins where you can see the mentality change that first-year head coach Steven McRoberts has talked about since arriving in Oxford.

16. The Ole Miss soccer team had their own share of dramatics this weekend. Down 2-0, Olivia Harrison netted a pair of goals within four minutes of each other in the final 12 minutes of regulation to force extra time against Minnesota. She capped off her hat trick with the golden goal in the second overtime period.

17. Even more impressive, it was the second straight game where an Ole Miss player scored a hat trick, with Addie Forbus scoring three goals in their previous match against Louisiana-Lafayette.

18. The NFL is back, and so is the large contingent of former Rebels among its ranks. Mike Wallace caught a game-tying touchdown, as the Miami Dolphins scored 23 unanswered to rally to defeat the New England Patriots. On the defensive side of the ball, Greg Hardy, who was third in the NFL in sacks last year, recorded his first sack of the season, while Patrick Willis intercepted a pass and led his team in tackles.

19. Looking ahead, there's another big weekend on campus upcoming with volleyball's first three home matches of the season as part of the Magnolia Invitational on Thursday and Friday, football's home opener against Louisiana-Lafayette on Saturday, and a home soccer match against Middle Tennessee State on Sunday.

Observations from the Best Seat in the House - Aug. 31

Observations Logo.pngThis is a new concept we've created for the Ole Miss Sports Blog that we're calling Observations from the Best Seat in the House. The idea of this weekly feature will be to bring you all some of our observations from the previous week in Ole Miss sports. Some of these will be stat nuggets, some of these will be links to great work from other people, and some will simply be casual observations about a game/subject/whatever. Sometimes I'll be posting these weekly features, sometimes it will be Austin Miller, and sometimes we'll team up for it. We'll keep it professional, of course, but we're also going to have some fun with this because it is a blog after all. Let's get started:

1.) Great season-opening win by the Ole Miss football team. Was it always pretty? No. Does it matter? Not really. At the end of the day, the Rebels are 1-0, which is a fact half the teams in the country cannot say.

2.) He plays a position that doesn't always (OK, ever) get a whole lot of attention, but can we please give a shout out to Will Gleeson? The Punter from Down Under was a beast Thursday night against Boise State. Not only did he punt for distance, he also punted with precision, landing three of his four punts inside the Broncos' 20-yard line, including a 70-yarder that stopped at the 7.

3.) Here's a nice story on Gleeson from Hugh Kellenberger of The Clarion-Ledger from back on Aug. 10. Check it out.

4.) We had read and heard about the Ole Miss defense throughout fall camp, but when they're going against the Ole Miss offense there (obviously) aren't any big hits so as to prevent injury. Well, my guess is those defensive players had a little energy built up. There were some absolutely massive hits Thursday from a number of folks. Check out this Vine showing three of the bigger hits: https://vine.co/v/MlV2vObKAxE.

5.) In camp, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said he expected really big things from sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche. The former consensus No. 1 overall recruit didn't disappoint. While his stats weren't necessarily eye-opening, if you watched the game you saw how much attention he drew from the Broncos, which thus freed up his teammates for three sacks and 10 tackles for loss. I really liked this quote from Nkemdiche after the game: "The Rebel defense really made a statement and are really getting an identity. You better get used to it. It's the new normal for us."

6.) Senquez Golson had a big-time game for the Rebels against Boise State. The senior from Pascagoula, Mississippi, made a game-high tying eight solo tackles, including one tackle for a loss and he also had a key interception in the end zone.

7.) Speaking of that interception in the end zone, the key to the game may have been the Rebels' defense bending but never breaking in the first half. Boise State had two drives stall inside the Ole Miss 5-yard line. In total, the Broncos ran seven plays inside the Ole Miss 5 and came away with just three points. If Boise State scores two touchdowns there the whole game could have been different.

8.) Stop me if you've heard this before: Cody Prewitt picked off a pass. The first team All-American picked up right where he left off a year ago when he led the Southeastern Conference with six interceptions.

9.) While there wound up being a lot of good that came from Thursday's game, there were also a couple head scratchers. Fourteen penalties is a whale of a number, first game or not, and that's surely something Coach Freeze and the rest of the Rebel coaching staff will be focusing on prior to their next game at Vanderbilt. Of the 14 penalties, half came as a result of false start calls ... in the first half.

10.) Ole Miss will also look to kick start its running game its next time out. Ole Miss finished the day with 34 rushes for just 71 yards and a touchdown. I, for one, believe the Ole Miss running back corps is a position of strength and the remainder of the year will be a different story.

11.) Here's a fun fact: With Thursday's win, Ole Miss Football is now 8-0 all-time in the month of August.

12.) Did you see Josh McCoy's photo gallery of the football game? Do yourself a favor and click here to check it out: http://www.olemisssports.com/view.gal?id=164946. He's the best photographer in the biz, folks. You can also follow him on Twitter at @OleMissPix.

13.) What a great weekend for the Ole Miss volleyball team as it kicked off the Steven McRoberts era in grand fashion by going 4-0 in Buffalo, New York, at the Buffalo Classic.

14.) The Rebels didn't drop a set throughout the entirety of the tournament. The Rebels' 4-0 start is their best start since 2007, and it's their first time opening a season without dropping a set in their first four matches since 1984. Wow. The volleyball team will play in three matches next week (Sept. 5-6) in nearby Memphis, Tennessee, before hosting two tournaments in back-to-back weekends Sept. 11-12 and Sept. 18-20.

15.) The Ole Miss soccer team also continued its strong start to the year with a 1-1 weekend that saw it bounce back from a 1-0 loss at Louisville on Friday with a 5-1 win over Louisiana-Lafayette at the Ole Miss Soccer Stadium on Sunday. Love seeing a team respond from its first loss with five goals and a victory.

16.) The soccer team is now 2-1-1 after facing four tough opponents to open the season. Come on out to support your Rebels this upcoming week for two home games against Minnesota and Memphis on Sept. 5 and Sept. 7, respectively. It's a fun environment and the team really feeds off a strong crowd.

'The New Normal' on Defense

ATLANTA -- Boise State had been the highest scoring team in the nation, averaging 40.2 points per game dating back to the 2000 season. 

Highlighted by four interceptions, eight tackles for loss and big hits by several different players, the Rebels held the Broncos to 13 points in a 35-13 win in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game from Atlanta's Georgia Dome.

"The Rebel defense really made a statement and are really getting an identity," sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche said. "You better get used to it. It's the new normal for us."

Boise State made three trips to the red zone, and the Ole Miss defense held the Broncos to just 10 points, including two trips when the game was very much in doubt in the first half.

"We talk about winning the critical areas, and those are third down, fourth down and red zone, and had our defense not won those critical areas tonight, we were fighting an uphill battle for sure, but those were big stops," head coach Hugh Freeze said.

With the game scoreless in the first quarter, senior cornerback Senquez Golson stopped a six-play, 51-yard Boise State drive with an interception in the end zone.

Later in the half, after Ole Miss went ahead 7-0, Boise State looked to answer and had the ball first-and-goal from the Ole Miss 1-yard line. The Rebels defense stonewalled the Broncos on three straight plays, including two tackles for loss, to hold them to a field goal.

"For a defense to stop a team in the red zone, especially a team as Boise is at scoring, that means a lot," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "That goes to show that we're never going to blink, we're always going to play the next play and we're really confident in each other and the coaches' game plan."

Prewitt, sophomore Huskie Tony Conner and junior defensive C.J. Johnson also had interceptions in the game, as the Rebels intercepted four passes for the first time since the 2011 season against Southern Illinois. For Prewitt, it was his 10th career interception after he led the Southeastern Conference with six interceptions last season.

The defense finished with just three sacks, but they created consistent pressure for much of the game, which helped lead to turnovers.

