Three areas to watch as No. 18 Ole Miss hosts No. 4 Mississippi State in the regular season finale both teams Saturday.
Stopping State's One-Two Punch
Mississippi State boast the SEC's third-best rushing attack and two of the league's top six rushers in junior running back Josh Robinson (98.6 ypg) and junior quarterback Dak Prescott (81.0 ypg). The duo have also combined for 23 rushing touchdowns.
The SEC's leader in total offense, Prescott leads SEC quarterbacks and ranks fourth nationally among all quarterbacks in rushing yards, averaging 81.0 yards per game, and ranks second nationally with 12 rushing touchdowns.
Nicknamed "Bowling Ball" for his 5-foot-9, 215-pound stature and running style, Robinson ranks second in the SEC, averaging 6.6 yards per carry, including an SEC-best 6.8 yards per carry in league games.
In their lone blemish on the season, a 25-20 loss at No. 1 Alabama, the Bulldogs were held to 138 yards on 40 carries, a season-low 3.45 yards per carry. Forced to throw, Prescott attempted a season-high 48 passes, completing just 56.3 percent of his passes and throwing a season-high three interceptions.
"Whether he had a bad day or Alabama had a good day or maybe a little of both, that was a real big thing," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of Prescott. "They didn't let him be effective running for the most part. Every once in a while he got a play in that game. I thought they rattled him a little bit. He threw three interceptions and had a lot of pressure just with their basic stuff, what they do at Alabama."
Red Zone, Turnover Battles
Ole Miss and Mississippi State have combined for 18 wins, the most at the time of the matchup in series history, and one of the keys for both teams has been red-zone defense.
The Rebels rank third nationally, allowing opponents to score touchdowns only 38 percent of the time once they enter the red zone, while the Bulldogs rank lead the nation, allowing opponents to score touchdowns only 35 percent of the time.
This area made a clear difference in Mississippi State's wins over Auburn and Arkansas and its loss to Alabama. Mississippi State allowed a combined three touchdowns in 11 red-zone opportunities in the two wins compared to three touchdowns in five opportunities in the loss to Alabama.
Another key has been turnover margin, where Ole Miss ranks third in the SEC and Mississippi State ranks ninth, but the difference in the wins and losses is where the stat is key.
Ole Miss has a plus-11 turnover margin in their eight wins compared to a minus-3 turnover margin in their three losses, with a minus-5 turnover margin against Arkansas and the timeliness of the turnovers against LSU and Auburn proving to be a difference.
An opportunistic defense, Mississippi State was unable to force a turnover against Alabama on the way to a minus-3 turnover margin, compared to a plus-3 turnover margin in its 10 wins.
"The one thing that really stands out if you look at the three games is turnovers," said head coach Freeze, referring to the Rebels' losses to LSU, Auburn and Arkansas. "That's probably a direct correlation to us not having success. That'll be a big, big key."
Legacy on the Line for Wallace?
Senior quarterback Bo Wallace has led Ole Miss to some big wins in his career, defeating Mississippi State in 2012, LSU in 2013 and Alabama earlier this season, and Saturday's rivalry game with No. 4 Mississippi State presents another opportunity to cement his legacy.
The school's all-time leader in career total yards, Wallace has helped lead Ole Miss to national relevance, having stepped into a program that had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight Southeastern Conference games.
Wallace has had his ups and downs, notably in his two previous Egg Bowls, completing 15-of-22 passes for 294 yards and five touchdowns in a 41-24 win in Oxford two years ago and then completing 26-of-40 passes with three interception and a lost fumble in a 17-10 overtime loss in Starkville last year.
With two games remaining in his career, it's premature to label his legacy, but his performance Saturday will likely play a role in how he will remembered, for better or worse.
"You hope people focus on all the good," said Freeze, when asked about Wallace's legacy. "He's led us to three consecutive bowl games. He's been very, very relevant in returning relevancy to this program in the conference and nationally. He's now become the all-time total offense owner of that record, passing the great Eli Manning.
"Those are some great things. I think in time people will recognize that and he'll be remembered for those things. Hopefully he can add another two to it, win another bowl to it and get the Egg home."
The goal from day one for head coach Steven McRoberts was to lead Ole Miss to its fourth NCAA Tournament appearance and its first since 2010.
