Gaining experience and building chemistry were two big talking points for the Ole Miss men's basketball team coming out of its Bahamian exhibition tour in August. The practices leading up to and including the games in the Bahamas are already paying dividends, as the Rebels began preseason practice Friday.
"We're so far ahead based on what we had the opportunity to experience in the Bahamas," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "We have been with this team for 10 practices in July and August, and then we had two games in the Bahamas, so I feel much further along with this group.
"That, and and this is the most-experienced team I have coached at Ole Miss, where nine of our 13 scholarship players are upperclassmen. I'm pleased with where we are and the prospects of this team."
With the departure of Marshall Henderson, senior Jarvis Summers, an All-SEC second team selection and the SEC's second-leading returning scorer, is looking to lead and be more vocal on a veteran-laden team with nine upperclassmen.
"I want him to be a leader and I want him to be steady," Kennedy said. "He has showed he is capable of those things. He had a great junior year. He's an all-league level player. For the first time, he realizes this is his team. We will go as far as he carries us, and he has accepted that challenge.
"Last year, a lot of the focus was on Marshall, and Jarvis did a great job of playing off of that. This year, he will be the focus. It will be a new role for him, and he will have to adjust accordingly."
Summers himself said it's everyone's responsibility to lead and take ownership of the team.
"I feel like everyone has to play a role," Summers said. "I know I played the most minutes and I'm the player from last year that got things going, but we're one, and we have to lead together."
Among the nine upperclassmen are two graduate transfers in Terence Smith and M.J. Rhett and two junior college transfers in Stefan Moody and Roderick Lawrence. Moody and Smith, Kennedy said, will help Summers with ball-handling responsibilities in the backcourt.
"With our two post-grad transfers, you're getting a mature kid who's been in game action before," Kennedy said. "And they're hungry because they never really experienced much team success. Stefan Moody and Rod Lawrence have really helped us from an athleticism and versatility standpoint."
It's a big weekend on campus with the first-ever visit of ESPN's College GameDay and the SEC West Showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 11 Ole Miss in football, and it only benefits the other programs, Kennedy said, including men's basketball.
"Everybody's under the brand of Ole Miss," Kennedy said. "We're all on the same team, whether you're a basketball player, a football player or a volleyball player. We're all Ole Miss. Anything that can raise that profile is awesome. What Hugh (Freeze) has been able to do, getting College GameDay here and the excitement it brings and the platform it presents, we're all excited about it."
Highlights from today's media opportunity with ESPN College GameDay producer Lee Fitting, host Chris Fowler and analysts Desmond Howard and Kirk Herbstreit discussing the show's first-ever visit to Oxford and the SEC West Showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 11 Ole Miss on Saturday.
College GameDay Producer Lee Fitting
On when he starting looking at Ole Miss-Alabama as a possibility for College GameDay...
"Over the summer when the schedule came out. We're always looking for opportunities to come to Oxford, so this one has been sort of earmarked for a while. We followed it for the first several weeks and it got real about two weeks ago. It made us sweat a little bit last week with Memphis.
"Every year we're looking for opportunities to get here. We are thrilled to here. I mean that. This is awesome. It re-energizes us whenever we go somewhere for the first time. This weeks feels different than all the other weeks. In turn, our show is typically better because of that. It's exciting to see how excited the fans and people are here, and the product reflects that."
On the excitement to be in Oxford...
"Behind closed doors in our little group, we talk about the Grove all the time. 'When are we going to get there? When is it going to fall on the right week? I want to get down there and I want to experience.' Our crew typically after the show, most weeks, will leave and go home.
"This week, there is a huge pack of us sticking around, tailgating in the Grove, going to the game, hanging out after the game. This is a big deal for us. I'm not in here just to say that for a quote in the newspaper or TV. This is a big deal. This is fun. I'm excited, and the guys are excited. This is more than Oxford. This is a chance to introduce and explain to the country in further detail what the Grove is about."
On Katy Perry as a celebrity guest picker...
"We're excited. She's really fired up to do it. We may have had equal superstar status on our show before, but she's up there. This is awesome. Twitter doesn't tell you everything, but she has 57.5 million followers, which is pretty good. She's pretty popular."
College GameDay Analyst Desmond Howard
On Hugh Freeze and Ole Miss...
"He's done an excellent job recruiting, bringing in some great young talent. They have been doing a tremendous job of coaching the young men up. Defensively, I was really impressed early in the season when I watched them play Boise State.
"Not only were there guys in the right position, but I also thought they did an excellent job of tacking. You watch a lot of football nowadays and guys just want to hit and try to put their shoulder pads on somebody, but these guys are actually hitting and wrapping, making excellent tackles in the open field against Boise State. That was refreshing to see, so defensively I was very impressed.
