OLE MISS

Playing in front of a nationally-televised audience on the SEC Network, the Ole Miss volleyball team notched their biggest win of the season, knocking off defending SEC Champion Missouri in three sets. The win also snaps the Tigers' 20-match SEC win streak dating back to Nov. 23, 2012.

"It's huge," said junior Nakeyta Clair who led the team with 14 kills and a .500 hitting percentage. "It shows not only us, but it shows our fans that we can do it this year. We have a lot of confidence in ourselves this year. It didn't faze us they were SEC champs last year."

The Rebels hit a game-best .324 to win the first set 25-18 but fell behind 22-16 in the second set. Coming out of a timeout, Ole Miss finished the set on a 9-1 run to take a 2-0 lead into halftime. The Rebels forced seven attack errors during the rally including two blocks from freshman Taylor Alexander, who finished with a career-high eight blocks.

"She had a lot of big kills, even though there weren't many," said head coach Steven McRoberts of Alexander. "She had them at some really clutch times for us and then she had some huge blocks for us. She had eight blocks on the evening. She created a lot momentum changes for us with the blocks."

Ole Miss fell behind again in the third set, trailing by as many as four points, before finding another answer, rallying to tie the set at 20-20. The Rebels went ahead for good on a kill from sophomore Melanie Crow at 21-21 and then they clinched the match on another attack error from Missouri.

Errors, where Ole Miss had 16 to Missouri's 22, and blocks, where Ole Miss had 18 to Missouri's 12, were two areas you could point to on the stat sheet, but the difference in the match compared to the first weekend of SEC play, McRoberts said, was energy and aggressiveness.

"We kept our aggressiveness," McRoberts said. "Against South Carolina, as the match went on, our confidence starting going down, and you saw hitters tipping a lot and our passing was getting worse and we were becoming more tentative. As for tonight, we had our moments where we did that, but it wasn't for long stretches."

With the win, Ole Miss improves to 15-2 overall, 1-2 in SEC play, ahead of a one-week break before the Rebels return to action on the road at Arkansas.

"We knew it was going to be a tough match," McRoberts said. "Any time we can win in the SEC, it's big for our program. Of course going into a week break, it's a huge. We have a week to prepare for Arkansas."

Highlights from Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and Alabama head coach Nick Saban on the SEC teleconference Wednesday, ahead of Saturday's much-anticipated matchup.

For the full SEC teleconference, go here.

Alabama head coach Nick Saban (starts at 36:16 mark)

Opening statement...

"It's always a tremendous challenge to play on the road in our league. Ole Miss has a very, very good team. They're undefeated and have played extremely well all year long. The most important thing for our team is to understand that executing, paying attention to detail, maintaining discipline, playing smart and playing our game are really important and that all starts with the preparation that you have and how you focus on getting ready for the game. That's something our guys have done a pretty good job of this week.

On Blake Sims...

"Blake has done really well in practice. He hasn't had any issues this week so far in terms of throwing the ball. We're really pleased with the way he's progressed and he's been able to take all the reps he's prescribed to take, so we're pleased with that."

On Tony Brown and confidence in playing younger players...

"Tony has progressed very nicely for us. He's made really good progress, so we're pleased with that. We have no problem playing younger players, but we also try to protect our players and make sure they have enough knowledge, experience and understanding of what's expected of them before we throw them in there. 

"Tony got to play almost half the game in a couple of games prior to the Florida game. Eddie (Jackson's) been battling injury and that created an opportunity for Tony, and he did a pretty good job. We continue to work with him every day in practice so he can continue to improve. 

"Experience is important to any players being able to play well so they can maintain focus and be able to execute on a consistent basis. For young players, the only way to gain experience is to play. That's been our plan with Tony to this point."

On the bye week and execution on offense...

"Nobody really knows exactly how a bye week is going to affect your team. Sometimes when you have good momentum going and you're making progress and improvement, you rather just continue to play. There are other times when your team needs rest and time to recover. We have a lot of young players who had a chance to develop during the bye week and improve their ability to start, play more, be backups and play on special teams. 

"The bye week is whatever your team makes it and the commitment they make to improving. Hopefully, we had a good bye week and our players will come out and be ready to play. The environment is going to be difficult, and the noise will be difficult. There will be circumstances that we will have to overcome in this game, but the most important thing to keep executing, play your game and play through those things." 

On the challenge of facing Ole Miss' tempo on offense...

"We haven't faced one play of huddle all year long. This is the way of the world now. We made some progress in how our players play against that and the rhythm and routine we can create by playing against this offense a lot more often. It takes a lot of poise on the defensive players' part, especially when they go fast. You have to have a good substitution plan for trying to keep players fresh. 