Entering the team's final two matches, McRoberts said he felt as though they were on the outside looking in to the NCAA Tournament. With a 3-0 win Wednesday over Georgia, the Rebels kept their NCAA Tournament hopes alive.
"We know that potentially these are the last few days we have of the season, and the girls have been doing a great job," McRoberts said. "The only thing we can do is win, and then we put it in the hands of the committee. We don't really have any control of whether we get an NCAA bid. If we win Friday, we put ourselves at least in the conversation.
"It's been hard not to hang our hat on that, because if we didn't win tonight, then Friday doesn't matter. I was really proud of the team that we didn't look ahead. It was one of our cleanest and best matches tonight as we're going into Friday, and that will give us a lot of confidence."
Ole Miss improved to 22-9 overall and 8-9 in Southeastern Conference play, ahead of its regular-season finale against Texas A&M, which enters the match 20-8 overall and 12-5 in SEC play.
The match presents a top-25 RPI opportunity for Ole Miss, ranked No. 63 in the NCAA's official RPI rankings, as they welcome a Texas A&M team ranked No. 19 in the NCAA RPI. In their earlier meeting this season in College Station, the Rebels took the first set before the Aggies rallied to win the match 3-1.
"We need Friday," said McRoberts, when asked about his team's resume. "There are two or three matches that are kind of haunting us right now, that if we had those and if we were sitting at 25 wins, instead of 22, I would feel really good that we're going to get in.
"I feel like we have put ourselves in a situation. It's not a high-pressure situation. We have told the team, 'Let's come out, play well and give ourselves an opportunity.' Hopefully, that translates into playing another week."
Playing in a match on the last day of the regular season with possible NCAA Tournament implications, McRoberts said, makes good on his original goal, at least in part.
"I'm really pleased with where we are at as a program," McRoberts said. "I'm pleased that we're going into our last match, and we're still talking about the NCAA Tournament. Going to the NCAA Tournament was the goal from the beginning.
"From where they came last year, a realistic statement would be, if we were talking about the NCAA Tournament, it's a success. I like the fact that we have two days left in the regular season, and we're still saying what if. That's a nice thing."
Here's a brief look at the NCAA Tournament resume for Ole Miss:
22-9 Overall | 8-9 SEC (7th)
Record against RPI top 25: 0-4
Record against RPI top 50: 2-5 (wins over Alabama 2x)
Record against RPI top 100: 4-6 (wins over Memphis, Arkansas State, Alabama 2x)
Road Record: 5-6
Battling injury, junior quarterback Dak Prescott came off the bench and helped rally Mississippi State to a come-from-behind 17-10 win in last year's Egg Bowl. He led a drive that ended with the game-tying field goal at 10-10 and then he ran for what proved to the game-winning touchdown in overtime.
This season, he has helped Mississippi State to a 10-1 record and a No. 4 ranking in the latest College Football Playoff poll. He leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in points responsible for, accounting for 36 total touchdowns and 216 points.
"They're a very good football team," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "Dak Prescott makes them better than very good."
The SEC's leader in total offense averaging 327.7 yards per game, Prescott ranks third in passing (246.7 ypg) and sixth in rushing (81.0 ypg). His 23 passing touchdowns and 12 rushing touchdowns also lead the league.
With more experience and better health, Prescott has improved as a passer, upping his completion percentage (58.4 to 61.4) and his yards per attempt (7.3 to 8.8) from last year.
"I think the injury (last season) and the experience," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "That's the two biggest things. He got beat up in that Texas A&M game last year. You can tell he's an extremely tough kid. He fought through an ankle injury in that Arkansas game. He just keeps pushing through it. And he's throwing the ball much better. He knows where he's going with it."
"He is a major part of their program," graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "It starts with him. It starts with the way he gets his guys to play. He can throw well, and he can also run the ball. That's always a big thing when you're faced with a quarterback that has a run threat also."
Prescott also combines with junior running back Josh Robinson for a powerful one-two bunch in the Mississippi State backfield. Robinson ranks third in the SEC in rushing yards (98.6 ypgs) in rushing touchdowns (11).
"I watched our game last year and some games from last year when he was playing," said Wommack of Robinson. "He has a low center of gravity. I thought we tackled him last year, but you better gang tackle him. There is one play that comes to mind against Kentucky where he broke eight tackles, spun this way and that way. It's a mindset with him. You can tell that he's determined to make positive yardage every time he touches the ball."
