Three areas to watch as No. 3 Ole Miss travels to No. 23 LSU for an SEC West Showdown on Saturday.
Stopping The Run
Not just this year, but throughout head coach Les Miles' tenure, LSU's running game has been a key to success.
LSU, which ranks sixth in the SEC in rushing offense (220.9 ypg), was held to a season-low 89 rushing yards in a 34-29 loss to Mississippi State and 138 rushing yards in a 41-7 loss to Auburn.
The Ole Miss defense leads the SEC and ranks third nationally in yards per play allowed, giving up just 4.15 yards per play, and they have been equally dominant against the run and pass.
Stopping the run, as Ole Miss did last week against Tennessee, limiting the Volunteers to zero rushing yards on 28 attempts, would also force the game into the hands of quarterback Anthony Jennings.
The sophomore will make his seventh start of the season, the eight of his career, and has completed 64-of-128 passes for 1,048 yards with seven touchdowns and three interceptions this season.
"It's run, run, run, and you want to stick your nose up in there," said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack of preparation for LSU's offense. "We have to do a good job of that in practice, shocking them every once in a while with a pass."
Managing The Game
In addition to the dominant defense, quarterback Bo Wallace and punter Will Gleeson have been two keys actors in the different management of games this season.
Wallace attempted just 19 passes and 28 passes against Texas A&M and Tennessee, two of his three lowest totals this season, leaning on a rushing attack that eclipsed 150 yards in both games.
Asked to manage the game more this season, particularly in recent games, Wallace has not turned the ball over in SEC play, attempting 108 passes and carrying the ball 49 times over four games.
"The big thing for me is I'm not trying to mess it up," Wallace said. "I'm going in and trying to not have any turnovers. The defense is playing well. If we punt it past the 50-yard line, they're probably not going to get points. It makes me feel a lot more comfortable."
Gleeson has been named National Punter of the Week twice this season, as he ranks third in the SEC and 11th nationally with a punting average of 45.5 yards, landing 16 of his 32 punts inside the 20.
Behind the left leg of Gleeson, Ole Miss also ranks second in the SEC and third nationally with a net punting average of 43.3 yards.
"He's been a huge factor," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We have won field position with his punting. With the way our defense has played, the way our coverage units have played and the way he's placing his punts, it has allowed us to be very patient at times offensively."
'Saturday Night in Death Valley'
It has been said that Death Valley is where opponents' dreams come to die.
Through seven games, Ole Miss has ignored such history, instead making its own. The Rebels are 7-0 for the first time since 1962, when they went 10-0 and earned a share of the national title.
A win over LSU would give Ole Miss its second 8-0 start in program history, but to leave Tiger Stadium with a win, they must continue to ignore history and make their own.
LSU is 45-4 in night games in Tiger Stadium under head coach Les Miles, including 45-3 in Saturday night home games.
All three losses came to teams that were either No. 1 at the time (Florida in 2008 and Alabama in 2012) or reached No. 1 at some point during the year (Mississippi State in 2014).
"We have to play a very difficult team in a difficult environment in a difficult rivalry series," Freeze said. "Who knows what the outcome will be, but I do think they will have to beat us. I don't think it would be because our kids aren't ready."
Ahead of a rivalry renewed on a national stage, complete with a visit of ESPN's "College GameDay" and the mystique of a Saturday night game in Death Valley, here's link roundup of videos and stories from local and national media regarding the SEC West showdown between No. 3 Ole Miss and No. 23 LSU:
VIDEO: Ole Miss Film Room, breaking down the Rebels' defense, from ESPN.com
VIDEO: Can LSU establish the run against Ole Miss? from ESPN.com
VIDEO: LSU's chances of scoring on Ole Miss from ESPN.com
Freeze at home with Ole Miss, writes Edward Aschoff of ESPN.com
'Grandpa' D.T. Shackelford plays key role on Ole Miss defense, writes Greg Ostendorf of ESPN.com
Wallace's experience an asset for Ole Miss, writes Jungkyu Lee of ESPN.com
Ole Miss-LSU: Why Rebels can run table and win national title, writes Coy Wire of Fox Sports
Weekend Watch List: Ole Miss-LSU a precursor to brutal SEC West stretch, writes Dennis Dodd of CBS Sports
SEC teams not done knocking each other off, writes John Zenor of the Associated Press
No. 3 Ole Miss relies on tough defense for wins, writes David Brandt of the Associated Press
Ole Miss much different since last visit to LSU, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger
Australian punters are on both sides of LSU-Ole Miss, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger
Ole Miss carries defensive streak into LSU game, writes Hugh Kellenberger of the Clarion-Ledger
Five things to know about the LSU vs. Ole Miss game, writes Jim Kleinpeter of NOLA.com
The LSU-Ole Miss rivalry is back with a vengeance, writes Ron Higgins of NOLA.com
Numbers that Matter: Ole Miss vs. LSU, writes Bill Bender of Sporting News
Here's two videos from Ole Miss and one video from LSU to get you ready for Saturday:
LesMiles.Net - OleMiss Trailer from LSU Football on Vimeo.