"I'm so excited to see our pass rush develop throughout the season," Prewitt said. "They're a really good group of athletes down there. Whenever they're going at the quarterback like they are, that's whenever we're going to start getting picks, fumbles and everything."


For high school football players in Georgia, all roads lead to the Georgia Dome and the state championships. 

For a handful of Rebels, those roads lead home, as Ole Miss opens the 2014 season against Boise State in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff Classic at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night.

"It's huge for me," said sophomore tight end Evan Engram, a native of Powder Springs, Georgia. "Playing in the Georgia Dome, our high school career, our state playoffs are in the Georgia Dome. We never really made it to state, so actually getting there and playing in front of a big crowd at home in front of my family, coaches and friends is a big deal for me."

The Ole Miss roster includes nine players from the Atlanta area that will return there for a homecoming of sorts, including three projected starters in Engram, junior cornerback Mike Hilton from Fayetteville, and sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche from Loganville.

"Any time you can go back home where people who you were raised with can come see you, it adds a little something I'm sure," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We recruit hard there, so hopefully some of those kids can come too. For our kids from that area, it means a lot to them to be able to go back home."

Nkemdiche, the headliner of the group and a first team freshman All-America selection, makes his return to the Dome, where he helped lead Grayson High School to a Class 5A state title as a junior.

"It's a great feeling getting to go back to the Georgia Dome," Nkemdiche said. "I started all four years of my high school (career) there, so it's great to go back and start one more is awesome. I want to try to finish there, too."

Engram was also a part of the Rebels' historic 2013 signing class, along with Nkemdiche, and became one of the first two true freshmen in school history, along with fellow sophomore Laremy Tunsil, to be named All-SEC. He missed part of last season with a high ankle sprain, but he's back to 100 percent and primed for a breakout season.

"Having Evan (Engram) down there and the matchups he creates with linebackers and things like that can be huge for us in the red zone this year," said senior quarterback Bo Wallace of Engram. "That's going to be huge for us if we can come away with touchdowns in the red zone."

Hilton, one of the elder statesmen of the group, will make his second trip to his home state in his college career, having played at Georgia as a freshman. He has bounced between cornerback and Huskie throughout his career, starting 16 games, but will likely play cornerback Thursday night.

"Mike Hilton is primarily at corner now," Freeze said. "Some of that would depend on what personnel we're facing. He's prepared to play both, depending on the personnel we get. You'll see him at both before the year is over."

Two freshmen are also expected to see significant action in linebacker DeMarquis Gates, a Hampton native, and cornerback Kendarius Webster, a Stockbridge native. 

Gates has impressed from the start of fall camp and will likely play a role on special teams, while Webster has been pressed into action as the primary backup at field corner with injuries in the secondary.

"He can run, he's physical, he's tough, and he's smart," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of Gates. "He didn't play last year, so I really wasn't expecting what we have been getting from him. Each and every day, including today, he has shown up, so that's a good thing for us."

"I'm really impressed (with Webster)," Hilton said. "I played him in high school, so I knew how he would play. He's really going to help us in the long run. He's still young. He's going to be a really good one for us."

Rebel Nation is known for traveling well, and the season opener is no different, especially for the family and friends of the Atlanta area players.

"I had to fight for tickets to get some people in," Engram said. "I have a lot of people buying them and a lot of people sending me 'good luck' texts, saying they'll be watching. Hopefully I see a couple of 'Go Evan' signs. It will be fun."

Relentless is the Word on Defense

ESPN.com's Brett McMurphy asked each of the 65 coaches from the Power Five conferences to describe their team in one word

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze's word? Relentless.

The same can be said of the Ole Miss defense. 

And it starts up front with the defensive line, headlined by sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "If you can do that with just your front four, a four-man rush, and still have the ability to pressure in multiple ways, that's the perfect combination for us."

"This camp, we have shown so much progress in the D-line," Nkemdiche said. "We're getting after the quarterback every day. (Wommack) is so much more comfortable. He's sending us four guys and letting his guys cover."

Much is expected from Nkemdiche in his sophomore campaign after recording 34 tackles, 2.0 sacks, 8.0 tackles for loss and three quarterback hurries in his freshman All-American season. He bounced between defensive end and defensive tackle but has found a home at defensive tackle this season.

"I expect really big things from him," Kiffin said. "The world is going to be really surprised when they see him play on Thursday night. I would be shocked if he didn't take over the game, from a 3-technique standpoint and what a 3-technique can do in a game. I would be shocked if he doesn't. He's that good. We have guys in place around him to be really good on defense. This year he's really matured."

"He's definitely found his way in college football," Johnson said. "His get-off is probably second to none. He's going to acquire a lot of attention, and everybody knows that. It makes us raise our level of play because we know what they're going to give him. We're going to have to step and pick up the slack a little bit."

The defensive line looks to improve the pass rush after experiencing a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013, in addition to taking pressure off the secondary. 

The defensive backfield is arguably the deepest and most experienced unit of the defense with a combined 96 starts among the five starters on the depth chart, led by the Southeastern Conference's lone returning All-American in senior safety Cody Prewitt.

"I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years," Wommack said. "I'm really pleased with the guys. We have some guys who can cover. We have some smart guys and can create different packages with those guys. This is one of better defensive teams that have been around the last couple of years."

"Having C.J. (Johnson) back takes our pass rush to a whole new level," junior defensive back Mike Hilton said. "We know if we can hold up on the back end and make the quarterback hold it the pass rush from the front four can be something special."

With the depth, experience and promise of more aggressive play-calling, the sky is the limit for the Ole Miss defense in 2014.


Like defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, defensive line coach Chris Kiffin has been pleased with his players throughout fall camp, particularly the depth bolstered by the return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and the addition of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes.

"I don't think it's any secret that we have some depth there," Kiffin said. "We finally have the numbers we want at all four positions. I have been really pleased with the guys. For the most part, it's been guys I thought we could count on. Marquis Haynes is a guy who has surprised as a freshman, but he was here in the spring, so it's no surprise. Him and Fadol (Brown) have both been coming along really well."

One area he looks for marked improvement is the pass rush after a decline in sacks from 38 in 2012 to 20 in 2013. Wommack said earlier this week that they would like to get back to bringing pressure (five or more players) 35-40 percent of the time after bringing pressure around 27-28 percent this past season.

"With Coach (Dave) Wommack, since we have been together, we have been an attack defense that's going to create pressure," Kiffin said. "If you can do that with just your front four, a four-man rush, and still have the ability to pressure in multiple ways, that's the perfect combination for us. I think we're there right now. We obviously haven't done it in a game. There are a lot of variables that go into it. You still have to win first down and be able to get them in passing situations, get a lead, and a lot of those things come late in the game when teams are playing from behind."

In addition to depth, Kiffin also noted the position flexibility along the defensive line, as he looks to play at least eight players in the season opener. 

"This year, I challenged the guys to be able to play multiple positions," Kiffin said. "C.J. being able to do that gives us flexibility with Marquis. Bryon (Bennett) being able to do that gives us flexibility inside. John Youngblood, I can't say enough about him. He's a limited-rep guy. He knows the whole defense. He's going to get the job for us, so I can play him at multiple positions. It allows us to do a lot of things."

With the depth and experience at the position, Kiffin and the coaching staff might be afforded the luxury of redshirting the freshman trio of Victor Evans, Garrald McDowell and Breeland Speaks, who have all been practicing with the scout team this week.

"Early on, we had the split practices, and those guys got a ton of reps," Kiffin said. "All three of those guys I'm really happy with. I'm glad we signed all three of them. Victor is a really long guy, Gerrald is more of just a football player, and Breeland is a really big athlete right now. He needs to get his weight down a little but he gives us a lot of things in there. I'm very excited about those three guys' futures. With our depth, we probably won't need to use them right off the bat. That's a good problem to have."