Alabama has had the most success defending Prescott this season, holding him to 56.3 percent passing for 290 yards with two touchdowns and a season-worst three interceptions in a 25-20 win for the Crimson Tide. Alabama also contained him on the ground, limited him to just 82 yards on 22 carries, a 3.73 yards per carry average.
"Whether he had a bad day or Alabama had a good day or maybe a little of both, that was a real big thing," Wommack said. "They didn't let him be effective running for the most part - every once in a while he got a play in that game. I thought they rattled him a little bit. He threw three interceptions and had a lot of pressure just with their basic stuff, what they do at Alabama."
Wallace 'Ready to Go'
As head coach Hugh Freeze said Monday, senior quarterback Bo Wallace is expected to play Saturday at home against Mississippi State.
"He's been limited some, but you would have to chain him down to keep him from going in this game," said Freeze on the Southeastern Conference coaches' teleconference Wednesday. "He's getting better every do, so I anticipate him being ready to go."
Head coach Hugh Freeze called the Egg Bowl the most prized possession of this university's football program, and getting the Egg Bowl back should be enough motivation for his team entering Saturday's game against Mississippi State.
An Independence, Mississippi, native, Freeze said he and his team have a clear understanding of how much this rivalry means to so many.
"I know this one is pretty intense and sometimes in my opinion it crosses the line to what is good and all of that," Freeze said. "I want to beat them as bad as they want to beat us, particularly two days out of the year -- this Saturday and then National Signing Day. Those are the two days I feel that way."
The rivalry means a lot of graduate student linebacker Deterrian Shackelford, the most senior member of the team, who will be a part of his sixth Egg Bowl, playing in his third after missing the others due to injuries.
"Although it's a rivalry, you don't want to make it such a big deal that the players can't play," Shackelford said. "You want everybody even-keeled and ready to prepare throughout the week. Saturday is just a result of what you've done throughout the week."
It also means a lot to senior wide receiver Vince Sanders, not only because it's Senior Day for him and his fellow seniors, but also because he's one of 53 Mississippi natives on the team.
"It's the most important game of the year, especially with them being 10-1," Sanders said. "They're going to come in, after seeing our performance last week, and feel like it's going to be an easy win. All of our guys know the importance of this game. All the hard work we put in during the spring and summer, we work toward this game."
The Rebels met as a team on Sunday, the day after the 30-0 loss to Arkansas, and they about the game in Fayetteville and then put in the trash and moved on Mississippi State.
The team watched a video with some clips from last year's game, a 17-10 overtime loss, and several players spoke up about the upcoming game, including junior defensive end C.J. Johnson, senior safety Cody Prewitt and injured sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell.
"We've had time to meet and talk and discuss," Shackelford said. "I like the way this team is feeling going into this game. Of course, this is a game that doesn't take a lot of motivation to get up for."
Finishing Strong in Year Three
After starting the season 7-0 and rising as high as No. 3 in the polls, Ole Miss now sits at 8-3, losers of three straight Southeastern Conference games and relegated to a spoiler role against rival Mississippi State, which remains in SEC West and College Football Playoff contention.
"We worked hard all year to be in the playoff, so it's disappointing to us that we're not there," Sanders said. "Teams in front of us had the same opportunities we had and they made the best of them. We came up short a couple of games. You have to take your hats off to them because they did what they had to do. Overall, we're disappointed, but we're not going to let not being in the playoff affect how we're going to perform on Saturday."
Speaking to the media after the loss to Arkansas, Freeze said he told his team that he didn't like the way they finished year two -- losing its last two regular season games to Missouri and Mississippi State -- and he didn't like the way they played Saturday.
On Monday, Freeze said they have to evaluate why the disappointments down the stretch have happened, whether it's depth or the energy you have to expend to compete in the SEC, but he's confident not only in the big picture, but also in getting his team ready to play Saturday.
"The big picture is I still think we're ahead of schedule," Freeze said. "We're disappointed but ahead of schedule. We have a lot to play for with pride on the line and eight or nine wins in the regular season."
Wallace, Tunsil Expected to Play
Senior quarterback Bo Wallace suffered a sprained ankle against Arkansas, which caused him to miss two series, but he came back to play through the third quarter but sat for much of the fourth quarter.
Wallace has missed not a start during his three-year career, and he is not expected to miss his final regular season game, Saturday at home against Mississippi State.