Extra Emphasis on Special Teams Play
Through the years, special teams play has provided a winning edge in the Ole Miss-LSU rivalry, and and you don't have to go all the way back to Billy Cannon's 1959 Halloween run.
In a run that reminded fans of Cannon, Odell Beckham Jr. sparked a 41-35 comeback win for LSU with a game-tying 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in the teams' last meeting in Baton Rouge.
Andrew Ritter split the uprights on a 41-yard field goal with two seconds left on the clock to lift Ole Miss to a 27-24 win in last year's meeting in Oxford.
"When you watch all the highlights of the games of the past, there always seems to be a special teams play in there," special teams coordinator Tom Allen said. "We all know about the famous punt returns that have occurred down there. I was pretty emotional and passionate when I addressed our guys on Tuesday in our special teams meeting. I believe it's going to be the difference.
"Our 'it' that Coach Freeze challenges us with is to provide the winning edge, and that's what we need to do. We have done that in several games this year, and we need to do it again in this kind of environment."
The Rebels have a trio of freshmen in key spots on special teams, with Will Gleeson handling the punting duties, Gary Wunderlich handling placekicking and kickoff duties and Markell Pack returning punts.
Gleeson ranks among the nation's leaders in punting (45.5 ypg) and net punting (44.0), while Wunderlich is 3-of-4 on field goals with a long of 46 against Alabama. Pack has had some shaky moments and continues to learn through game experience, but Allen remains confident in him.
"As I have said before, returning punts is the most difficult thing we ask anybody on our team to do," Allen said. "Being a young guy doing that is hard, but he's smooth catching the ball. He's the most natural one we have. Now, it's a matter of making good decisions under fire."
Defense Preps for Powerful Ground Game
The LSU offense is led by a three-headed powerful rushing attack that ranks sixth in the SEC (220.9 ypg). Freshman Leonard Fournette leads the way with 544 yards and seven touchdowns, followed by seniors Kenny Hilliard (353 yards, 6 TDs) and Terrence Magee (344 yards, 3 TDs).
Over their last two games, the Tigers have rushed for 195 yards on 50 carries in a 30-27 win at Florida and rushed for 303 yards on 51 carries in a 41-3 win over Kentucky, but they face their stiffest test of the season in Ole Miss, which boats the nation's sixth-best rush defense (97.1 ypg).
"The last two weeks they turned back into what they want to be, which is running the ball downhill," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "They have the big backs who are always falling forward, very good football players, with play-action off of it. The quarterbacks, especially (Anthony) Jennings, have gotten more comfortable in their offense."
Wommack said they faced a similar test earlier this season in Alabama. The Rebels held the Crimson Tide to 17 points and 396 yards of total offense (168 rushing, 228 passing), both well below their season averages of 39.6 points per game and 514.6 yards per game.
"Alabama, to me, is very similar," Wommack said. "Their lines are similar, and their backs are similar. Their receivers, in some ways, are similar. The one outstanding receiver at Alabama (Amari Cooper) is probably better than any one person at LSU, but as a group LSU's receivers are younger. The quarterbacks are very similar."
The more traditional, smash mouth offense, Allen said, plays to the strengths of their physical, downhill players, such as linebackers Serderius Bryant and Deterrian Shackelford.