NOTABLE

On Wednesday, head coach Hugh Freeze challenged a group of his backup wide receivers to step up alongside the top four players at the position, and from that group, freshman Markell Pack and redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe have emerged.

Pack joins sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo and junior Cody Core in the rotation at slot receiver, while Bledsoe joins sophomore Laquon Treadwell, senior Vince Sanders and Core in the rotation at outside receiver.

Sophomore Anthony Alford has continued to get reps at wildcat quarterback, in addition to backing up junior Trae Elston at Rover safety, while junior Jeremy Liggins is focusing on three packages where he will line up at tight end.

Freeze had a lot of praise for redshirt freshman Will Gleeson for sky punt stuff and his coming-out punts in Thursday's mock game, while senior Andrew Fletcher remains in the lead for field goal duties from inside 40 yards.

In the return game, junior running back Jaylen Walton, Elston and sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore are in the mix on kickoffs, while Pack and Alford are in the mix on punts.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Jeremy Liggins: "We centered in on three packages for him in week one where he doesn't have to feel like he has to learn everything. He's concentrating on those three. He's getting better and better. He still makes some missed assignments. When he does it right, he's pretty good."

Freeze on C.J. Hampton: "He will back up Cody (Prewitt). We really like the way he's working with his attitude and the way he's coming on. He made some checks to some different looks that the scout team gave, so his reps will pick up even more. We have to make sure he's ready."

Freeze on injuries: "Issac is coming on. He put a helmet on today and did some running around. Monday will be a big test for Issac to see where he is. Mentally, he understands what we're doing. That's the good thing. Collins Moore has a shot. We'll know Monday. They're going to turn him loose tomorrow. Even though it's an off-day, he's coming in and let him run around some and see how he is. He can't practice until school starts because he's not in the 105. He's getting treatment, but Pat feels like he's way ahead of schedule. We'll check him out Monday and see what he does."

Chris Kiffin on Marquis Haynes: "He's a guy right now who can do it all. He's 230 pounds and we move a lot. C.J. (Johnson) has gotten away with playing 230 here for a number of years... Marquis is going to play all downs for us, not just the third down, starting off."

Kiffin on Robert Nkemdiche: "I expect really big things from him. The world is going to be really surprised when they see him play on Thursday night. I would be shocked if he didn't take over the game, from a 3-technique standpoint and what a 3-technique can do in a game. I would be shocked if he doesn't. He's that good. We have guys in place around him to be really good on defense. This year he's really matured."

Nkemdiche Headlines Retooled D-Line

The return of junior defensive end C.J. Johnson and additions of sophomore Fadol Brown and freshman Marquis Haynes have changed the face of the defensive line, but freshman All-American Robert Nkemdiche remains front and center. 

With a season of experience under his belt, it's been a different experience for the former consensus No. 1 recruit this fall.

"I know the playbook so much better," Nkemdiche said. "I'm so much more chilled out. I'm not freaking out right now. I'm not nervous. My head's on straight, and I'm ready to have a huge game.

"I had a really good camp. I was focused. I'm bringing it every day, 100 percent, no matter what. I'm ready for the season and to have a really dominant season."

Beside Nkemdiche at defensive tackle has been a rotation of senior Bryon Bennett and junior Woodrow Hamilton with junior Issac Gross out due to injury.

"You lose quickness in there," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of missing Gross. "But kudos to Bryon Bennett because I have never seen him play as well as he's playing right now, across the board. He has some size, quickness and been super in there for us. I have been really pleased with him, but it affects your depth.

"Woody's issue has been staying out there on the field. When he stays out on the field, he's a really good football player. He's extremely tough to block. He's not just an anchor. He has some quickness and he can move around. He fits our scheme really well."

With the depth and experience on the defensive side of the ball, Wommack looks to rotate more players and be more aggressive this season. 

On the defensive line, Wommack said, they would like to play 8-10 players and get back to bringing pressure (five or more players) 35-40 percent of the time after bringing pressure around 27-28 percent this past season.

"This camp, we have shown so much progress in the D-line," Nkemdiche said. "We're getting after the quarterback every day. (Dave Wommack) is so much more comfortable. He's sending us four guys and letting his guys cover."

"We weren't able to do that last year because of the pass rush we didn't have and we lacked the corner play that we needed," Wommack said. "Boise is going to see some things they haven't seen in the last two years."


Haynes, Freshmen Show Out on Defense

Nkemdiche described Haynes as a physical freak. 

A former high jumper and 100-meter sprinter in high school, Haynes enrolled in January and broke into the two-deep early in the fall camp and has remained there.

"He has a knack for the football," said Nkemdiche of Haynes. "He's a freak. He gets to the football no matter what. If he has a missed assignment, he's still going to get to the ball either way. I like him. He plays 100 percent every down. That's what I like about Marquis. He's going to be really good in the future."

Wommack noted his raw talent, speed and quickness, adding that he's done a good job learning what they have asked him to do. He might not start in the season opener, Wommack said, but in certain packages, he will certainly be at one defensive end spot.

In addition to Haynes, Wommack raved about a trio of freshmen in defensive back A.J. Moore, linebacker DeMarquis Gates and cornerback Kendarius Webster. With the injuries in the secondary, Moore has stepped up as the team's third Huskie and Webster is in the mix as the team's fourth cornerback.

"Both of those freshmen hit a ceiling and then they came back down," said Wommack of Moore and Gates. "Kendarius Webster, too. They pushed forward and have gotten smarter each and every day, and they're going to play for us this year.

"This freshman class was a hit across the board. From top to bottom, it was better than last year's class, if you want to say that. I know there were some stars in that class the year before, but top to bottom, I don't think we missed on anybody. We have some really good football players. Some of them, if we're not going to use them this year, we absolutely don't want to burn them, and we will make that choice later on."


NOTABLE

In individual and team drills open to the media, the first-team offensive line featured sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), junior Ben Still (C), junior Justin Bell (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT). Sophomore Robert Conyers also got some first-team reps at right tackle when Cooper moved from right tackle to left tackle.

When the offense showed sets with two tight ends in team drills, it featured sophomore Evan Engram lined up at a traditional tight end spot and in the slot, with senior Nick Parker also at tight end on the first team. 

Sophomore Matt Brown played a role similar to Engram, with sophomore Jeremy Liggins also at tight end on the second team.

Freeze said he's looking for at least one wide receiver to emerge from a group that includes junior Quintavius Burdette, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshmen Dayall Harris and Markell Pack.

Johnson, Brown and Haynes all got first-team reps at defensive end, with Nkemdiche and Hamilton at defensive tackle.

Brown, along with sophomore John Youngblood, got second-team reps at defensive end, with Bennett and senior Lavon Hooks at defensive tackle.

Senior Andrew Fletcher, Freeze said, remains in the lead for extra point and field goal duties from 43 yards and in, with redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and freshman Gary Wunderlich in competition to handle longer field goals.

In other special teams work, the first-team kickoff returners were junior running back Jaylen Walton and sophomore running back Mark Dodson. 

The second-team kickoff returners were sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore and junior safety Trae Elston. Redshirt freshman running back Eugene Brazley and junior running back I'Tavius Mathers also worked with the kickoff returners.

The kickoff return units also included freshman defensive back A.J. Moore on the first team and Gates on the second team. 

Other notables on the kickoff return units included junior defensive end Channing Ward, redshirt freshman running back Jordan Wilkins, senior linebacker Keith Lewis and sophomore safety Anthony Alford on the first team.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Robert Conyers: "Robert is very, very valuable to us and will play three positions. He may be one of the most valuable pieces of us offensively because he can grasp all three of them and do them well."

Freeze on the center position battle having named Ben Still the starter: "They're pretty even and knowing that we're going to rotate Robert at all three on various possessions, it gives us a little more flexibility, but they're about equal. Robert probably needs to concentrate on both tackle positions between now and then and it gives the ones more reps with Ben."