"It would take a lot more than that to keep him out of this game," Freeze said. "He's hungry and wants to play in this game in a bad way. He's going to try to go no matter what. He's gotten better each day. Hopefully he'll be close to 100 percent."
Redshirt freshman quarterbacks Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, Freeze said, are getting more reps in practice in case they have to play.
Speaking generally about injuries, Freeze said all of the players who made the trip to Fayetteville are expected give it a go against Mississippi State, including sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil.
"He looked really good for the first half but didn't play much after the shoulder popped out again," Freeze said. "He looked really solid in the first half. We'll give him a lot of treatment this week. We'll get him ready to go Saturday."
Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
Nov. 17-23, 2014
- Ole Miss posted a 2-0 mark last week with wins over Southern University and Northern Arizona as part of the Emerald Coast Classic, improving to 3-1 on the season.
- Ole Miss finished the first half vs. Northern Arizona on an 8-0 run to take a 37-32 lead into halftime, and carried that momentum for an 80-74 win.
- Senior guard Jarvis Summers led the way vs. NAU with a season-high 22 points, his second 20-point game this season. He was joined in double figures by junior guard Stefan Moody (13 points) and senior guard LaDarius White (12 points), who each finished in double figures for the third straight game.
- Ole Miss held Southern to 38 points, the lowest by a Rebel opponent since 2011, on the way to a 69-38 win over the Jaguars. The Rebels limited the Jags to just 28 percent shooting and forced 22 turnovers.
- Ole Miss went 1-1 on the week with a 91-68 win over Southern and a close, 71-65 loss to Middle Tennessee State. With the Southern win the Rebels opened the season 3-0, going undefeated through the first three games for the first time since 2012-13.
- Tia Faleru picked up her 22nd career double-double with 29 points and 19 rebounds against Southern, and moves into sole possession of the seventh spot on Ole Miss' all-time double-double list. Faleru's 19 rebounds were also a new career-high, while her 29 points was her 13th career-20-point game.
- Ole Miss head coach Matt Insell squared off against his father when Ole Miss faced Middle Tennessee - it was the first women's basketball game in NCAA Division I history which pitted a father against his son.
- Oxford native Erika Sisk tallied her first career 20-point game vs. Middle Tennessee, giving Ole Miss a 20-point scorer in each of its games this season.
- The Ole Miss cross country team concluded the season as only 30 other men's programs could: at the NCAA Championships.
- The 2014 cross country season was historic for Ole Miss. It included the first regional championship and Nationals berth in program history as well as matching the program's best SEC finish (runner-up).
- The Rebels finished 29th of 31 teams at the first XC Championship in program history.
- Wesley Gallagher (31.23.2) led Ole Miss in the 10K event, good for 80th overall, improving from his 149th finish last season as an individual for Northeastern.
- SEC Freshman of the Year Sean Tobin, who clocked the best time for Ole Miss earlier in the season at the Pre-National Invitational on the same course, did not finish the race due to injury.
- Ole Miss split a pair of matches this weekend, dropping a 3-1 decision to No. 6 Florida and defeating Alabama 3-2, both at home. The Rebels improved to 3-2 in five-set matches this season.
- The Rebels swept the season series against Alabama and have now won six of the last nine meetings.
- It was a record-setting weekend for two Rebels. On Friday, junior Nakeyta Clair set the school, single-season record for kills (337) with nine on the night. On Sunday, sophomore Melanie Crow set the school, single-season service aces record (35) with a career-high five.
- With an 11-3 record at the Gillom Sports Center this year, the Rebels are one win away from equaling the most home wins in a season. In 2007, the Rebels went 12-2 at home.
- It was a tough Saturday for the Ole Miss football team as the No. 8 Rebels were shut out 30-0 by the Arkansas Razorbacks in Fayetteville.
- It was the first time Ole Miss has been shut out since last year's Alabama game.
- The Rebels had more first downs (19) than the Hogs (17) and more total yards (316-311), but six turnovers doomed the men in Red and Blue.
- The Rebels did recover an Arkansas fumble, making it a nation-leading 34 straight games forcing at least one turnover.
- Three Rebels established school records on Saturday: Bo Wallace for career total offensive yards (10,090), Jaylen Walton for career kickoff return yards (1,429) and Evan Engram for receiving yards by a tight end in a season (475).