"We're not a big linebacker corps, by any means, but we're tough kids," linebackers coach Tom Allen said. "That's what you've got to have against these guys. We're big enough and we tackle well enough that we feel comfortable against their scheme.
"I don't feel like we have a group of guys that can't adjust. We're probably better suited for this than we are some of the wide-open spread looks that we see."
Still Remains Questionable for LSU
Center Ben Still (sprained MCL) did not practice Wednesday remains questionable for Saturday's game against LSU.
"He is coming, just don't know exactly how he'll be Saturday," Freeze said. "The good thing is he knows everything. He doesn't have to get reps. If he can go, he certainly will."
If Still is unable to play, Robert Conyers will take over at center, having played almost all of the second half against Tennessee. He would be backed up Craig Frigo at center, with Daronte Bouldin and Davion Johnson also figuring in the tackle rotation.
"It lessens our depth at other places, but he had a really good game against Tennessee," said Freeze of Conyers. "He's very athletic. He's maybe not as strong or has as much mass as Ben for certain blocks, but he did really well and his snaps have been good."
Highlights from Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze and LSU head coach Les Miles on the SEC teleconference Wednesday, ahead of Saturday's game in Baton Rouge.
For the full SEC teleconference, go here.
Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze (starts at 1:06:12 mark)
"We're excited to go down to Baton Rouge and play in one of college football's best environments. It's a traditional rivalry game for us and those guys. We have the utmost respect for Coach Miles, his staff and the job they have done throughout the years. It also provides a great test for us, which is something we continue to need to get to where we want to go, and we're looking forward to it."
On the players' understanding of the Ole Miss-LSU series over the years...
"It's always important to educate the new guys on the history of this game. We started doing that Sunday, and we'll continue throughout the week, just like we have done each year I have been here. The guys who have been here have an understanding of it. Everyone in your program needs to understand it, so we'll try to take step to make sure we do."
On LSU's improvement over the last four games...
"The young kids are maturing. They're playing quite a few talented, young kids, and the more they get on the field in these environments, the better of they're going to be. They have figured what their strengths are and are leaning on them more.
"They have changed defensively some. And that's not something they typically have had to do. It's been very successful for them the last couple of weeks. They have done some different things and leaned more on some of their strengths."
On games from the Ole Miss-LSU series that stand out over the years...
"There are two that really jump out in my mind. The first one is Eli's year here when it was for the West Championship. I remember the excitement around Oxford at that time. And up until us playing Alabama here a couple of weeks ago, I would say that was the most festive, energetic, passionate atmosphere we have had on campus.
"You always remember the Billy Cannon run, of course, but I didn't actually witness that. Our last year going there with Ed Orgeron, we went down there with 48 players and took the game to overtime. I remember that one vividly, too. My first year here going there, to lose a game, and it's probably the one loss that I have been ever been a part of as a coach where I actually still say I had fun.
"They beat us with a punt return right at the end of the game. We were such a young team and no one expected us to compete. Our kids did, and we had a chance to win it at the end. I actually had a lot of joy, I had lot of fun that game, which is rare for us coaches to say that in a loss. That game went a long way to building our morale and toward where we were going."
On the rivalry with LSU, relative to Mississippi State, as far as the fans...
"It depends on who you ask. My take on it is this: If you were to poll the more mature Ole Miss fan, the one who's been around longer, you may get LSU at No. 1 with them. With the younger generation, you're going to get State at No. 1 and LSU at No. 2. That's my take on it."
LSU head coach Les Miles (starts at 2:05 mark)
"We're a team that's continuing to improve and showed improvement against Kentucky in all three phases. It's certainly going to be a great test for us against a very capable Ole Miss team. We look forward to that competition."
On the history of the Ole Miss-LSU series over the years...
"I have been made aware of it in my 10 years here. I recognize the great competition and the personal nature of the game."
On Ole Miss...
"They're very good in all three phases. That's the key. They have done a good job offensively, they have done a very job good job defensively, and their special teams are playing big. They are very, very talented."
On quarterback Anthony Jennings being benched at Auburn, a game in which Brandon Harris started...
"Benched is not necessarily the word. More or less, it's the evolution of the position, if you will. Him understanding competition and understanding what all needed to be done at the quarterback spot certainly has improved not only his abilities, but Brandon Harris as well."