Freeze on Fahn Cooper's action at left tackle: "He's athletic. It depends on who you're playing and what the matchups are. It's always about matchups. No matter who we put there, there are guys in this league, sometimes you're going to cringe when you get in too many one-on-one's, if you're not able to run the ball some. If they know you're throwing it, I don't care who we put out there. It's difficult, so you have to be balanced. That's been our whole goal since we have been here."

Freeze on Issac Gross, who missed practice with a neck injury: "Issac had the procedure yesterday to get some kind of shot that we think will help speed up the recovery and hopefully cure. We should know Monday if he will be ready to go for Boise."

Robert Nkemdiche on improvement: "Something that can make me stronger as a player is knowing the playbook a lot better. Last year, I feel like I had all the tangibles to be great, but I didn't know the scheme as well. I was out there about 50 percent. I didn't know what else to do. I was trying to go out there and make plays. This year, knowing the playbook a lot better and being more mature as a player and having an SEC season under my belt helps me because I know what to expect now."

Nkemdiche on returning to Atlanta for the season opener against Boise State: "It's a great feeling going back to the Georgia Dome. I started all four years in high school there, so let's go back and start one. We want to try to finish there too."

Dave Wommack on Mike Hilton practicing at both Huskie and cornerback: "Any time you have to double-train somebody, you lose a little something. You can't get totally focused on one thing, but he's a veteran and been here for two years and knows it better. You couldn't do it with a young guy for sure."

Wommack on the secondary: "I feel better about the secondary than I have in three years. I'm really pleased with the guys. We have some guys who can cover. We have some smart guys and can create different packages with those guys. This is one of better defensive teams that have been around the last couple of years."

Wallace: 'It's My Offense'

The dean of Southeastern Conferences quarterbacks and the league's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdowns, senior Bo Wallace is as healthy and confident as ever, and he's also assumed a more vocal leadership role on the team.

"I feel like it's my team," Wallace said. "It's my offense. I have said in years past that I have to be more vocal. This year, I have done a lot better job of letting those guys know that I care about them and I want to be around them and I want those guys playing hard."

After playing through shoulder pain and fatigue for much of his first two years as the Rebels' quarterback, he has not noticed any flare-ups with his shoulder through fall camp.

"I have no pain at all," Wallace said. "Last year, I wouldn't really have pain, but I had days when I didn't feel great, but I feel really good now."

In front of Wallace, junior Fahn Cooper has earned the starting job at right tackle, while the battle for the starting job at center continues between junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers, with both players getting first-team reps in Monday's practice.

"Conyers and Still are still right there battling for the center job and I feel good with either of them about snaps and protections, so I feel like we have some guys who can play and be alright there," Wallace said.

"They are about tit-for-tat," Freeze said. "I'll let Matt (Luke) meet with those kids. They're both going to play. Both Ben and Robert have earned the right to play. Who gets the majority of the snaps will probably be sorted out after the first few games."

Do-It-All Hilton Adds Flexibility to Defense


When sophomore Tee Shepard and junior Carlos Davis went down with season-ending knee injuries, it meant a larger and perhaps less defined role for junior Mike Hilton. 

The one-time high school running back standout has started 16 games in his career, with 10 at cornerback, five at Huskie and one at free safety, including nine at cornerback this past season. 

He has bounced between cornerback and Huskie during fall camp but has now turned most of his attention to cornerback with the injuries to Shepard and Davis. 

"I had a full summer to really get my technique down and work with Coach (Jason) Jones on small things and get a better feel because I switched in the middle of the season," Hilton said. "Having this full summer has really helped me."

In Monday's practice he ran with the first-team defense at cornerback, opposite senior Senquez Golson, and second-team defense at Huskie, behind sophomore Tony Conner.

"(The coaches) make sure I'm on top of everything," Hilton said. "I watch film with the corners one day and go watch it with the Huskies to make sure I'm not making too many mistakes and make sure I can handle it."

Despite the injuries, it's one of the deepest and most experienced secondaries that defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has had in his three years at Ole Miss. With that experience, Hilton said he expects a more aggressive defense and more blitzes.

"Having C.J. (Johnson) back takes our pass rush to a whole new level," Hilton said. "We know if we can hold up on the back end and make the quarterback hold it the pass rush from the front four can be something special."

Rebels Begin Boise Prep


White jerseys with numbers representing Boise State players dotted the scout-team offense and defense, as Ole Miss has turned the page in advance of the season opener against the Broncos.

One challenge of preparation is the unknown with a first-year head coach in Bryan Harsin and two-first year coordinators in Mike Sanford on the offensive side and Marcel Yates on the defensive side. Some of the preparation is based on Boise State film, while other preparation is based on film from the coaches' other previous experiences.

"It's definitely difficult on the offensive side because the (defensive) coordinator that has been hired has not been a coordinator before, so you're not sure," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I'm sure he will take something from everywhere he has been, like all of us have done. We're not quite sure what his flavor is, so that's a bit difficult. 

"Offensively, with their head coach being an offensive guy, even though I know he's not going to coordinate it, you have an idea of what they will be like. We're going to study the places that the offensive coordinator came from also. It's not the easiest thing in the world, but it happens."

Harsin was a graduate assistant (2001) and tight ends coach (2002-05) under Dan Hawkins before assuming the role of offensive coordinator and quarterback coach (2006-10) under Chris Peterson. He was most recently the co-offensive coordinator at Texas (2011-12) and head coach at Arkansas State (2013). Sanford most recently spent three seasons as a running backs coach at Stanford (2011-13). 

"You don't know what to expect," Hilton of preparation for Boise State. "We can watch film on Arkansas State, which is where he came from, but he can still throw something new in there. We watch Boise to see how their players are and see how physical receivers and running backs are. It's a challenge, but I feel like we can handle it."

On the defensive side, Yates was a cornerbacks coach (2003-05) under Hawkins before taking over the entire secondary (2006-11) under Peterson, and then serving as a co-defensive coordinator at Texas A&M (2012-2013).

"We have an idea of what we think they're going to do," said senior quarterback Bo Wallace of preparation for Boise State. "Study some years past and a little bit of A&M stuff and try to play fast. What we don't know, hopefully our tempo can help us in that area."

Steele Picks Ole Miss to Finish 9-3, Tied for Third in SEC West

ESPN Insider Phil Steele projects Ole Miss to finish 9-3 overall and tied for third in the SEC standings with LSU (9-3) and behind first-place Alabama (12-0) and second-place Auburn (10-2). He projects Georgia (11-1) to win the SEC East and meet Alabama in the SEC title game. Here's more from Steele on Ole Miss:

The Rebels welcome back QB Bo Wallace (3,346 passing yards in 2013) and their top two rushers, I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton (1,086 yards combined). I rank Wallace and backup Ryan Buchanan is the 11th-best QB unit in the country. Even better? What they don't have: South Carolina, Georgia or Florida on the docket. Since they avoid the East's big three, I have the Rebels as clear underdogs against only the West's big two, LSU and Bama (the A&M and Auburn games rate as toss-ups in my book). Ole Miss, talent-wise, is not far behind the Tigers or the Tide and could make a run to the SEC title game. In fact, I have the Rebels as my No. 6-rated surprise team in the country.

For ESPN Insider subscribers, here's the link to the full article, "Projecting the final SEC standings"

More from ESPN: The SEC has plenty of playoff possibilities, and Ole Miss is one of four teams that could make a magical run from outside the top 10, writes Edward Aschoff

NOTABLE:

Sophomore Laquon Treadwell and senior Vince Sanders got first-team reps at outside receiver, with junior Cody Core, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshman Dayall Harris also in the rotation.