"Offensively that night, there were too many interceptions and too many poor decision with the ball, but it was something that Boise wasn't good enough to take advantage, so Ole Miss ended up winning that game. Those were the pros and cons of what I saw earlier in the season with Ole Miss."
On the opportunity Saturday's game and this weekend presents for Ole Miss...
"This game doesn't just have the potential to define a season, but it has the potential to define a program."
On Ole Miss playing on the big stage...
"As a former player, they will be very excited. They will come out with a tremendous amount of energy, but after the first couple of plays, things will settle down for them and they will get back to the basic. You look toward your coaches and team leaders to make sure the guys get focused on the task at hand. It's going to be a tremendous atmosphere for those guys.
"In my opinion, this is why you to come to Ole Miss. You come to Ole Miss to play games like this and in atmosphere like we're going to experience tomorrow, so hopefully they're prepared for it."
College GameDay Analyst Kirk Herbstreit
On getting the opportunity to come to Oxford for College GameDay...
"For us, the pageantry of the sport and the passion that fans have for it, that's we love about it. To be able to go place like Fargo, North Dakota, even though it's not necessarily what people think of as big-time college football, but in their world, it is. We have always had in our mind that it would be great to get to Seattle, and we got there last year.
"We always talked about getting to the Grove forever. I have been on the show 19 years, and it's one of those landmarks that people love to come to. We have never looked at ourselves as 'Hey, we have arrived. Everybody pat us on the back.'
"We're very much more about the place we're visiting and being a conduit between the fans nationally and the university we're on that week. And what better place to celebrate a college football Saturday than in Oxford, Mississippi with a huge showdown, arguably one of the biggest games in school history. We're thrilled to be here.
"I have been here for the Egg Bowl, but it's during Thanksgiving and it's like 45-50 degrees, so it doesn't really count. This will be my first real experience of the Grove and looking out over the stage, I can't imagine what it's going to be like. It's going to be sweet. We feed off the energy of the crowd, and this crowd will be one of the best we will have all year."
On Katy Perry as a celebrity guest picker...
"We have so much fun with segment, not just because of Lee (Corso) at the end and whatever he might be up to it, but the person and whatever their background and industry is, they get up there and they get intertwined into the fun and the prediction.
"Lee's telling them, 'Not so fast my friend,' and it's a lot of fun. I'm looking forward to see how she does and hopefully she will have fun with it."
On Ole Miss and the opportunity Saturday...
"In the past with a new coach, when they would get into these types of games, there was a hope they could compete and they needed something good to happen for them to buy in.
"When you're down for so long as a program -- and there have been some moments with Eli and some other moments over the decades -- it's hard to go from being irrelevant in the SEC West to mattering over night.
"There have been enough steps forward that when they get into this setting now against Alabama, at home especially, I don't think they hope they can catch a break and compete. Deep down, they think they can play.
"The X's and O's to me would be Bo Wallace and the running game. They have to run just enough to avoid those 3rd-and-8 and 3rd-and-9 plays. If they're not running the ball, they're not going to win. They have to be able to run the football to take pressure off of Bo Wallace.
"If you put him into obvious passing situation, you're going to turn it over two or three times, and you're going to lose. Running the football and getting into those 3rd-and-manageable situations will be really big.
"The other thing is Lane (Kiffin), who everybody kind of made fun of when Nick Saban hired him, has become maybe the national story with what he's been able to accomplish with a new quarterback who's really never played.
"That's the difference with Alabama and the old Alabama teams. It's no long defense, special teams and running the ball. Now, they're spreading you out with empty formations, throwing the ball down the field. Its' very different from what AJ McCarron and Greg McElroy operated in. Defense has been a strength for Ole Miss, and it will be interesting to see how they matchup against Amari Cooper and arguably the best group of receivers in the SEC."
On Saturday as a program-defining game for Ole Miss...
"It would earn them instant credibility on a national scale. I was talking to Huge (Freeze) yesterday at practice. If you win the game, it's exciting, everyone runs on the field and you took advantage of a great opportunity, but you're going to Kyle Field next week, and you can lose that game and be forgotten.
"I wouldn't say this is a program-defining moment, but this is definitely an opportunity to prove to people that you can beat the best teams in the SEC and that gets a lot of attention from a lot of people. Look at their schedule. No matter what happens Saturday, it's not as if they beat Alabama, reserved your hotel tickets for Atlanta and the Final Four. They can beat Alabama, but I don't know if anybody in the SEC West is going through the gauntlet of all these teams. It's just too tough."
College GameDay Host Chris Fowler
On mentioning Oxford as College GameDay destination in the opening segment of the picks last week...
"We go where the game is, and we have wanted to come here for a long time. The people who follow this program might know there have been some close calls and some games we had circled, but then the result didn't quite fall the right way, namely Ole Miss stumbled before the big game we had circled. We were just hoping that it didn't happen this year.