On last year's meeting with Ole Miss...
"Certainly the most recent past is something we have reviewed in our cut-ups. Our guys recognize that game."
On Ole Miss defensively...
"It's a well-conceived defense. It has speed and a nice zone package that can change to man in the secondary. There's a lot to that defense, not just the physically. Conceptually, they do a really good job. They're a defense that continues to improve."
On the win at Florida...
"Our football team was ready to go to The Swamp and win. There's some maturity here that provides some quality leadership. Some of those young guys had never been to The Swamp. They listened and understood what was expected and then played extremely.
"That's an example of how we can play. Kentucky then was an example of how we can play at home. We're hopefully improving and looking forward to the challenges that lay just ahead in front of us this Saturday with Ole Miss."
Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
Oct. 13-19, 2014
- Ole Miss rode its dominant defense to a 34-3 homecoming win over Tennessee on Saturday to improve to 7-0 overall and 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play.
- The Rebels are 7-0 for just the second time in school history. The other time was in 1962 when the team went 10-0 and earned a share of the national title.
- The Rebel defense held Tennessee without a touchdown and limited the Vols to zero rushing yards in yet another impressive showing. The "Landshark" defense now leads the nation allowing just 10.6 points per outing.
- Senquez Golson intercepted two more passes to increase his SEC lead to seven interceptions, which ranks second nationally.
- Freshman DE Marquis Haynes had 2.5 sacks (of the team's seven total) and now ranks third in the conference and tied for 10th in the nation with 6.5 sacks this year.
- The Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd of 62,081 was third-largest in school history.
- Ole Miss went 2-0 last week, earning a 3-1 win at Auburn followed by a 3-2 win at Alabama to improve to 18-3 overall and 4-3 in the SEC.
- The win at Auburn marked the Rebels' first SEC road win of the season and snapped a three-match losing streak to the Tigers.
- Ole Miss rallied from a 2-1 deficit to hand Alabama its first home loss of the season on Sunday. The Rebels have now won five of the last eight meetings against the Crimson Tide, which had an RPI of 29 coming into the match.
- Freshman Lexi Thompson notched a career-high 23 kills in the win against Auburn and then posted a double-double of 15 kills and 14 digs in the win at Alabama.
- Aubrey Edie tallied 48 assists at Auburn and then recorded 56 assists at Alabama, paving the way for four Ole Miss players to record double-digit kills, including Thompson, Nakeyta Clair, Melanie Crow and Ty Laporte.
- Clair tallied 13 kills and four blocks while hitting .333 at Auburn. Against Alabama, she posted a team-high 17 kills, including the match clincher, and hit .560. She now has 13 matches with at least 10 kills and 17 matches with at least a .300 hitting percentage.
- The Rebels, winners of three in a row, are now the only conference team undefeated at home (9-0). The Rebels currently own the best overall record in the league at 18-3 and moved up in the standings to fifth after the weekend wins.
- Aubrey Edie was named the SEC Offensive Player of the Week. That makes five of the first eight weeks for the Rebels to earn one of the league's weekly honors. The Rebels lead the league with five different players recognized to date.
- The Rebels participated in the USTA/ITA Southern Regionals last weekend in Auburn, Alabama. Junior Stefan Lindmark reached the semifinals in singles and senior William Kallberg and freshman Gustav Hansson reached the semifinals in doubles.
- It marked the third year in a row and the fourth year in the last five for the Rebels to have a singles semifinalist. It also marked the fourth year in the last five for the Rebels to have a doubles semifinalist as well.
- Junior Joe Rogers and freshman Zvonimir Babic teamed up for the first time to reach the quarterfinals in doubles.
Cross Country - Men
- Against a field consisting of nine of the top 30 teams in the nation, the Ole Miss men's cross country team grabbed an eighth-place finish in the Pre-Nationals Invitational on Saturday.
- Freshman Sean Tobin led Ole Miss in his second meet by clocking a time of 25:03.4 in the 8K, good for 48th overall.
- Junior Wes Gallagher (25:12.7) and sophomore Robert Domanic (24:36.88) finished 55th and 61st, respectively, to round out the top three Rebels at the meet.