Core also got first-team reps at slot receiver, with sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo, junior Quintavius Burdette, freshmen Markell Pack and Sammie Epps also in the rotation.

Sophomore Evan Engram got a majority of first-team reps at tight end, with senior Nick Parker,  and sophomores Jeremy Liggins and Matt Brown also in the rotation.

Junior C.J. Johnson, sophomore Fadol Brown, and freshman Marquis Haynes all got first-team reps at defensive end, with sophomore Robert Nkemdiche and junior Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle. 

Sophomore John Youngblood and junior Channing Ward were second-team defensive ends, with seniors Bryon Bennett and Lavon Hooks at defensive tackle.

The five players who ran with the first-team defense in the secondary have combined to start 96 games in their career: Senior safety Cody Prewitt (28), junior safety Trae Elston (20), senior cornerback Senquez Golson (20), junior cornerback Mike Hilton (16) and sophomore Huskie Tony Conner (12).

Hilton also ran with second team at Huskie, where he was joined by sophomore Derrick Jones and freshman Kendarius Webster at cornerback and sophomore Anthony Alford and freshman C.J. Hampton at safety.

In special teams work, the first-team kickoff returners were junior running back Jaylen Walton and sophomore running back Mark Dodson. The second-team kickoff returners were sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore and junior safety Trae Elston. 

The kickoff return units also included freshman defensive back C.J. Moore on the first team and freshman linebacker DeMarquis Gates on the second team.

QUOTABLE:

Hugh Freeze on field goal kicker: "We feel like we know who's ahead at this point, but it's a bit too early to tell who's going to be the guy. Right now, I would say (Andrew) Fletcher is the guy. Fletcher would kick short-to-medium field goals. All of them, on a given day, have done their share. He's probably been the more consistent on those. If it was a longer (field goal), it would be one of the other two (Gary Wunderlich or Andy Pappanastos)."

Freeze on rotating players on defense: "Any time you can rotate two-deep, you're better off. I'm all for rotating and keeping players fresh so they can play at a high level."

Freeze on Cody Core and Quincy Adeboyejo at slot receiver: "As soon as one runs a route, the other one is coming in. Cody has probably had a little more consistent camp with everything that is asked of him there, but we're excited about the year Quincy could have also."

Bo Wallace on Fahn Cooper: "He's good. He's physical. He plays hard and he's one of those kids, when you get into them, he will do anything in the world for you. The big thing for me has been to get into Fahn and let him know that I can care about so he wants to protect and wants to lay it on the line."

Wallace on Cody Core: "He has that confidence. This is his third year. He knows the speed of the game. He's confident. We have him learning both inside and outside. He knows he's going to play so he has to perform every single day."

Wallace on backup quarterbacks: "They're good. DeVante (Kincade) has to stay out of negative plays, but his physical abilities are crazy. Ryan (Buchanan) is really starting to learn the offense and know where to go with the football. You can tell in practice that Ryan has done really well."

Wallace on the defensive line: "They're phenomenal. It's unlike anything I have ever seen. Robert (Nkemdiche) draws so much attention that it frees up C.J. (Johnson), Fadol (Brown) and Marquis Haynes coming off the edge. They're going to be one of the best in the SEC, no doubt."

Mike Hilton on working on his press coverage: "I think I'm able to run with everybody. I can get underneath their pads and get my hands on them because I'm short and most receivers are tall."

Hilton on Kendarius Webster: "I'm really impressed. I played him in high school, so I knew how he would play. He's really going to help us in the long run. He's still young. He's going to be a really good one for us."

Hilton on Kailo Moore: "He's who has really impressed me the most. Coming from running back, you're not used to opening up your hips and stuff like that. The thing that helps him the most is his speed. Not too many people are going to beat him deep. He will help."

Rebels Battle Injuries on Defense

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze confirmed that junior cornerback Carlos Davis suffered a torn ACL and will likely have surgery Monday. 

Davis joins sophomore cornerback Tee Shepard and junior safety Chief Brown on the list of players expected to miss the 2014 season. Freeze also noted Davis has not used his redshirt year, so they will use it for him this year.

"We have lost arguably our top cover corner (in Tee Shepard), and Carlos, I believe without a shadow of doubt was our best special teams guy, both coverage units and return guy," Freeze said. "It hurts."

"Any time you lose somebody like Tee, that's a big hit," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "Carlos, too. He was really going to help us a lot on our dime team. Those are two guys who really could have helped our football team a lot. For us to lose them, not that we don't have guys, and that's great, but it would have been better if we had those two."

With Davis out, freshman wide receiver Markell Pack, junior safety Trae Elston and sophomore safety Anthony Alford are all in the mix to return punts. It might also mean larger roles on special teams for younger players such as freshman Huskie A.J. Moore and freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster.

Ole Miss was also without junior Issac Gross on Friday, who briefly returned to practice earlier this week after being held out with a neck strain.

"He's still dealing with the neck," Freeze said. "He came back out, and it kind of flared up again. We're taking our time to make sure he gets it well. (Head athletic trainer) Pat (Jernigan) and them have a protocol that they're going to take him through, and they think they can improve it doing this if we can hold him out for a few more days. That's the plan there."

"We're missing him a lot," said Johnson of Gross. "Issac is a guy in the middle - especially when we go against an offense that runs a lot of spread and inside-zone stuff - who can get up and disrupt the timing of the blocking scheme. He can rush a little bit. He's a really big hit for us. We need him to hurry up and get back."

Senior Bryon Bennett ran with the first-team defense in place of Gross, beside sophomore Robert Nkemdiche, along with Johnson and freshman Marquis Haynes at defensive end. The second-team defensive tackles were junior Woodrow Hamilton and senior Lavon Hooks.


Updating the Backup Quarterback Battle 

Redshirt freshman quarterbacks Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, Freeze said, split the majority of snaps in Thursday's scrimmage, so it was a good look into the backup quarterback battle.

"Ryan had a good scrimmage," Freeze said. "Bo (Wallace) did not take many snaps. DeVante had some really, really exciting, good plays. He had some on the other end of the spectrum also, so we have to keep bringing him along. He definitely brings a different element to us. But they have both improved."

Freeze noted Buchanan is ahead of Kincade in the passing game, adding that Kincade needs to improve his decision-making.

"I'm trying to work on pocket presence and stay in the pocket more because I know I have the ability to run, so I'm trying to make sure I stay in the pocket more and deliver better throws," Kincade said.

Freeze said he does not plan on naming a true backup quarterback in advance of the season opener against Boise State on Aug. 28.

"It would depend on what we're needing at that moment," Freeze said. "Each has different strengths. We'll do everything with both of them, but it would depend on the scenario to which they go in."

For both players, with their respective redshirt years behind them, their preparation has been different this season.

"My mental aspect is I prepare as if I'm the starter," Buchanan said. "I know I'm not the starter, but any second Bo can roll an ankle, get a concussion or something, so I have to be ready for whenever they call that play and always keep the drive going and never take a step back."

"It's a big difference from last year," Kincade said. "I remembered I would come out and put my helmet down and cheer on the guys. Now, I have to have my helmet ready any time the offense goes in, so it's a big difference."


 

NOTABLE:

In the individual and team drills open to the media, the first-team offensive line consisted of sophomore Laremy Tunsil (LT), junior Aaron Morris (LG), junior Ben Still (C), junior Justin Bell (RG) and junior Fahn Cooper (RT).

The second-team offensive line consisted of redshirt freshman Davion Johnson (LT), junior Craig Frigo (LG), sophomore Robert Conyers (C), freshman Rod Taylor (RG) and redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin (RT). 

Different combinations along the offensive line also included Cooper at left tackle, Taylor at left guard, Frigo at right guard and Conyers at right tackle.

With the injuries in the secondary, freshman A.J. Moore ran with the second-team defense at Huskie, sophomore Kailo Moore got some second-team reps at cornerback and senior Cliff Coleman got some second-team reps at free safety.

