Meridian Star

Sports

October 8, 2013

Mississippi's fast start fades after 2 losses, drops from poll

— It was just two weeks ago that Mississippi was a trendy pick to make some serious noise in the Southeastern Conference. Not anymore.

    Consecutive road losses to No. 1 Alabama and Auburn have sent the Rebels (3-2, 1-2 Southeastern Conference) crashing back to reality, and now No. 9 Texas A&M (4-1, 1-1) comes to town on Saturday.

    "A lot of us got a little complacent after that 3-0 run, but now I feel like everything happens for a reason," Ole Miss linebacker Serderius Bryant said. "We're in the spot where we need to be right now."

    Ole Miss should get a boost by returning home to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. The Rebels played four of their first five games on the road, but have the next six at home.

    Where they play may not matter unless Ole Miss can figure out a way to get into the end zone with more consistency. The Rebels had a streak of more than six quarters without a touchdown during the Alabama and Auburn losses.

    Ole Miss is right in the middle of the pack of the SEC in total offense, averaging 427.8 yards per game. But the Rebels rank just 12th out of 14 teams in the red zone, scoring touchdowns in 12 of 19 attempts.

    Bo Wallace threw for 336 yards and two touchdowns against Auburn, but also had two interceptions, including one that was returned 78 yards for a touchdown.

    The Rebels also had to settle for three field goals early when promising drives bogged down, allowing Auburn to build a 27-9 lead. Ole Miss made a comeback, but eventually lost 30-22.

    "We've just got to win battles, whether it's a 1-on-1 battle or me making better decisions with the football," Wallace said. "We just have to be nasty. It's way tougher (in the red zone). You have 11 great players on the other side. It's tough to get in when you're that close."

    The Ole Miss offensive line is also trying to correct issues after giving up six sacks against Auburn. Coach Hugh Freeze said four of those sacks could be traced back to the offensive line, but two were because Wallace wasn't making the right reads.

    Offensive guard Justin Bell said there's no use in pointing fingers. Everyone has to get better.

    "We're a family," Bell said. "In any family, you're going to have a point where you get down on someone. But we give it all for each other. That's what it's all about and that's what we have to realize. That's what we're going to show everybody on Saturday."

    Wallace said the offense must improve to keep pace with Texas A&M and Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback Johnny Manziel. The Aggies, who are coming off a bye week, are averaging an SEC-best 49.2 points and 586.4 yards per game.

    The Aggies had some trouble with the Rebels last season, needing a touchdown drive late in the fourth quarter to secure a 30-27 victory.

    But they also had six turnovers in that game — four fumbles and two interceptions — and it is doubtful they will be as generous this year.

    The defense "is going to have to play against the best player in college football right now," Wallace said. "We know that. He's going to put up a lot of points. So we're going to have to answer with every drive we have."

    The Ole Miss defense has improved throughout the season and held Auburn to just 375 yards on Saturday. But Manziel — who leads the SEC with 360.6 total yards per game — presents the toughest challenge to date.

    The Rebels had some success against Manziel last season by using safety Mike Hilton as a spy, chasing the quarterback all over the field.

    But Hilton has now been moved to cornerback and isn't sure if the Rebels would have a similar plan. The 5-foot-8, 182-pound sophomore said the secondary must be confident but smart.

    "Don't overdo anything, just play your game," Hilton said. "If you've got a chance to get him on the ground, get him on the ground, because everybody knows he can make plays."

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