Meridian Star


September 17, 2013

Ole Miss rests, prepares for tough month

MERIDIAN — Mississippi couldn't have imagined a much better start to the season.

    The 21st-ranked Rebels have won three straight games — including road matchups with Vanderbilt and Texas — and now get a week of rest to make some corrections and get players healthy.

    That's good, because the schedule is about to get even tougher.

    Ole Miss (3-0, 1-0 Southeastern Conference) faces No. 1 Alabama, No. 6 LSU and No. 10 Texas A&M over the next month, starting with the top-ranked Crimson Tide on Sept. 28 in Tuscaloosa, Ala.

    "That's got to be the toughest stretch of games that anyone is going to have to play this year," Freeze said. "We need this open week. We need to get people healthy. We need everyone who is able and eligible to play ready to go for these games, so this week comes at a good time."

    Coach Hugh Freeze says his team's ability to handle adversity should help during the coming month. The Rebels were trailing in the second half against both Vanderbilt and Texas before rallying for wins.

    But the euphoria from those big victories is tempered by the realization that it's only going to get more difficult and the Rebels are far from a perfect team.

    There are still occasional breakdowns in the young secondary — including one that nearly cost them the Vanderbilt game before a spectacular comeback in the final minute.

    Starting offensive tackles Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton are dealing with nagging leg injuries and linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche is trying to return from a torn MCL in his right knee suffered in the opener against the Commodores.

    And the Ole Miss offense — while generally productive — has had droughts in each game that have allowed the opposing team room to make a comeback.

    That's why Freeze was planted in the film room Monday.

    "We've been grinding this morning on self-scouting," Freeze said. "Trying to figure out what we're doing well, what we're not doing well and what our tendencies are."

    But as with most 3-0 starts, there is plenty the Rebels are doing right.

    Bo Wallace has completed more than 64 percent of his passes for 648 yards and four touchdowns. He's also rushed for 120 yards and three touchdowns.

    But the junior's favorite stat? Zero interceptions. Especially since that was a problem last season.

    “I want to keep that going as long as possible," Wallace said. "You have freak plays during a game, like a tip by a defensive lineman. Those are going to come, but I can't make foolish decisions like I was last year."

    Senior Jeff Scott has turned into one of the SEC's premier playmakers at running back and on special teams. He ranks sixth in the league with 110 rushing yards per game and added a spectacular 73-yard punt return for a touchdown against the Longhorns.

    And at least so far, the Rebels' hyped freshman class has lived up to expectations. Contributions are coming from everywhere:

    — Laquon Treadwell leads the team with 16 catches for 154 yards while tight end Evan Engram has 11 catches for 175 yards and two touchdowns.

    — Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson have received substantial playing time because of injuries along the offensive line. Freeze says both have played well.

    — Safety Tony Connor and defensive end Robert Nkemdiche are already some of the most productive defensive players. Connor has 14 tackles and an interception while Nkemdiche is tied for the team lead with four tackles for a loss.

    But after a whirlwind of quick success, players said it's nice to take a break before a month that will show if the Rebels are legitimate SEC contenders or not.

    "The timing is perfect," Scott said. "We've got two weeks off to watch film, sit back and relax. Some of the guys who are injured, they have a little more time to get right."

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