In special teams work, Coleman, freshman safety C.J. Hampton and sophomore Derrick Jones were on the first-team punt return blocking the gunners. A.J. Moore, junior defensive back Mike Hilton and freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster were on the second-team punt return in the same role.

QUOTABLE

Hugh Freeze on Collins Moore, who has been held out with knee injury: "He's moving around well. He's starting to do things in the pool. We will be glad to get him back for sure. We need a little extra depth there at receiver."

Freeze on other players who stood out from Wednesday's closed scrimmage: "Victor Evans had a great scrimmage. Breeland Speaks, too. He's batting balls. He's a space-eater and he's tough. Those young kids stood out. Rod Taylor is coming on. Robert Conyers continues to do some good things and come on, as does Ben Still. Akeem Judd stood out. He made some really explosive, powerful runs. We had several kids stand out. DeMarquis Gates keeps showing up, as did the Moore twins. They're probably all going to have to play now."

Freeze on Cody Core: "Cody is so important to us because he's learning both inside and outside. He has to play for us to give us some depth, and he's doing it well. He makes very few missed assignments. He's physical and can catch it. He's very important to us."

Freeze on Quincy Adeboyejo: "He's still inconsistent in ball-catching, particularly in traffic. We have to continue to improve that. We love his skill-set and we love him as a kid. We have to continue to improve his consistency in ball-catching."

Ryan Buchanan on what he looks to improve: "We go tempo, we get into the red zone, and then sometimes you have to slow it down and be smart with it. Make smart decisions. Making completions are the biggest thing in the red zone."

Buchanan on understanding of the playbook: "I feel pretty good on paper. It's different trying to go full-speed, when you have blitzes to pick up and be able to know in that split second."

Buchanan on the offensive line: "They have improved since week one. With our defense, they like to send a lot of different blitzes, so they're really getting a tough look. They're picking up on it, and they're trying to improve each practice."

C.J. Johnson on the defense: "The defense has progressed well. We have really gotten after the quarterback a lot. I hate that we lost Tee and Carlos. Those are big hits for the defense, especially with the secondary, where we thought we had a lot of depth, but some young guys are going to have to step up and play now."

Johnson on Marquis Haynes: "He's done a really good job learning our defense and learning what to do and being coachable. He's come a long way and he's going to help us a lot."

Johnson on Robert Nkemdiche: "He's definitely found his way in college football. His get-off is probably second to none. He's going to acquire a lot of attention, and everybody knows that. It makes us raise our level of play because we know what they're going to give him. We're going to have to step and pick up the slack a little bit."

The Week That Was: Ole Miss Football

Ole Miss continues its preparations for the the 2014 season with the second full week of fall camp starting Monday. Here's a look back at the first full week of fall camp with some observations and takeaways, as well as some linked stories of interest for Ole Miss fans. We will look to do something similar each week on the blog throughout football season.

1. Southeastern Conference coaches talked anonymously about conference foes for the 2014 season, and they had a lot of praise for Ole Miss

"They are probably the second-best team in the West, maybe better," said one anonymous SEC coach.

2. NFL.com's Bucky Brooks compiled a list of the top 25 college football teams with the most NFL talent, and headlined by the sophomore trio of Robert Nkemdiche, Laquon Treadwell and Laremy Tunsil, Ole Miss came in at No. 13.

"With the Rebels poised to dominate the NFL draft the next few years, it's time to view Ole Miss as a viable contender in the SEC West," wrote Brooks of Ole Miss.

3. ESPN.com's Travis Haney compiled a list of the top 50 breakout players for the 2014 season, and Nkemdiche came in at No. 10, and if the first week of fall camp is any indication, he's primed for a breakout season. 

"In our gap schemes we can't back block because of him, and that causes us to have to change some things," said Freeze of Nkemdiche. "When you're installing you want to be able to just run your stuff and teach it, but it looks so bad you get frustrated. He's a handful."

4. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack called Anthony Alford one of the best two or three athletes on the team. He's pushing junior Trae Elston at Rover safety, he's in the mix as a punt returner, and he's taking snaps as a Wildcat quarterback. He looks the part and he's going to play a significant role this season.

"I love him in a lot of ways," said Freeze of Alford. "He took some snaps (at quarterback) yesterday too. He looked explosive. He looked good at punt return this morning. Defensively, he's getting better and better."

5. With the injury to sophomore Tee Shepard - who had an MRI on Saturday and we will learn more from Freeze on Monday - it will be interesting to see where senior Cliff Coleman and junior Mike Hilton gets reps. Both versatile defensive backs can play cornerback, Huskie and free safety.

6. On a related note, with the injury to Shepard, freshman Kendarius Webster may play a bigger role at cornerback. He shed his non-contact green jersey for the first Saturday and made a couple of nice plays, including an interception of sophomore quarterback Ryan Buchanan.

7. Going back to spring practice, the coaches have raved about freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes. He's run with the first-team defense in place of sophomore Fadol Brown, who's been sidelined with an injury. Look for him to contribute as a rush end opposite junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, if not in a larger role this season.

"He's getting some different looks over there with the tight end and different things that he's not used to, so he makes some mistakes," said Freeze of Haynes. "But one thing I know about him is he makes them 100 miles an hour. We can live with that. We're pleased with where he is and we expect him to get better each day."

8. While the defense dominated on Saturday, senior quarterback Bo Wallace showed off his stronger arm, rolling left and completing a back-shoulder pass to Treadwell for a touchdown, and later throwing another touchdown to sophomore tight end Evan Engram in a red-zone drill.

9. On the offensive line, it appears to be six players competing for five spots, with Tunsil at left tackle, junior Aaron Morris at left guard and junior Justin Bell at right guard the constants throughout fall camp. Concerning the center and right tackle position battles, Freeze said it would probably be another week before deciding on the first-teamers.

"We've been going back and forth this week," Freeze said Saturday. "It will probably be another week before we say, 'This is who we're going with in the first group.' Fahn (Cooper) has been going with the first group (at right tackle) until today I think we made a switch back to look at Robert (Conyers) there and Ben (Still) at center."

10. If you're looking for a walk-on to contribute, junior Craig Frigo, a 6-foot-1, 301-pound offensive lineman from Bay St. Louis, Mississippi, is a prime candidate. He has consistently worked with the second-team offense and has also showed some versatility, moving around from left tackle, to right tackle, to left guard, even taking some snaps at center.

11. With six running backs also competing for playing time, it's hard to notice any separation, but it appears that sophomore Mark Dodson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins have taken a lot of first-team reps and have shown out thus far in fall camp.

12. Without much fanfare, junior Quintavius Burdette moved from cornerback to slot receiver during the spring and entered fall camp as a backup behind sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo. The two-sport athlete, who also competes on the Ole Miss track & field team, has gotten his share of first-team reps with Adeboyejo and sophomore tight end Evan Engram, who has also lined up in the slot.

13. In special teams work, freshman Gary Wunderlich, the No. 1 kicker prospect coming out of high school, has split reps with redshirt freshman Will Gleeson at punter and redshirt freshman Andy Pappanastos and senior Andrew Fletcher at kicker. Wunderlich has the strongest leg of the group but he must improve his consistency.

14. When asked after practice Thursday, Freeze said Gleeson was in the lead at punter. The Melbourne, Australia, native gives the team some options to do some out-of-the-box stuff, such as the rugby-style punting from his Australian football background. Following in the footsteps of his older brother, Tim, who plays for Rutgers, the younger Gleeson has played the American game for about two years.

"I basically had to forget all my instilled knowledge of kicking Australian football on the run low and hard, and basically kick it high and as long as possible in two steps with hang time," Gleeson said.