- It was the first loss in the state of Arkansas in Hugh Freeze's college head coaching career, dropping him to 7-1.
Senior cornerback Senquez Golson, one of five finalists for the Bronco Nagurski Award, which honors the national defensive player of the year, will represent Ole Miss as one of 10 finalists for the C Spire Conerly Trophy, which honors the most outstanding college football player in Mississippi.
For more on the finalists and the Conerly Trophy, click here.
"It's well documented with his turnaround and buy-in percentage and doing the little things right," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "It's really pleasing when you see a kid do that and have success on the field. He's getting a lot of notoriety nationally with different types of awards that he might be up for. We're excited for him."
The Pascagoula, Mississippi, native leads the SEC and ranks second nationally with nine interceptions, one shy of tying the school single-season record. His 15 career interceptions is the most among active Division I FBS players and is tied for the fourth-most in school history.
Golson has helped Ole Miss lead the nation in scoring defense (13.5 ppg) and the fewest touchdowns allowed (16). Led by Golson, Ole Miss leads the SEC with 19 interceptions and 28 turnover forced.
His interception in the end zone with 37 seconds left sealed the win over No. 1 Alabama, and he returned one of his two interceptions against Louisiana-Lafayette for a 59-yard touchdown.
"We're ranked high in defensive categories and he's been one of the keys," Freeze said. "We've been able to feel like he could play on an island at times. He's made great plays for us, in particular the turnovers he's created. Obviously there are people up front that help us with that in the pass rush and things. He's made a lot of key plays for us through the course of our senior year."
The trophy will be awarded Dec. 2 at the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame and Museum. As was the case last year, fans can vote. Fan voting by C Spire will account for a weighted 10 percent of the voting with a statewide panel of media accounting for the other 90 percent.
Just as the media voters do, fans will vote for a first place, second place and third place winner. For more information, entry rules and qualification on fan voting, go to www.cspire.com/conerly beginning Tuesday, Nov. 25.
Named after former Ole Miss great Charlie Conerly, the trophy has been given every season since 1996. Past Ole Miss winners include quarterback Stewart Patridge (1997), running back Deuce McAllister (1999), quarterback Eli Manning (2001, 2003), linebacker Patrick Willis (2006) and quarterback Bo Wallace (2012).
Here are a couple of stories from earlier this season on Golson:
Buy-In paying off for Golson, writes Austin Miller of OleMissSports.com (Oct. 8)
Golson makes most of potential in final season, writes Chase Parham of RebelGrove/Rivals.com (Nov. 7)
Rebels' cornerback Golson blossom as senior after difficult journey, writes Parrish Alford of the Daily Journal (Nov. 16)
Here an infographic from last week highlighting some of Golson's accomplishments:
It's that busy time of the year with the Ole Miss football, volleyball, men's and women's basketball teams all in action. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was in Ole Miss sports:
- A slow start (17-0 first-quarter deficit), a stalled running game (33 carries for 37 yards) and six turnovers (two in the red zone) all had a hand in a 30-0 loss at Arkansas, ending the Rebels' SEC West title hopes. There's not much else to say.
"I told our kids in locker room," Freeze said, '"I don't like the way we finished year two and I don't like the way we played tonight.'
- It's clear Ole Miss misses Laquon Treadwell, not just his production, but also his leadership and playmaking abilities. Playing without the sophomore star for the first time in SEC play, Ole Miss was shut out for the first time this season. The Rebels managed just three plays of 20 or more yards, and their active leading receiver, Vince Sanders, was held without a catch in the contest.
- Give the defense credit for keeping as close as they did for as long as they did. Facing a short field for much of the game, the Ole Miss defense allowed just one touchdown in five trips to the red zone for Arkansas. The Razorbacks started on average from their own 43-yard line and they had scoring drives of 52, 24, 49, 41, 0 and 0 yards, respectively.
- Ole Miss also found itself on the wrong side of history, as Arkansas became the first unranked team to ever shut out two ranked opponents in back-to-back games.
- With Arkansas becoming bowl eligible, an entire division will advance to the postseason for the first time in Southeastern Conference history. What's more impressive, the SEC West is a combined a 38-3 against non-SEC West opponents, including a combined 28-0 against non-conference opponents.