"It's the way of the world now, and our players have gotten more accustomed to it. We probably practiced it a little bit better and prepared them a little bit better for it, but Ole Miss is a very challenging team not only because of the no-huddle and the pace of play, but also because they have really quality players at a lot of positions."

On matchup problems Evan Engram presents for the Alabama defense...

"Any time a team has a guy who has the versatility that he has, it always creates problems. The guy lines up in the backfield, and then he lines up at receiver, and sometimes you got to have a linebacker on him. Tight end is one of the most difficult mismatch guys, and he's certainly a quality player and a really good receiver.

On experience in spotlight games...

"We're talking about our team. We're still trying to develop an identity relative to the players and leadership we have on this team. You're always trying to develop the team chemistry and maturity  that it takes to play well on the road. We really haven't played a road game yet, other than playing a neutral-site game. It's going to be interesting to see how we respond. Our players have to believe their actions are going to affect what happens in the game, and their ability to have the poise and focus to execute is still going to be the most important things."

Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze (starts at 1:12:36 mark)

Opening statement...

"We're looking forward to the challenge. I have said before of the respect I have for Coach Saban and his staff. The job they have done there with the consistency of being a measuring stick in this conference is pretty special. When you get into this, you want to measure yourself each year and we have taken steps in the right direction in the last couple of years to give ourselves a chance to compete in this game. 

"It's still a tall task, but it's one we're looking forward to. We're excited about having GameDay here for the first time and being able to showcase our great university, the campus and the Grove, and hopefully our team will represent very well on the field Saturday.

On the state of Ole Miss and Mississippi State with two big games this weekend in Mississippi...

"It speaks volumes for our state and the job that both staffs have done, not only in recruiting, but also developing the talent we have here in this state, and then adding to it from outside the state, and it also speaks to the vision of the administrations to continue to elevate our facilities and resources to compete it this league. 

"We have made great strides at both places in all of those things in the last few years. The Mississippi people, they deserve this. They're great people, generous people with great hearts. There is tremendous passion for this game at both places, and it's exciting for this to happen."

On the importance of mitigating risk and efficiency on offense playing Alabama...

"It will be one of the huge deciding factors in this game as to how we perform in regards to turnovers and negative plays that get us off track, where we can't be in any kind of tempo. Bo (Wallace) is a huge part of the that. 

"He has had a game and a half where he was not really solid in his decision-making. Some of it wasn't just him. We've had a couple of poor routes that probably caused it. And then he's also had two and a half games where he was phenomenal, so we hope that it's time for him to be phenomenal again."

"It will factor into my play-calling probably early, depending upon how our defense is playing, how our special teams are playing, field position, all those things, you can't help but thinking about minimizing the risk as a play caller."

On managing the outside attention surrounding the game...

"We're just a little over two years in here. We have played in arenas like Alabama and the others in our conference but nothing to quite this attention and magnitude. Hopefully they will follow the example that we have tried to set and we focus on what we can do today to be ready for Saturday and stay in the moment. They're hearing that from us constantly in our meetings. 

"Is it totally possible to isolate them from everything with the social media access today? Probably not. Yo just hope we have enough mature leadership that the only way you can have a chance Saturday is to prepare by staying in the moment today."

Ole Miss has been held under 100 yards rushing in each of its last meetings with Alabama, a 33-14 loss in 2012 and a 25-0 loss in 2013. Running the ball effectively and finding a balance is one area, the coaches and players have said, that would go a long way on Saturday.

"Top to bottom, they're a great team, arguably the best team in the country," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "We have to play really, really well to win. We have to protect the football. When a break comes our way, we have to score. We have to be efficient in the red zone. 

"We have to try to eliminate negative plays, stay on schedule and stay out of third-and-longs. We have to do the little things it takes to win close games and win close games in the fourth quarter."

Behind senior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Rebels rank third in the SEC and 13th nationally in passing offense (335.5 ypg), but they rank 11th in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 160.8 yards per game. Alabama, meanwhile, leads the league in rush defense, giving up just 62.0 yards per game

Ole Miss has found more consistency on the ground in recent games, rushing for 214 yards on 35 carries against Louisiana-Lafayette and 178 yards on 42 carries against Memphis, but Alabama undoubtedly will provide the toughest test yet.

"They're just pretty good," Luke said. "They're big and fast. They have a lot of good players. They have a very good scheme. They mix it up quite a bit. They're a very, very good team, and we're going to have to play very, very well to run the ball.

"You don't want to be one-dimensional against any team," sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil said. "You want to run the ball, pass the ball, mix it up."