15. We're 18 days away from the season opener against Boise State, but here's an interesting profile of first-year Boise State head coach Bryan Harsin and his stamp on the program after the departure of long-time Broncos coach Chris Petersen for Washington. Prior to his arrival at Boise State, Harsin was the head coach at Arkansas State (2013), where he followed Auburn head coach Gus Malzahn (2012), who followed Freeze (2011).

An extended portion of the team drills were open to the media. Gameplay-wise, the highlight of the period was a pair of deep throws from senior quarterback Bo Wallace, one to sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell and another to junior Cody Core.

Depth chart-wise, the offensive line, particularly center and right tackle, continue to be the story. 

Sophomore Robert Conyers and junior Ben Still continue to battle at center, looking to replace three-year starter Evan Swindall, with Conyers earning first-team reps Tuesday and Still earning them Thursday.

"I'm pleased with Ben and Robert," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "Robert (Nkemdiche) is a tough block, and when you're asking a center to do a back block in a one-on-one situation, sometimes we can look really bad doing that. I hope that he makes a lot of people look that way. Mentally, (Ben and Robert) pick it up very well. I have been pleased with the snaps. We have had very few that have thrown our timing off. The effort that those two guys give fit with us. We're going to be OK there."

Junior Fahn Cooper, a junior college transfer who also started 13 games for Bowling Green during his redshirt freshman year in 2012, has started to emerge at right tackle, where Conyers also figures in the mix.

"Fahn has definitely come on the last few days," Freeze said. "Robert is getting reps over there, as is (Craig) Frigo and Rod Taylor. We're kind of doing that by committee, but it looks like Fahn is kind of emerging. Robert looked good there too, but Fahn is coming on now that he has a better understanding."


Longer, Faster on Defense

One of the goals in recruiting, Freeze said, was to get longer and faster at every position on defense, and it shows with the additions on that side of the ball, notably freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes and freshman defensive back A.J. Moore, who have already broken into the two-deep during the team portion of practice open to the media.

Haynes, an early enrollee who went through spring drills, ran with the first-team defense in place of sophomore Fadol Brown, who sat out practice with a foot injury.

"He's a tremendous athlete,"said Freeze of Haynes, who's listed at 6-foot-3, 220 pounds. "He's swimming a little bit with all of the installations, and now he's learning a different position. Instead of the weak end, he's playing some of strong end.

"He's getting some different looks over there with the tight end and different things that he's not used to, so he makes some mistakes. But one thing I know about him is he makes them 100 miles an hour. We can live with that. We're pleased with where he is and we expect him to get better each day."

A.J. Moore (6-foot-1, 190 pounds) ran with the second team at Huskie, behind sophomore Tony Conner. Freeze also mentioned sophomore Tee Shepard (6-foot-1, 195 pounds), a junior college transfer, and freshman Kendarius Webster (5-foot-11, 170 pounds) as examples of getting longer on defense.

"Our defense has improved so much," junior safety Trae Elston said. "We are getting better and better players, and everyone is getting all in for the university."


NOTABLE

Among the wide receivers, Treadwell made a couple of nice catches on the outside, where he was in the rotation by Core, senior wide receiver Vince Sanders, redshirt freshman Trey Bledsoe and freshman wide receiver Dayall Harris.

Sophomore wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo ran with the first team in the slot, where he was joined in the rotation by junior Quintavius Burdette, freshmen Sammie Epps and Markell Pack, and a trio of tight ends in sophomore Evan Engram, senior Nick Parker and junior Jeremy Liggins.

Junior Mike Hilton and senior Cliff Coleman continue to split their time among the cornerback, Huskie and safety positions, with Coleman breaking into the second team at safety alongside sophomore Anthony Alford.

Freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster has been a wearing a green, non-contact jersey through the first part of camp.

"He had shoulder surgery in February back at home," Freeze said "There's some work to be done between our doctors and their doctors. He's full-go in everything except for the live periods where we ask them to hit. He feels good. I expect it to come off soon."

In special teams work, redshirt freshman Will Gleeson and freshman Gary Wunderlich continue to split reps at punter, with Gleeson on the first team and Wunderlich on the second team.

"I still think (Will) Gleeson is in the lead punting, but Gary (Wunderlich) can really hit it," Freeze said. "He has a strong leg. Gleeson gives us some options to do some out-of-the-box stuff in punt. 

"PAT and field goal, charting them, Gary, (Andrew) Fletcher and Andy (Pappanastos) are all about even. I love the height that Gary and Andy are getting on theirs. That will be a good battle. Nathan (Nobe) is going to handle the kickoffs, it looks like, but Gary can do that also."

QUOTABLE

Freeze, on quarterback snaps for Jeremy Liggins and Anthony Alford: "They would both have a package. We have to be careful as to not throw too much on Jeremy. How big that will be early on, I don't know. He's fatigued right now. He hasn't done something like this in awhile, and it kind of shows. Once we get his legs back under him and he can think and he has a clear understanding, we'll see what he can do. We expect both to have a package."

Freeze, on backup quarterbacks: "I have been really pleased with Ryan (Buchanan) the last two days. DeVante (Kincade) did some really good things, but he had some bad decisions today too, and they kind of stand out in my mind. I'm still confident in both of them. We needed them to be sharper."

Elston, on competition at safety: "Anthony Alford and David Kamara are pushing me very hard. I'm glad they have been doing it because it improves our team."

Elston, on pass coverage: "Ever since the end of my sophomore season, I told myself I have to improve myself. My teammates and coaches have been staying on me to get better at that. I had to work on my footwork, and I worked on that in the offseason very hard."

Still, on three-year starter Evan Swindall: "I learned a lot under Evan. He was a smart player. He taught me a lot. It's our time now."

Still, on Fahn Cooper and Rod Taylor: "Fahn has done really well. He's strong. Rod, he'll be something special once he gets his head and gets the offense down."

Still, on the defensive line: "Issac (Gross) is one of the best in the league. He's quick off the ball. Robert (Nkemdiche) is good off the ball and strong. Woody (Hamilton) is a plugger but strong and hard to move him. Going up against them every day, I feel like we have one of the better D-lines in the SEC."

Building Depth and Staying Healthy

The immediate goals for fall practice, Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said, are developing more depth, particularly at key positions, and staying healthy.

"Staying healthy is a quandary in my mind because you need to be fast and physical but you have to stay healthy," Freeze said. "Now, we really feel like we have a team that can be good. Hopefully we can go from good to great. 

"The line that you worry about, particularly with us still having some depth issues, is how do you get done what you need to do and develop depth and create a competitive, juiced practice and still stay as healthy as you can. We have to create some more depth."

On a related note, Freeze also said everyone is academically eligible, and aside from junior defensive tackle Woodrow Hamilton possibly being held out of some drills on day one, everyone is also healthy entering fall camp. 

Part of that good news included the clearance of sophomore Tee Shepard, a consensus four-star recruit out of junior college. The 6-foot-1, 195-pounder brings an added dimension to a talented cornerback group, led by senior Senquez Golson, sophomore Derrick Jones and junior Mike Hilton.

"I expect Tee to come in and hopefully be a lockdown corner that we may have been missing," Freeze said. "He has the size, strength and speed, and he's physical. I love his demeanor. The guy smiles all the time. He's excited to be here. I like our depth at corner, and that's the first time I can say that. We have some good possibilities there."

"On defense, it's going to take turnovers," said Jones of getting to the next level as a team. "That is the big emphasis we have going into this camp, getting more turnovers, and getting the ball to the offense. We can be one of the top defenses in the country. We have the players and we have great coaches. We have to go out there and play like we know we can play."

One of those key positions as far depth is offensive line, where it starts with sophomore Laremy Tunsil, a freshman All-American, who will anchor the line at left tackle.

"Being a sophomore and being considered that, it's a blessing," said Tunsil of consideration as one of the nation's top offensive tackles. "Last year, I learned about adversity. When the game is not going your way, to try to think about the positive things."