- For the second straight season, both SEC divisions will be determined on the final weekend. Alabama and Missouri each control their destiny, while Georgia needs an Arkansas win over Missouri, and Mississippi State needs a win over Ole Miss and an Auburn win over Alabama. Ole Miss, like Arkansas and Auburn, will play a spoiler role, looking to eliminate Mississippi State from SEC West title contention.
"If you can't get up for that one, you probably don't need to be playing," linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "It's everything, it's the Egg Bowl. And for the seniors, it's Senior Day. If I have to motivate people for next week, they probably shouldn't be playing."
- Ole Miss volleyball's Nakeyta Clair set the school single-season kills record in the rally scoring era, putting down nine kills in a four-set loss to No. 6 Florida this past Friday. The Rebels bounced back with a five-set win over Alabama on Sunday, the second match in a four-match homestand to close out the regular season. Ole Miss will host Texas A&M on Friday for Senior Day, where the Rebels will honor the senior trio Marie-Pierre Bakima, Cara Fisher and Rachael Weathersby.
- Father, Rick, and Middle Tennessee State got the best of son, Matt, and Ole Miss, in the first-ever meeting between father and son head coach in NCAA Division I women's basketball history. The result was not what Matt and the Rebels wanted, but the matchup provided a tough test for a young team learning every game and created some buzz and excitement surrounding the program.
- Here's a nice story on Rick and Matt Insell from Will Borthick from the Daily News Journal in Murfreesboro, Tennessee. Check it out.
- The Ole Miss men's basketball team rebounded nicely from a heartbreaking overtime loss to Charleston Southern, rattling off three straight wins over Troy, Southern and Northern Arizona, going into this weekend's game in Niceville, Florida. The Rebels will face Creighton and then either Cincinnati or Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Jays, which return one starter from last year's 27-8 team, is off to a 4-0 start, including a win over No. 18 Oklahoma.
- Head coach Andy Kennedy said he has been surprised by how much he has learned a lot about his team, one that includes five newcomers, and he spoke very honestly about what he has learned through four games: "We're not as tough physically as I would have hoped," said Kennedy after an 80-74 win over Northern Arizona. "We make excuses. I didn't know this group would do that. I know some of it is a defense mechanism. I get that. I have done this a long time. Sometimes, that's the easy way out. It's the default mode. I get it, but we have to get tougher. We have to play to our abilities. I don't think we have played to our ability yet."
FAYETTEVILLE, Ark. -- Arkansas jumped out to a 17-0 in the first quarter and took advantage of six Ole Miss turnovers on the way to a 30-0 shutout win Saturday in Fayetteville.
"I was concerned all week, for whatever reason, that we weren't totally locked in," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "That showed at the beginning of the game. That's my fault. I have to make sure our kids are ready. It was a weird week for whatever reason. It's disappointing that we didn't start better."
Two of the Ole Miss turnovers came inside Arkansas' 20-yard line, as the Rebels were looking to get back in the game. Down 17-0 late in the first half, quarterback Bo Wallace had Ole Miss driving to the Arkansas 13-yard line before being intercepted in the end zone.
Arkansas dealt a final decisive blow to the Rebels, as safety Rohan Gaines intercepted Wallace in the end zone and returned it 100 yards for a touchdown, extending the Razorbacks' lead to 27-0 with 3:38 left in the third quarter.
"You can't turn it over the number of times we did and expect to win for sure," Freeze said. "I kept hoping we could get something good to happen and cut it to a score or two. Our defense would have played well enough to give us a chance, but we never did."
Playing with an ankle injury for much of the game, Wallace was 16-of-31 for 235 yards, accounting for 218 of the team's 316 total yards and breaking Eli Manning's school record for career total yards, but he turned the ball over four times with two interceptions and two lost fumbles.
"He was hurting, but he was adamant he wanted to play," Freeze said. "He's had such a good career for us, and I felt like he was our best chance to get back in the game. He took us down the field a couple of times, and then we had the turnovers, which resulted in zero points, so we couldn't make a game of it."
The Rebels entered Saturday in contention for the SEC Western Division title, needing to win out and an Auburn win over Alabama, which made the loss, their third straight in league play, all the more disappointing.
"Our kids played hard until the end," Freeze said. "We didn't come out sharp for sure. We did some things that you can't do being an elite team. We have been a good team this year, but we haven't been elite at times. That's where we want to get to."