Cross Country - Women
- The Ole Miss women raced a young team in the 6K, consisting of four freshmen, two sophomores and a senior.
- Freshman Shelby Brown (22:46.4) recorded the best time for the Rebels for the second consecutive meet.
- Ole Miss had an 0-2 weekend, dropping a pair of road matches at Kentucky and South Carolina.
Ole Miss returns home to host Missouri on Friday night after an
extended road swing that has seen the Rebels go almost a month without
playing a home match.
- Senior goalkeeper Kelly McCormick will set
the school record for shutout victories (23) with her next shutout this
season, currently she is tied with Brittany Gillespie who set the mark
- Two of the final three regular-season matches will be at
home for the Rebels, which also host Tennessee on Oct. 30 to close out
the regular season on Senior Day, honoring McCormick.
- The Ole Miss women's golf team sent Alison Hovatter, Maria Toennessen and Sofia Idoyaga as individuals to the Mercedes Benz Championship over the weekend.
- Hovatter led the Rebels, finishing in a tie for 22nd-place with a three-day score of 224.
- Hovatter's 224 is a season-low 54-hole score and her second round score of 70 was a season-low for 18 holes.
It's Sunday, so that means it's time for this week's Observations from the Best Seat in the House. There was no shortage of observations surrounding the Homecoming festivities this weekend. Let's get into it:
1. When "College GameDay" visits Baton Rouge, Louisiana, on Saturday, it will be the third time in four weeks a nationally-televised college football pregame show will air on-site prior to an Ole Miss game.
If Ole Miss and Auburn continue to win, "College GameDay" producer Lee Fitting said GameDay would likely return to Oxford on Nov. 1, making it four times in five weeks. And if Ole Miss and Mississippi State continue to win? "College GameDay" could visit Oxford an unprecedented three times this season.
2. The SEC West might no longer be undefeated against SEC East teams, but it placed four teams in the top five of the latest AP Poll. Mississippi State and Ole Miss held at Nos. 1 and 3, respectively, while Alabama moved up three spots to No. 4 and Auburn moved up a spot to No. 5.
It's the first time one league has ever had four of the nation's top five teams in the AP Poll, much less the same division. Ole Miss has already defeated one (23-17 vs. Alabama) and gets the other two at home (Nov. 1 vs. Auburn, Nov. 29 vs. Mississippi State).
3. That being said, I have said it, Metz has said it, and Coach Freeze has said something to the same effect: For fans who are worried about polls and playoff projections, rest assured, if Ole Miss keeps winning, everything will take care of itself.
4. Don't look now, but LSU might have regained its mojo, having won its last two games (30-27 at Florida, 41-3 vs. Kentucky) and returning to the national rankings. Strange things tend to happen in this rivalry, and then you add a role reversal with Ole Miss as the favored team and a night game in Death Valley to the equation, and it should make for an intriguing matchup.
5. Speaking to the media Friday, Marcus Spears compared this year's Ole Miss team to his 2003 LSU team, which finished 13-1 and defeated Oklahoma 21-14 in the Sugar Bowl to win the BCS National Championship.
The 2003 LSU team was led by a dominant defense that allowed just 11.0 points per game and forced 33 turnovers, returning seven for touchdowns. Offensively, the Tigers had an efficient quarterback in Matt Mauck and some explosive playmakers in Michael Clayton, Devery Henderson and Skyler Green.
As you can tell, there are some definite similarities between the two teams.
6. Another mistake-free game from Bo Wallace. Through four SEC games, Wallace has yet to turn the ball over, while throwing seven touchdowns and running in another two. In case you missed it, you want to watch his appearance on the Dan Patrick Show earlier this week, where he poked fun at the "Good Bo, Bad Bo" narrative.
7. Senquez Golson picked off two more passes, giving him seven for the season, which leads the SEC and ranks second nationally. It was his second multi-interception game of the season, and the third of his career. The other? 2012 at LSU. Golson also now has an interception in three straight games.
8. What a difference a year makes on the defensive line. In last year's matchup with LSU, also seven games into the season, Ole Miss was forced to move Bryon Bennett from defensive tackle to defensive end out of necessity because of injuries. A year later, the Rebels are rotating 11-12 guys on the defensive line and redshirting a trio of talented freshmen.