To continue to build depth on the offensive line, Freeze said, sophomore Robert Conyers will work at offensive tackle and center, and freshman Rod Taylor will work at offensive guard and offensive tackle.

"We have to be careful with our offensive line," Freeze said. "We're OK inside depth-wise. On the edges, we're very, very thin. We have a special one in Laremy, and we hope he has a healthy and outstanding year, and we hope Fahn Cooper is exactly what we thought he would be. We have to start getting depth ready behind those guys."

"They showed out this summer," Tunsil said. "They did a pretty good job this summer. They're going to kill it this fall camp."


Passing Game Ready To Take Next Step

Senior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Southeastern Conference's leading returner in total offense, passing yards and passing touchdown, received the podium treatment at Ole Miss Media Days, and he appeared as healthy and confident as ever.

"I feel as good as I have ever felt, except that first year coming in," Wallace said. "I feel 100 percent. I feel a lot of zip on the ball, and I can push it down the field more. I'm anxious to go out there and start."

"He actually hurt my hand a couple of times playing catch," said sophomore wide receiver Treadwell, smiling and laughing. "But yeah, his arm has gotten very strong. He's making great decisions now. Last year, it was like, 'C'mon, Bo, throw the ball.' Now, he's zipping it and throwing it wherever he wants to put it, in any position."

Treadwell, the 2013 SEC Freshman of the Year, moves outside to his natural position, where he looks to stretch the field and make more explosive plays in the offense.

"I worked on it last year, but this year I feel like I had to work on it more because I know that's what we're going to do with a healthy Bo and me moving to the outside," said Treadwell of stretching the field. "Quincy (Adeboyejo) is going to help that a lot because he's mismatch, also, because his route are so crisp that a lot of people can't guard him 1-on-1. He's showed that since day one."

"That's his natural position," said Freeze of the sophomore. "He's a physical blocker, which helps us on the edge. We'll continue to move him around but he will primarily an outside guy. Outside guys typically have the chance to make more explosive plays. He's excited to do that."

With his move outside, fellow sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo, Treadwell said, is poised for a breakout year in the slot.

"Quincy (Adeboyejo) is going to help that a lot because he's a mismatch, also because his route are so crisp that a lot of people can't guard him 1-on-1. He's showed that since day one."

With Moncrief now a member of the Indianapolis Colts, Treadwell has not only moved outside, but he's also taken on a bigger leadership role among the wide receivers and the team in general.

"I stay around my teammates as much as possible because they are going to humble you," Treadwell said. "You can't read your press clippings. I try to keep working hard and leading the team."


Position Changes, Position Battles

After having worked at tight end during spring practice, Channing Ward is switching back to defense, Freeze said. Among the three "athletes" on the roster, freshman D.K. Buford will start at Huskie, freshman D.J. Moore will start at Rover or Huskie, and sophomore Jeremy Liggins will start at tight end.

"Jeremy is one of my favorite kids, even though he ripped my heart out at one point in the recruiting process," Freeze said. "He's such an athletic big guy. He is starting at tight end, but that doesn't mean that's where he will end up. He could play a lot of things. People like that certainly help your football team. We could move him around if we have some depth issues."

The backup quarterback battle continues, and it's in much the same place as it was when Freeze talked to the media at SEC Media Days, with redshirt freshman Ryan Buchanan ahead as a pocket passer and redshirt freshman DeVante Kincade ahead running the entire offense. 

In addition, Liggins and sophomore safety Anthony Alford, Freeze said, may also factor in helping fill Barry Brunetti's role from last season.

Freeze said he's most anxious to see the kickers because he's hasn't seen them all summer, as the Rebels look to replace Tyler Campbell and Andrew Ritter, who both graduated following their senior year last seasons.

"(Will) Gleeson has the edge right now, as far as the punting duties," Freeze said. "The kicking duties are wide open. I expect Andy (Pappanastos) and Gary (Wunderlich) to have a great competition for that. (Andrew) Fletcher, too. Nathan Noble will likely handle kickoff duties."

ESPN.com unveiled their rankings of the top 100 players in college football for the 2014 season. The players are also rated on a scale of 0-10 based on their expected contributions. The SEC leads all conferences with 30 players, and Ole Miss is second in the league with four players on the list.

Robert Nkemdiche: T-35th, 7.56

Rated the nation's No. 1 overall recruit in the 2013 class, Nkemdiche started 10 games, moving around from end to tackle to even running back last fall. He will stay at tackle this year and should improve on the two sacks and eight tackles for loss he registered in 2013.

Laquon Treadwell: T-39th, 7.50

His teammates believe he's better than Amari Cooper, and they're not far off. Treadwell finished third in the SEC with 72 receptions as a freshman, and he is expected to have an even bigger role as he moves outside to replace Donte Moncrief.

Laremy Tunsil: T-66th, 6.94

A likely future first-round NFL draft pick, Tunsil will anchor Ole Miss' line at left tackle. He started nine games there last season and allowed just one sack. Tunsil was the best prospect of the Rebels' historic 2013 recruiting haul last fall, and he should be even better in 2014.

Cody Prewitt: T-86th, 6.69

From underrated to All-American, Prewitt led the SEC and tied for seventh nationally with six interceptions last season. He also defended 13 passes and had 4.5 tackles for loss. Prewitt is a ball hawk but is physical enough to play in the box and stop the run.

On a related note, Bo Wallace was among ESPN.com's Mark Schlabach's 10 players outside the top 100 who might become household names before season's end.

In a league that doesn't bring back many experienced quarterbacks, Wallace might be the most explosive player returning under center. Last season, he threw for 3,346 yards with 18 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. He also ran for 355 yards with six scores.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Wallace's arm strength dipped dramatically as the season went on, which was the result of shoulder surgery the previous offseason. Freeze said Wallace has added 15 pounds and is in better shape after going through the offseason strength and conditioning program, which he wasn't able to do before the 2013 campaign.

ESPN.com's SEC bloggers unveiled their rankings of the top 25 players in college football for the 2014 season. The criteria for each player include talent, stats and importance to his respective team. Ole Miss is tied with Alabama for the most players with four players on the list.

Cody Prewitt: 12th

After becoming the first Rebels safety in 40 years to be named a first-team All-American, Prewitt will accomplish something truly historic if he's able to go back-to-back. He clearly has the skill set to do it after leading the SEC and ranking seventh nationally with six interceptions in 2013. Prewitt possesses not only the ball skills that produced all those picks but also a hard-hitting style that makes him one of the SEC's top all-around defensive backs.

Laremy Tunsil: 15th

It's unusual for a true freshman offensive tackle to start in the SEC. And it's highly irregular for him to dominate. That is what Tunsil did for a good portion of last season, surrendering just one sack all fall while making nine starts. As if his second-team All-SEC designation in 2013 didn't make this clear, Tunsil is a special talent -- and his rise will only continue now that he has a full season under his belt. 

Robert Nkemdiche: 18th

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Nkemdiche is a tackle all the way for the Rebels, although he's certainly athletic enough to play outside in certain situations. He plans to play at 285 pounds this season after playing closer to 300 as a freshman. He's also healthy after racking up eight tackles for loss last season and eager to prove that he can be as dominant as any interior defensive lineman in this league and maybe the country. 

Laquon Treadwell: 20th

All Treadwell did as a freshman was lead Ole Miss with 72 catches and earn SEC Freshman of the Year honors from the coaches. He's added 15 pounds of muscle this offseason, and at 6-foot-2 and 230 pounds, will be even tougher to defend with his physicality, sure hands and run-after-the-catch ability. With Donte Moncrief leaving early for the NFL, Treadwell is moving from slot receiver to the Rebels' outside receiver spot and will get plenty of chances for big plays. 

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