"It's tough, knowing what was in our grasp," tight end Evan Engram said. "That's what we thought about all week. That was our fuel. That was what we were working toward. For this to happen, it's tough. We had everything in our grasp. We were going to try to win out, play our best football, and see where it put us in the West and the Playoff. That's all pretty much out of the window."
After a 7-0 start and rising as high as No. 3 in the polls, Ole Miss now sits at 8-3, looking to finish the regular season on a high note, improving its bowl standing and playing spoiler to rival Mississippi State in the process.
"If you can't get up for that one, you probably don't need to be playing," linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said. "It's everything, it's the Egg Bowl. And for the seniors, it's Senior Day. If I have to motivate people for next week, they probably shouldn't be playing."
Three areas to watch as No. 8 Ole Miss travels to Arkansas in its final road game of the regular season Saturday.
Slowing the Hogs' Ground Attack
The extra week of preparation, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said, should prove beneficial to prepare for the scheme and personnel of Arkansas' run-heavy offense.
"They use unbalanced formations and shifts and motions," Wommack said. "They're not like an LSU where it's just pound you, but they have really good backs and a good line and they do some deception with it, too, and we have a great advantage to work on that stuff."
Looking at the numbers, it's no secret the Razorbacks' effectiveness in running the football and the Rebels' effectiveness in stopping the run will go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.
Arkansas averages 302.6 yards per game and 6.38 yards per carry in its five wins compared to 163.2 yards per game and 3.29 yards per carry in its five losses.
Ole Miss has allowed just 96.1 yards per game and 2.82 yards per carry in its eight wins compared to 256.0 yards per game and 5.07 yards per carry in its two losses.
"Just looking at what has occurred, this may not be our best matchup," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "You have to play it. You have to find a plan and get your kids in the right spot. Hopefully we learn something from seeing that (kind of offense against LSU)."
Starting O-Line Back at Full Strength
With the return of left tackle Laremy Tunsil and left guard Aaron Morris from injury, Ole Miss will have the same five starting offensive linemen that helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start.
The Rebels generated a season-high 640 total yards, including a season-high 402 rushing yards, in a 48-0 win over Presbyterian, and they look to build off the performance with their full complement of offensive linemen for Saturday.
"It was better last week against Presbyterian, but that's probably not comparing apples to apples," Freeze said. "It's hard to say. In the off week and Presbyterian week, we worked quite a bit on the inside run. It's been tough to run it on these guys for other teams."
Arkansas ranks fourth in the SEC in rushing defense (126.7 yards per game) and sixth in yards per carry allowed (3.76 yards per carry). In a 17-0 win over then-No. 20 LSU, the Razorbacks held LSU to 36 yards on 32 carries.
It starts up front with defensive linemen Trey Flowers and Darius Philon. Flowers is the active SEC leader with 41.5 career tackles for loss and is tied for third with 15.0 career sacks, while Philon leads all SEC defensive tackles with 9.5 tackles for loss this season.
"They have two of the better in the conference in 86 and 91, in Trey Flowers and Darius Philon," Freeze said. "Those guys are really special. Like I said, you look at their stats and they just held LSU, one of the best rushing teams in the conference, to 36 yards."
Passing Game Sans Treadwell
Playing without wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, who suffered a season-ending leg injury against Auburn, Vince Sanders stepped up as the team's No. 1 receiver and responded with four catches for 110 yards and two touchdowns in a 48-0 win over Presbyterian.
Derrick Jones, who moved back to wide receiver from cornerback, hauled in his first five career receptions for 55 yards, including a 31-yard touchdown.
"It went well," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "Obviously, we hate losing Laquon, but we always talk about next man up and wide receiver is one of our deepest positions, so the guys did step up, and Vince (Sanders) had a great game."
Saturday's game against Arkansas marks the first SEC game and the first road game for Ole Miss without Treadwell, and the Rebels will face a Razorback defense that allows just 22.2 points per game, including a shutout of then-No. 20 LSU this past Saturday.
In addition to the wide receivers, tight end Evan Engram also steps into a bigger role. Engram leads all SEC tight ends with 15.2 yards per catch and ranks third with 27 catches, 410 yards and two touchdowns.
"Evan (Engram) will be a critical, critical cog in the wheel for us, particularly with Laquon (Treadwell) going down," Freeze said. "We have to find ways to get him the football. He'll win one-on-ones, so he's been extremely valuable to us."
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