Replacing Alford on Defense, Special Teams


Without sophomore Anthony Alford, who decided to leave the Ole Miss football program and pursue a professional baseball career, players are thrust into bigger roles on defense and special teams.

Alford, who transferred to Ole Miss in January 2011, played in all four games this season as a backup to junior Trae Elston at Rover safety and punt returner. He registered six tackles and two punt returns for eight years.

"We had a great talk last night and this morning about what was best for him and his wife and his future," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I hate it for our team and for him because I love having good kids a part of us but he really felt like it was best."

In Alford's place, sophomore David Kamara and freshman C.J. Moore, who have both played primarily on special teams, stepped into the backup Rover safety spot in practice Tuesday. 

Freeze said they didn't have to shuffle a lot, but should they need to shuffle players going forward, senior cornerback Cliff Coleman and junior cornerback Mike Hilton both have previous experience at safety. On a semi-related note, sophomore Derrick Jones, who started the year at cornerback and then moved to wide receiver, practiced at cornerback Tuesday, providing extra depth there

"I know they're both athletic kids," said Freeze of Kamara and Moore. "They haven't been in the battles but really neither had Anthony. This was really his freshman year to be a defensive player. He has more experience than them from being in the early games, but we'll get them ready and I think they will do well."

On special teams, freshman wide receiver Markell Pack has been the primary punt return option, returning seven punts for 38 yards. Freeze also mentioned redshirt freshman Eugene Brazley stepping in as a punt return option.

Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review (Sept. 22-28)

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Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
Sept. 22-28, 2014

Football
- No. 10 Ole Miss used a dominant defensive effort to put away Memphis 24-3 on Saturday, setting up one of the biggest games in recent history this coming Saturday against the Alabama Crimson Tide.
- The Rebels allowed just 104 total yards the entire evening, including 23 rushing yards on 31 carries. Excluding one 42-yard pass play by Memphis in the first quarter, the Rebel defense allowed just 62 total yards on the other 61 plays from scrimmage.
- The 104 total yards allowed were the fewest since giving up 24 yards to Mississippi State in 2008.
- Sophomore Laquon Treadwell had five catches for a career-high 123 yards and a career high-tying two touchdowns to lead the offense.
- Memphis native Jaylen Walton had a game-high 78 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown.
- The defense has allowed only two touchdowns this season, which is the fewest in the nation.
- Ole Miss improved to 4-0 for the first time since 1970.

Soccer
- Ole Miss went 0-1-1 on the weekend, splitting a match with Arkansas on Thursday before falling 2-1 to No. 10 Texas A&M on Sunday.
- Sophomore forward Gretchen Harknett bent in her second goal of the season to help the Rebels play Arkansas to a double overtime draw.
- Junior defender Maddie Friedmann scored her first goal of the season with a header off a double-assisted goal Sunday afternoon to put the Rebels on the board against No. 10 Texas A&M.
- After the weekend, Ole Miss is now 4-1-3 at home this season with the lone loss coming at the hands of the 10th-ranked Aggies.
- Ole Miss will now hit the road in SEC play and not play a home match over the next three weeks before closing things out with two of the last three matches of the season at home.

Volleyball
- The Rebels dropped both their matches on the opening weekend of SEC play to fall to 14-2 overall and 0-2 in conference.
- Friday, the Rebels lost a five-setter at South Carolina after having a 2-0 lead. They had match point in the fourth set, but the Gamecocks won the final three points to force a fifth set. In the fifth set, the Rebels led 12-11 but the Gamecocks won four straight points to take the match 3-2.
- Against South Carolina, junior Nakeyta Clair equaled her career-high with 20 kills and hit .395, and also had four blocks. Clair ranks third in the SEC in hitting percentage at .420.
- Freshman Taylor Alexander got her first start of the year against South Carolina and finished with nine kills, a .375 hitting percentage and four blocks.

Men's Tennis
- Five Rebels competed in the pre-qualifying at the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Freshman Gustav Hansson won his first round match, but none of the five advanced to the qualifying. The Rebels will have two players in the qualifying with Stefan Lindmark and William Kallberg in singles, and two doubles teams with Lindmark/Hansson and Kallberg/Ricardo Jorge.

Women's Tennis
- Junior Mai El Kamash won three matches in pre-qualifying at the Riviera ITA All-American Championships to advance to the qualifying tournament, which begins Tuesday in Pacific Palisades, California. She improved to 4-1 on the year.