"Obviously this game has been on the schedule and we have looked at it from the beginning of the season. We thought there was a very good likelihood that both teams would be undefeated. It came down to one final hurdle to clear with Ole Miss home against Memphis as a three-touchdown favorite. We thought we would have fun with it. We have started to talk more in the show about games that have GameDay implications and let it out there that if this happen, we will likely be at this place next week.
"That was the blatant I have ever been about it. We had some fun, although I wasn't really kidding. If the game here had fallen through, we likely would have been in Starkville."
On the experience so far in Oxford...
It's great. I'm looking forward to tomorrow. We have all been here for games. To be clear, the show hasn't been here, but those of us who have been around for a long time in this have been to Oxford for games and to do features.
"It's just the first time the show has arrived here on Saturday. Doing some of the Thursday games, it's not quite the same. I have been looking forward to a big Saturday atmosphere for a long time. You can tell the buildup is as advertised, so we can't wait until tomorrow morning."
On what Hugh Freeze has done at Ole Miss...
"It starts with inheriting a situation where he needed to make drastic changes right away, and he talked to me about that yesterday, on the field and off the field. He has brought in top-flight talent, which is one of the reasons he was an attractive coaching candidate.
"Now, the next step is getting those guys to not just win the games they're supposed to win, but to beat people like Alabama and LSU. Everybody knows, in soccer teams, the SEC West is the group of death. There's no easy passes. Every game is going to take the best effort that Ole Miss has and now it's time to step up.
"I sense a real difference from being around practice yesterday and some of the comments I have read. It's no longer viewed as Ole Miss just trying to be respectable against big, bad 'Bama. Now, those guys really believe they belong with anybody and should win the game.
"Nationally, there's always going to be skeptics because until you have done it, you haven't done it. There will be a lot of eyes on this town tomorrow afternoon to see if they can take that step and beat Alabama. And then keep it going because the season isn't over, win or lose, and that's what Hugh has preached, and rightfully so. You can't let down for one week in this division."
On Saturday being perhaps the biggest college football day in the history of Mississippi...
"The ingredients are there. You talk about two top-15 matchups that are 75 miles apart as the crow flies. Any place in the country would be thrilled to have that. The fact that it's been a long time down here certainly makes it fun for us.
"It's hard to imagine it being bigger, but if they keep winning, there are going to be a lot more big weekends. Tomorrow's result will determine whether Mississippi gets a lot more weekends like this and if there will be biggest Egg Bowl in the history of Egg Bowls."
On the Grove and Oxford...
"It's a place of good food and drink and great atmosphere. I have been to the Grove before, but I haven't seen it quite like that. There is stuff that's unique about it. I was trying to explain it. You see this picture on television with these red and blue things, and I don't think people even knew what that was, and I explained they were staking out territory and what it is going to look like tomorrow.
"It's our job to capture what's unique about it because at first glance, you might look at the show and say every week is kind of the same where there's a bunch of screaming kids with signs. If we're not doing our job, we won't be able to point out what's distinct and what's unique about this. We're going to get on the ground and go all over the place and try to capture it as best we can sprinkled throughout the show. There are few surprises thrown in there too that even the people on the desk don't know about yet."
Ahead of the first-ever visit of ESPN's College GameDay and one of the biggest weekends in school history, here's an exhaustive link roundup of stories from local and national media regarding the SEC West showdown between No. 1 Alabama and No. 11 Ole Miss:
Alabama vs. Ole Miss, 1969: The night college football went prime time, writes Lars Anderson for AL.com
Katy Perry for GameDay? Katy Perry for GameDay, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger
Two top-15 games make for the biggest weekend ever for Mississippi football, writes Mike Herndon of AL.com
New York Giants' Eli Manning likes Ole Miss' chance against Alabama, writes Dan Graziano of ESPN.com
Mississippi's Moment: The Newly Relevant Rebels and Bulldogs Take Center Stage in the SEC West, writes Matt Hinton of Grantland
Mississippi becomes epicenter of college football, writes David Brandt of the Associated Press
Good Guys Finish 1st: The Hugh Freeze Story, writes Lars Anderson for Bleacher Report
Big week in Mississippi a milestone for coaches Freeze, Mullen, writes Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports
Alabama's got 'chinstrap in and locked and loaded' for Ole Miss' 296-pound running QB, writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com
Alabama QB Sims has Ole Miss' respect, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger
This is the Rebels' best chance, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal
Alabama's top-ranked run defense poised for different sort of challenge vs. Ole Miss, writes Andrew Gribble of AL.com
