Through the first seven games of the season, Ole Miss has played the toughest schedule in the nation, according to Sagarin's ratings. The Rebels (4-3, 2-3 Southeastern Conference) continue to their six-game home stand over seven weeks, as they welcome FBS Independent Idaho (1-6) for Homecoming this Saturday, with a kickoff set for 6:30 p.m. on CSS.
"We got to put it away and move forward," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "The gauntlet that we have gone through, it's taken a toll on us some physically and mentally. We certainly need to continue moving in the right direction in all areas. We got a team coming in this week that I'm sure will nothing to lose playing in an SEC home and have a chance to make some noise, just like many teams did last weekend. We don't want to be on the other end of that, so we have got to regain our kids' focus and elevate our concentration to do the little things right."
"It's going to make us a better team at the end of the year, just going through that stretch and playing such good competition," senior offensive lineman Emmanuel McCray said. "But we have to go out there and play every Saturday either way, no matter who we're playing, but it's good to get it out of the way. That was a tough, tough stretch."
Idaho is coached by Paul Petrino, who is in his first year as a collegiate head coach, having previously served as offensive coordinator at Louisville, Arkansas and Illinois. The Vandals' lone win was a 26-24 victory over winless Temple on Sept. 28, but did have close 45-35 loss to current No. 22-ranked Northern Illinois on Sept. 24.
"On game day, the team felt a little bit sleepy," said McCray, of Ole Miss' 31-13 win over Southeast Missouri. "We came out slow. We learned the lesson from that game and Auburn that we have to start fast, and we have to be passionate, no matter who we're playing. We have to be high energy because that's our identity. We play with passion, and we let that carry over on the field."
"As big as (the LSU win) was for us and the fan base, if we could go out there and don't show up against Idaho, that win doesn't really mean a lot," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We know who we're playing this week, and we'll prepare just like they're any other team."
Wallace Has 'Best Game' Of Ole Miss Career
Junior quarterback Bo Wallace completed 30-of-39 passes for 346 yards, his third-straight 300-yard passing game, as the Ole Miss offense racked up 525 yards of total offense in the 27-24 win over No. 6 LSU.
"Bo played his best game he's played since he's been here," Freeze said. "I can only find two things to complain about, and hopefully we can get those cleaned up, and him play an even more complete game. Dan (Werner) did a great job with him all week making sure he understood our plan exactly."
"We needed a game like that," Wallace said. "We put up a lot of points against A&M. We knew that we were going to have to put up a lot of points with the defense and the injuries that they had. Everybody prepared, we got the game plan down early in the week, and then everybody executed.
The Rebels converted 11-of-18 third downs on Saturday, including two third downs on the game-winning drive, capped by senior kicker Andrew Ritter's 41-yard field goal. Facing 3rd-and-6, Wallace ran for six yards, then facing 3rd-and-9, Wallace connected with senior wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan for a 13-yard completion.
"We had to do something," said Wallace, of the final drive. "We couldn't leave it in the defense's hands again. We couldn't leave it anybody else's hands. We had to go down and score, and that's exactly what we did."
Wallace passed Archie Manning on the Ole Miss career passing yards list into seventh-place all-time (4,784), 187 passing yards behind Mark Young for sixth place. He also ranks fourth in the SEC in total offense (278.9 ypg) and fifth in passing (255.7 ypg).
Along the way, Wallace has also picked up the nickname Dr. Bo, which he said he knew about on Monday.
"Yeah, I am aware of it," Wallace said. "It came for a video game or something like that, so yeah I am aware of it... It's cool, I guess."
Engram Out For Season, Parker's Role To Increase
Freshman tight end Evan Engram underwent season-ending surgery on Monday, Freeze said, to repair his high ankle sprain. The Powder Springs, Ga., native ranked fourth on the team in receptions (20), third in receiving yards (265) and second in touchdowns (3). His 20 catches rank seventh-place all-time by a freshman in Ole Miss history.
"We lost Evan Engram for the year, which is a tough loss for us. He was on track to be a freshman All-American. He's a tremendous kid and was very important to our scheme. We don't have another one like him who can win some one-on-ones in space and do the blocking that we were asking him to do. Everyone knows the situation we are in at that position, so that's a difficult loss. And it's even worse because you know what these kids put in. He's such a great kid and going to be a tremendous leader for this program for years to come."
"It's going to change a little bit because he was that guy that we could go 11 personnel and do a lot of different things with, flex him out and things like that," said Wallace, of the loss of Engram. "Of course, it's going to change. It hurts me a little bit, not having him to stretch the field, but Nick Parker caught a touchdown, so he has to get prepared to play this week and be ready to go."
Senior Nicholas Parker, who caught a 3-yard touchdown pass against LSU, his first career reception and touchdown, is now listed as the starter at tight end. Seniors Jack Nuismer, Parker's backup on this week's depth chart, and Justin Bigham have also seen action in six games this year.
"Nick is a joy around this program," Freeze said. "He is loved by his teammates. He makes people laugh and goes to work every day. He's a local kid. So when he caught that touchdown, there was a lot of excitement and joy for him. His role will increase some, but we're different with him. He doesn't do some of the things that Evan could do, but he can do some things, so we'll certainly start using him more. And probably Justin Bigham and maybe (Jack Nuismer), those will be the three guys you will see right now."