Meridian Star

Sports

September 23, 2013

Rebels ready to contend

OXFORD — Mississippi quarterback Bo Wallace doesn't lack confidence these days.

    It's easy to understand why. The 21st-ranked Rebels are 3-0 for the first time since 1989 and coming off a dominant road victory over Texas.

    Now comes an even bigger challenge: Squaring off against No. 1 Alabama in Tuscaloosa.

    But Wallace says the Rebels aren't about to back down, adding that he believes the offense will be able to score on the Tide.

    "I think we can put points on them," Wallace said. "I think we can put points on anybody. We've just go to show up and play. It's the same thing every week — let's stay on schedule, control the tempo and don't have any turnovers."

    The Rebels hope to prove they're a true contender in the Southeastern Conference Western Division, which is home to several powerhouse programs.

    But none are more powerful than the Tide.

    "It's an opportunity to go and stand in front of the measuring stick," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "To prove that we should be there. That's what we'll focus on."

    The Rebels have looked like a much-improved program so far this season, winning road games against Vanderbilt and the Longhorns.

    But facing big, bad Alabama — a program that's won two straight national championships — will represent a different level of competition. The Rebels have lost nine straight to the Tide and haven't won a game in Tuscaloosa since 1988.

    "There is still a discrepancy in the depth chart level with theirs as opposed to ours," Freeze said. "We've closed that gap some."

    Ole Miss was one of the few teams to have a little success against Alabama last season, briefly taking a 7-6 lead early in the second quarter before the Tide roared back for a 33-14 victory.

    Freeze said the Rebels had two "very, very good drives" against Alabama in that game, but need several more on Saturday if they're going to pull the upset.

    This year's Ole Miss offense is averaging 38 points per game, which ranks 6th out of 14 SEC teams. The Rebels are especially good on the ground, with 250 rushing yards per game.

    Alabama's defense appears slightly vulnerable — at least by the Tide's lofty standards. It gave up 42 points against Texas A&M two weeks ago.

    Ole Miss would love this one to turn into a shootout as well.

    "We're not going to stop them the whole night," Freeze said. "Hopefully we can score enough points and stop them enough that we have a shot in the fourth quarter. If you're in the game in the fourth quarter, our kids will play the entire 60 minutes, and we'll see what happens."

    Ole Miss has the added benefit of coming off a bye week. Freeze said that's allowed several players time to return from injuries, including receiver Vince Sanders and offensive linemen Emmanuel McCray and Pierce Burton.

    Freeze also said linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche could play after missing the past two games because of a torn meniscus in his right knee. Nkemdiche had 11 tackles against the Tide last season.

    Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron praised the Ole Miss defense on Monday.

    "Unbelievable," McCarron said. "I mean, they've got ball players all the way around. They're really good. Really good team. So it's going to be a challenge for us, it really is. We're going to have to step up, meet that challenge and get ready to play."

    Ole Miss proved it could scare Alabama a little last season. Beating them will be much more difficult.

    But unlike last season, when it was almost a certainty the Rebels would get pummeled, there is some confidence in Oxford. Freeze was cautiously optimistic.

    "Do I think we're better prepared for this year? I do." Freeze said. "I think we have a better understanding of who we are and what we want to do."

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