"For most of the guys, we try to rotate them with an even number of reps for some games," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "Robert (Nkemdiche) is going to be in there a little bit more because he's a little bit of a freak at that 3-technique and means so much to us doing that. Most of them get close to the same number of reps."
9. One of those 11-12 guys is freshman Marquis Haynes, the reigning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, who accounted for 2.5 of the Rebels' 7.0 sacks against Tennessee. He has 4.5 sacks over the last two games and 6.5 sacks for the season, 1.5 sacks shy of Jadaveon Clowney's freshman record.
"Marquis Haynes gets better every week," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I told a lot of people in preseason, if they called me and they asked me who nobody knows about that was going to make a name for themselves, and I would say without hesitation it was going to be Marquis Haynes. He's proving to do that."
10. Not to pat ourselves on the back, but it's impeccable how well players have performed when they're featured in the game day programs. Notably, Senquez Golson sealed the win over Alabama when he was featured in the Alabama game day program. And Saturday against Tennessee, Mike Hilton intercepted a pass when he was featured in the player spotlight. Go back and look.
11. This was the best Square Jam yet. There was what looked to be the biggest crowd in the history of the three-year event and a star-studded panel of judges, and then Stefan Moody and Roderick Lawrence put on a show in the slam dunk contest. Earlier this summer, Moody said he had a 46-inch vertical jump, and he showed it off, as he rocked the rim to take home the title.
12. There's a lot of excitement surrounding the newcomers on the men's side. Three of the newcomers are among Sports Illustrated's projected top 100 transfer scorers: Moody (14th, 11.4 ppg), Terence Smith (34th, 8.9 ppg) and M.J. Rhett (94th, 4.7 ppg). Sports Illustrated also projects Jarvis Summers sixth (averaging 18.8 ppg) in their projection of the nation's top 100 scorers.
13. The Ole Miss volleyball found some answers on the road, winning at Auburn and Alabama this weekend, running its win streak to three matches in the process. Ole Miss returns home to host LSU in a nationally-televised match on the SEC Network.
14. We always plug him, but don't miss out on Josh McCoy's photo gallery from Square Jam. Great action and great backdrop made some great photos.
The winning formula revealed itself as it has throughout the season: a dominant defense and a mistake-free offense. The Ole Miss defense forced four turnovers, while the Ole Miss offense did not commit a single turnover in a workmanlike 34-3 win over Tennessee on Saturday night.
In addition to four turnovers, the Rebels held the Volunteers to 191 yards of total offense, including zero rushing yards, due in large part to a season-high seven sacks and 12 tackles for loss.
"If you look at the stats, which everyone does, you have to figure, if we can score 17 to 20, to the mid 20's, we have a chance to win a lot of games with the way they're playing," head coach Hugh Freeze said.
Stat-wise, head coach Hugh Freeze called it the best performance from the defensive line in his two-plus years at Ole Miss.
"We got consistent pressure with just the front four," Freeze said. "We blitzed very few times. And we held a team to zero rushing yards. When you make somebody one-dimensional, you have a good chance to be successful."
More than any other stat, and there are a lot of good stats on the defensive side of the ball, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack points to Tennessee finishing with zero rushing yards on 28 attempts.
"That's the number one thing on your sheet when you talk to them on Sunday about what you have to do to beat the next team," Wommack said. "If you can do that, you're going to win pretty consistently. You're going to get off the field because we're good enough in pass rush and in coverage. If we get you in second- and third-and-long situations, it's difficult to score and move the ball on us."
Freshman Marquis Haynes, the reigning SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week, led the way up front with 2.5 sacks, giving him 4.5 sacks over the last two games and 6.5 sacks for the season.
"I have been saying it since August, he's probably going to break the sack record here," junior defensive end C.J. Johnson said. "He's that good. He's going to be a really good player for us the rest of the season. He's been what everybody on our defense expected."
On the back end of the defense, the Rebels' extended their streak to 30 games where they forced at least one turnover. In the process, senior cornerback Senquez Golson picked off two passes, giving him seven interceptions for the season.