At Ole Miss, evolving perception both outward and inward, writes Dan Wolken of USA Today
Bo Wallace eager for another shot at Bama, writes Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com
Hugh Freeze preps for Lane Kiffin curveball, says 1-on-1 battles could determine Alabama-Ole Miss, writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com
Alabama defense to be tested by Ole Miss tempo, Laquon Treadwell, writes Alex Scarborough of AL.com
How Lane Kiffin improved Bama's offense, writes Mackenzie Kraemer of ESPN.com
Ole Miss can make a statement vs. Bama, writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com
Blake Sims (then a RB) had a memorable night in Alabama's last Ole Miss trip, writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com
Alabama-Ole Miss: Kiffin has turned Tide into nearly unstoppable force, writes Coy Wire of Fox Sports
Game-changers: Cooper, Treadwell major keys in Ole Miss-Alabama matchup, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger
Amari Cooper 'banged up' after Florida win, not listening to Heisman talk, writes Michael Casagrande of AL.com
No. 11 Mississippi prepares for Alabama offense, writes David Brandt of the Associated Press
History on schedule for Mississippi, writes Chris Low of ESPN.com
Ole Miss and its Landsharks a legit threat to Alabama's run as the SEC's best defense, writes Kevin Scarbinsky of AL.com
Ole Miss confident it can compete with Alabama, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger
Alabama faces biggest test yet in Ole Miss, writes Alex Scarborough of ESPN.com
Wild, wild SEC West set for historic day, writes John Zenor and David Brandt of the Associated Press
Epic, writes Chuck Rounsaville of The Ole Miss Spirit/Scout.com
In case you missed it, 3 Things You Should Know About Gameday, The Memphis episode of The Season: Ole Miss Football and Get Your Grove On - Get Up. It's GameDay
Ahead of one of the biggest games in school history, I caught up with ESPN.com SEC reporter Edward Aschoff and had him finish the following statements that are on the minds of many Ole Miss fans. Among them, he discussed the impact of "College GameDay," matchups to watch, what Ole Miss has to do to win the game and what a win over Alabama would mean for the program.
Earlier this week, Aschoff wrote how Ole Miss can make a statement against Alabama. Check it out.
Austin Miller: The impact of 'College GameDay' will be...
Edward Aschoff: huge for the Ole Miss program and the Oxford community. It's crazy to think this will be the very first time GameDay will be in the Grove. It's been a long time coming, but folks in Oxford should be ecstatic. This is a chance for the rest of the country to really see what makes the Grove so special and why it might be the nation's best tailgating venue.
AM: When Ole Miss is on offense, the matchup to watch will be...
EA: Bo Wallace against Alabama's pass rush. We all know Wallace has had problems with consistency when the pass rush gets dialed up against him. Alabama didn't get a lot of pressure on Jeff Driskel in the Tide's win over Florida, leaving him plenty of time to make plays. While he didn't take advantage of those opportunities, Wallace can, if he doesn't try to press. That's been an issue for him in the past, and we saw a little of that against Memphis. Wallace has to be patient but also confident when Alabama brings pressure. At the same time, Alabama's secondary has to be ready to tighten its coverage. It has a tough time with these fast-paced offenses, and if Wallace gets into a groove, that could create problems for this younger defense. Without the threat of a true pounding running game, Ole Miss' offense will live and die by Wallace's decisions, as will Alabama's defense.
AM: When Alabama is on offense, the matchup to watch will be...
EA: Ole Miss' defensive line vs. Alabama's offensive line. The Tide has done a pretty good job of protecting quarterback Blake Sims this year -- it's only allowed three sacks thus far. I can't wait to see the matchup between Alabama left tackle Cam Robinson and Ole Miss defensive end C.J. Johnson. That should be fantastic TV right there. Also, Robert Nkemdiche facing Arie Kouandjio and Ryan Kelly in the middle should be great too. If the Rebels, who have 28 tackles for loss on the season, can bring more pressure Sims' way, that will go a long way to keeping Alabama's offense honest.
AM: Ole Miss wins if...
EA: Wallace keeps his composure and the defense can contain that vicious running game.
AM: Alabama wins if...
EA: the running game can make some plays and the defense keeps up with Ole Miss' uptempo offense.
AM: A win for Ole Miss would be...
EA: huge for a program that hasn't beaten Alabama since 2003 and has an unpleasant history in games like this. It would thrust the Rebels right into serious playoff conversation and put them right at the top of the SEC West, and probably the SEC in general. It would also be a great momentum builder for the West gauntlet that awaits.
AM: A loss for Ole Miss would be...
EA: hard to swallow for a team with such lofty expectations. These are the games Ole Miss just doesn't generally win, so many people would chalk it up to the Rebels just not being ready. It certainly wouldn't hurt the Rebels' chances at a big season, but it would put them behind the eight ball when it comes to winning the West, especially with such a tough stretch approaching.
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)
"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)
"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.
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