Observations from the Best Seat in the House

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Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Thumbnail image for Observations Logo.pngIt's Sunday, so that means it's time for this week's Observations from the Best Seat in the House. I'll handle the bulk of the notes this week, but we also have some insight from Austin Miller here as well. Let's get started:

1. Did you hear ESPN's College GameDay is coming to town? Unless you legitimately live under a rock - a rock that blocks out all outside sound - you have heard this. It's going to be awesome. What a great day that will be for Ole Miss, this university and this town. Finally, the premier college football pregame show will visit the premier college football tailgating scene. The buzz that will surround Oxford and that football game will be palpable all week. Can't wait.

2. That Ole Miss defense is legit. The Rebels allowed just 104 total yards, and just 23 rushing yards on 31 carries. For those without a calculator, that's 0.74 yards per carry. Here's another stat nugget I enjoyed from that game: Memphis ran 62 plays, and if you take out the Tigers' 42-yard pass play in the first quarter, the Rebel defense allowed just 62 total yards on the other 61 plays from scrimmage. If you still haven't gotten a calculator, that's 1.02 yards per play.

3. Let's not forget this was a Memphis offense that accumulated 469 yards on the road against UCLA earlier this season. In that game, which the Tigers, despite having to travel across the country, only lost by seven points, Memphis had 164 yards rushing and 305 passing yards. Oh, by the way, UCLA is ranked No. 8 in the latest Associated Press top 25.

4. As the calendar turns to October, fans will be treated to a loaded slate in the Southeastern Conference this upcoming weekend, including three successive top-15 matchups in the SEC West: No. 6 Texas A&M at No. 12 Mississippi State (11 a.m. CT, ESPN), followed by No. 1 Alabama at No. 11 Ole Miss (2:30 p.m., CBS) and No. 15 LSU at No. 5 Auburn (6 p.m., ESPN). We're going to learn a lot about this division next week.

5. Want to know how good the top of the SEC West has been in recent years? With Alabama coming to town ranked No. 1 in the AP poll that makes five straight years Ole Miss has faced the nation's top-ranked team: Auburn in 2010, LSU in 2011 and Alabama in 2012, 2013 and 2014.

6. Ole Miss boasts the nation's third-best scoring defense, allowing just 8.5 points per game. More impressively, Ole Miss has given up just two touchdowns all season, the fewest in the nation. Big reason why; opponents have scored just two touchdowns in 10 trips to the red zone.

7. To that point, Memphis ran just two plays inside the 20-yard line Saturday and came away with three points. Among the four games played, opponents have run 37 plays inside the 20 and come away with 29 points.

8. I thought it was so great with all of the festivities surrounding Chucky Mullins, his memory and legacy, that Deterrian Shackelford, the guy who wears No. 38 in Mullins' honor, led the team in tackles Saturday.

9. The committee of running backs approach produced favorable numbers Saturday. Juniors Jaylen Walton (10 carries for 78 yards) and I'Tavius Mathers (14 carries for 57 yards) combined for 135 yards on 24 carries. Freshman Jordan Wilkins contributed with five carries for 33 yards and sophomore Mark Dodson had five carries for 16 yards.

10. After catching seven passes for 105 yards and one touchdown against Boise State in week one, sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell had been held to a combined eight catches for 79 yards and no scores against Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette. The preseason All-SEC selection broke out a bit Saturday though, catching five passes for 123 yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers.

11. If you enjoyed the powder blue helmets Saturday against Memphis, check out this story by Austin Miller documenting the decision making that led to the Rebels wearing this helmet, as well as how it was kept on the hush throughout the week: http://www.olemisssports.com/sports/m-footbl/spec-rel/092814aab.html.

12. Did you see Josh McCoy's photo gallery of the football game? If you answer that question with a 'No,' well I just don't know what to say. He's the best in the game. Check it out here: http://www.olemisssports.com/view.gal?id=167161. You can also follow him on Twitter at @OleMissPix.

13. It was a tough weekend for the Ole Miss volleyball team. The Rebels closed out the non-conference portion of their schedule with a perfect 14-0 mark, the best in program history, but opened SEC play Friday with a tough five-set loss at South Carolina, followed by a three-set loss at No. 10 Florida, which is always a very difficult place to play for any team. This Rebel team is playing good volleyball and is a lot of fun to watch. Be sure to show this team your support and head out to the Gillom Center on Wednesday for a huge SEC match against Missouri at 6 p.m. CT.

14. The Ole Miss soccer team went 0-1-1 on the week in a pair of SEC home matches against Arkansas and No. 10 Texas A&M. After a 1-1 tie Friday against the Razorbacks in a really physical contest, Ole Miss lost 2-1 Sunday against the highly ranked Aggies. Ole Miss scored the first goal against Texas A&M in the 62nd minute, but Texas A&M responded with goals in the 72nd and 79th minute. The Rebels will head out on a four-match SEC road swing now with two matches next weekend in the Yellowhammer State against Alabama and Auburn, respectively.