"He's been in the right place at the right time," Wommack said. "He's played technique so well. It's good for our team. It depends on how they want to attack us. He's done a great job for us."
Offensively, Ole Miss was balanced, rushing for 180 yards and passing for 203 yards, exploding for 14 points in the span of four minutes late in the first half and extending the lead in the second half.
Senior quarterback Bo Wallace was efficient, completing 13-of-28 passes for 199 yards with two touchdowns and zero interceptions. More importantly, he made it four SEC games without a turnover.
"That is music to my ears," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "We obviously didn't play great. I know our stats weren't very good, but we did not turn the ball over. That's the thing I have been harping on with those guys.
"With the way our defense is playing, if we protect the football, we have a really good chance to win games."
The Rebels are 7-0 for just the second time in school history, and it's no secret what the winning formula has been.
"We try to set the tempo for the whole football team," Johnson said. "We know our offense is capable of scoring points and they have a lot of playmakers."
Three areas to watch as No. 3 Ole Miss faces Tennessee for Homecoming on Saturday.
'Third Down for What'
Tennessee is very dangerous, Ole Miss football head coach Hugh Freeze said, because its talented, particularly if it gets momentum and confidence during the course of the game.
The talents starts on defense, led by senior middle linebacker A.J. Johnson, a preseason All-American who leads the Southeastern Conference in tackles per game (11.3). Tennessee ranks top-20 nationally in scoring defense (19.2 ppg allowed), total defense (316.3 ypg allowed) and passing defense (160.2 ypg allowed).
One of the more interesting situational matchups will be third downs, where Tennessee leads the SEC and ranks fifth nationally in defensive third-down conversion (26.4 percent), and Ole Miss ranks fifth in the SEC and 22nd nationally in offensive third-down conversion (46.8 percent).
"They have good cover guys and they have good athletes and can play some man coverage to get after you with the pass rush," Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke said. "They have a nice third-down package where they bring in some more speed and take out a D-lineman. They're flying around and playing really hard, playing with an edge."
Landsharks Not Satisfied
The Ole Miss defense has been regarded as one of the best in the nation, if not the best in the nation, giving up just 11.8 points per game, which leads the SEC and ranks second nationally.
The Rebels are also tied for the SEC lead and eighth nationally with 16 turnovers forced, as they have scored almost as many touchdowns (4) as they have allowed this season (6).
Ole Miss shut out Texas A&M in the first half but allowed three second-half touchdowns, including two touchdowns on the last three drives of the game, which has not sit well with members of the defense.
"That was aggravating for us," senior safety Cody Prewitt said. "We want to be the No. 1 defense in the nation. For them to score 20 points on us is aggravating for all of us. That's one thing we have taken upon ourselves. We have a couple more games to prove we are the defense that people think we are."
"We gave up way too many points," senior cornerback Senquez Golson said. "It was a great thing we won, but after the game as a defense, we talked and said that it was not acceptable if you want the big games."
Big Games for Wallace, Nkemdiche?
Senior quarterback Bo Wallace is coming off his lowest passing total, having completed 13-of-19 passes for 178 yards with a touchdown and zero interceptions, but it didn't matter because the running game topped 150 yards and the defense accounted for two touchdowns in a 35-20 win over Texas A&M.
Depending on the flow of the game, Saturday might present an opportunity for Wallace to air it out and help his campaign for individual awards and honors.
"One thing he's done for us, when our defense is playing well, we're really trying to manage the game," said Freeze of Wallace. "His numbers the other night could have been a lot better because we had some things in the passing game. In that environment, when you're playing in front of 110,000 who are itching to be a factor in the game, the last thing I want to do is give them anything to be excited about."
Like Wallace, sophomore defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche finds himself in the conversation for individual awards and honors, having been named to various outlets' midseason All-America team and added to the Chuck Bednarik Award Watch List.
Nkemdiche has put up modest numbers, totaling 14 tackles with a tackle for loss and one sack, and now faces a Tennessee offensive line that ranks last in the SEC and 121st nationally, giving up 3.83 sacks per game.
"He does so many good things in there, but his production's just not up as far as stats and numbers," Ole Miss defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. "But as far as technique and all that, he's constantly getting better like I've always said about him."
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