Seeking its first win over a top-10 team since 2009, Ole Miss took a 1-0 lead but fell short to No. 10 Texas A&M, 2-1, Sunday afternoon.

"I'm really happy with the team's performance," head coach Matt Mott said. "I'm certainly disappointed we didn't get a result today but certainly very happy with how hard the team played and battled."

Junior defender Maddie Friedmann gave the Rebels a 1-0 lead with a header goal in the 62nd minute off a corner kick. Freshman Courtney Carroll sent the corner into the box and and junior midfielder Jessica Hiskey got her head to it before Friedmann found the back of the net.

Ole Miss held a 1-0 advantage before Texas A&M found the equalizing goal in the 72nd minute and then the go-ahead goal in the 79th minute. 

Those were the only two blemishes on an otherwise excellence performance from senior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick, who made eight saves against an Aggie attack that finished with 23 shots and 10 shots on goal.

"The second one, I was disappointed with myself, because it was a really close angle," McCormick said. "I don't think she should have scored that one. I kind of hold myself accountable for that."

"She's an excellent goalkeeper and has been doing really well all year," Mott said. "I hate it for her because she played really well. All of the guys in the back played great. They all battled like crazy."

Ole Miss had multiple chances to tie the match in the closing seconds after sophomore forward Sara Coleman drew a foul just outside the box. The Rebels fired two shots off the post but couldn't find the back of the net, as Texas A&M escaped with the win.

"It was a great shot by Addie (Forbus) on the free kick," Mott said. "It looked like it was going in. It hit the post and dropped straight down. We had people there and just couldn't get it in the back of the goal. That was definitely a crazy sequence and tough to watch when it doesn't go in.

"It was kind of like a pinball game," Friedmann said. "You're head is whipping around trying to figure out where the ball is going. I could have sworn that it was going in. I felt it hit off me. They had four or five girls on the line and managed to get it out. It was unfortunate, but sooner or later, we're going to catch the right bounce."

Wearing the lighter blue helmets for the first time since 1994 to honor the late Chucky Mullins, the Ole Miss defense also honored his memory with perhaps the most dominant defensive performance of the Hugh Freeze Era.

"Chucky would have been proud of the helmets, the baby blues, and particularly how the defense played," Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I know Chucky would have loved that. We will continue to honor him because of his character traits, his selflessness and his attitude about life and the university."

Against a Memphis offense that averaged nearly 45 points and 500 yards per game, the Rebels held the Tigers to only a field goal and 104 total yards, the fewest by an opponent since Mississippi State in 2008, as they defeated the Tigers by a score of 24-3.

"I'm extremely proud of our defense," Freeze said. "I don't know if we have had a better effort than that in our two and a half years here. They were really phenomenal. That was a team that putting up some really good numbers."

"We were dominating up front," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "The linebackers played well and the secondary was in the right position most of the night. You don't get many of those, but we did a lot of good things."

The Ole Miss defense created some big plays, an interception by junior safety Trae Elston and a sack and a sack-strip by freshman defensive end Marquis Haynes that helped lead to the Rebels' second touchdown drive, making it a two-score game in their favor at 17-7. 

The Rebels also finished with a season-high 12 tackles for loss and four sacks, as they limited the Tigers to just 1.7 yards per play.

"We were flying around, doing our job, being in the right place and making the plays we're supposed to make," junior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said. "Playing as one defense. This is probably the most emotional we have played since we have been here. That's us now. That's who we are. We have seen what we can do. We have seen how our defense is coming together."


One of the biggest question marks entering the game was the rush defense, which Ole Miss answered emphatically, holding Memphis to negative-four rushing yards on 17 carries.

"We were fitting our gaps, flying to the ball," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "We had a lot of energy and we were running to the ball and hitting as much as we could. That's what gave us so much success against the run."

Prewitt said the only thing he could remember they did wrong on defense was a 42-yard pass late in the first quarter. Despite that long gain to the Ole Miss 7-yard line, the defense responded with three straight tackles for loss and held Memphis to a field goal.

The defensive effort was especially important given that the Ole Miss offense was held to seven points through three quarters and also committed four turnovers.

"We're a team," Prewitt said. "There's going to be some games where the offense is going to win the game. There are going to be some games where the defense carries the load. That's how a team goes. It goes back and forth. I'm just really proud of the way the defense played. We never blinked."


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