It's sometimes easy to forget where the Ole Miss football program was just three short years ago, when Hugh Freeze was interviewing for the head coaching position.
The Rebels had won just two games in 2011 and had lost 14 straight Southeastern Conference games.
Three years later, No. 8 Ole Miss is 8-2 (4-2 SEC) and remains alive in the SEC Western Division race and the College Football Playoff discussion, but that was not the original plan, and Freeze is glad the Rebels have gone off-script.
"My original plan that I had, that I actually presented in my interview, was that we would be going to a bowl game this year," Freeze said. "The goal was to be very competitive and find a way to get enough wins to go to a bowl game. That was the original plan, but we're excited it didn't work out. I'm glad I was wrong."
Many of the seniors endured that 2-10 season in 2011, and their buy-in, doing the little things and holding the team accountable, Freeze said, has been a reason the turnaround has happened as fast as it has.
With two games remaining in the regular season, Freeze said they have talked about the possibilities at their fingertips and what they can go earn by finishing strong.
"It's kind of bittersweet that it's coming to an end," senior cornerback Senquez Golson said. "But we have a chance to finish as one of the best team in Ole Miss history. I'm ready to see what happens. I came in at 2-10, and for me to maybe leave 10-2, that would say a lot about where we came from over these few years and where the program is headed."
"Let's get No. 9," Freeze said. "Senquez is a little bit ahead of his coach there. I'm thrilled in year three for us to be were we are. It's way ahead of schedule. Of course, we want to finish strong. Anything above this now certainly expedites our journey a little faster, but you have to go earn it. The only thing I can think about is playing at Arkansas on Saturday and hopefully competing at a level that gives us a chance to win it in the fourth quarter."
Starting Five Back Together
Ole Miss had its starting offensive line back for practice this week, a group that helped the Rebels to a 7-0 start with left tackle Laremy Tunsil, left guard Aaron Morris, center Ben Still, right guard Justin Bell and right tackle Fahn Cooper.
Still missed the LSU game and played through injury against Auburn, while Tunsil missed the Auburn and Presbyterian games and Morris missed the Presbyterian game.
"It will be interesting to see him go back out and play after three weeks off," said offensive line coach Matt Luke of Tunsil. "He's anxious to get back out there, but he's practiced and tested out well. He's done everything. I look for him to be 100 percent, or close to it."
"He can't play receiver," said Bell, when asked if Tunsil had any limitations in practice. "If anything, that's probably his only limitation."
Behind the starting five, Robert Conyers gives Ole Miss options at center and tackle, having started the last three games at both spots, while Rod Taylor has gained valuable experience and earned his first career start against Presbyterian.
Luke said Morris and Bell will start, as they did through the first seven games, but he looks for Taylor to play as many snaps as both of them, giving Ole Miss a three-man rotation at the two guard positions.
"He's really come on, said Luke of Taylor. "Getting in there and playing, sometimes a light bulb goes off. The more you play, the better off you are. He's played really well the last two weeks against Auburn and Presbyterian. He graded out the highest of all the linemen, so I'm really proud of him and the development he has showed."
Landsharks Brace for Hogs Ground Attack
Arkansas is one of just two teams in the nation with two running backs to rush for 800-plus yards, boasting two of the Southeastern Conference's top five rushers. Junior Jonathan Williams ranks fourth averaging 93.2 yards per game, while sophomore Alex Collins ranks fifth averaging 88.6 yards per game.
Williams and Collins have benefited from running behind a massive offensive line averaging 328.4 pounds per player, larger than any NFL starting offensive line.
"We don't really look at size," sophomore defensive end Fadol Brown said. "I mean, you can look at guys like Issac Gross, who's been holding his own since his freshman year, and C.J. Johnson. I guess athleticism and movement makes up for some of the size."
Arkansas ranks fourth in the SEC averaging 232.9 yards per game and ranks third averaging 5.45 yards per carry, but they have had significantly more success in non-conference play than conference play.
The Razorbacks average 151.8 yards per game and 4.00 yards per carry through five conference games compared to 354.5 yards per game and 7.13 yards per carry in non-conference game.
"It's the best run game we've seen all year long," Brown said. "Every game, they come with it. They just try to power you off the hole, pound you constantly and run the same plays over and over to try to get you out of the gap."
In its eight wins, Ole Miss allowed just 96.1 rushing yards per game and a 2.82 yards per carry average. In its two losses to LSU and Auburn, Ole Miss allowed 256.0 rushing yards per game and 5.07 yards per carry average.
Arkansas, like LSU and Auburn, emphasizes the run, so Brown and the Ole Miss defense expects their success to go a long way in determining the outcome of Saturday's game.
"This game is going to be on us and nobody else, just like the LSU game was on us," Brown said. "We have to be physical up front and dominate the line of scrimmage. If we don't do that, then we don't have a chance."
Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
Nov. 10-16, 2014
- The Ole Miss women's basketball team opened up the 2014-15 season with two wins over the weekend. The Rebels took down Grambling 92-67 in the season opener on Friday and followed that up with a 91-38 win over Mississippi Valley State on Sunday. Ole Miss is 2-0 for the first time under Insell and the first time since it opened 5-0 in 2012-13.
- Tia Faleru became Ole Miss' 26th 1,000-point scorer with 19 points in the victory over Mississippi Valley. She is the first 1,000-point scorer since Valencia McFarland hit the mark as a junior in 2012-13. Faleru is sitting at 1,001 career points.
- Ole Miss had 5,696 fans on hand to see it open the season at its annual School Kids game on Friday. The 5,696 fans were the second most to see an Ole Miss women's basketball game and just 175 fans shy of the largest crowd ever to see an Ole Miss women's basketball game.
- For the first time in Ole Miss cross country history, the Rebels claimed the South Region Championship to earn a berth in the NCAA Championship. The Rebels' 54 points was 42 points better than runner-up No. 21 Florida State in a decisive victory.
- Junior Wesley Gallagher (30:18.60) led the South champions in the 10K event, good for third overall. Freshman Sean Tobin (30:19.30) and sophomore Robert Domanic (30:20.00) finished right on his heels in fourth and fifth, respectively.
- Sophomore Trevor Gilley (30:58.30) clocked the 19th overall time, and freshman Taylor Caldwell (31:02.00) finished 24th overall to round out the Rebels' five scoring times. Mark Robertson's (31:14.50) 29th finish, while not scoring for Ole Miss, was better than every other team's fourth-place finisher.
- Gallagher, Tobin, Domanic, Gilley and Caldwell all earned All-Region honors. Last season, Domanic was the only All-Region selection for the Rebels.
- The three top-five finishers match the previous program total of top-five regional finishes all-time. Barnabas Kirui finished first in 2006 and second in 2009, and Bernard Kuria was fourth in 1997.
- The Rebels surged to first in the region after finishing ninth last year. The Rebels had finished no better than seventh since 2005 at regionals.
- The Ole Miss women finished 13th out of 29 teams at the regional, led by Margaret Harkness at 55th overall. The finish concludes the season for the young squad.
- Ole Miss dropped its season opener 66-65 in overtime to Charleston Southern on Friday.
- It marked the first loss in a season opener for the Rebels under Andy Kennedy and the first since 2003.
- Junior Martavious Newby led the Rebels with 14 points, one off his career high, on 4-of-5 shooting from the field including a couple of 3-pointers.
- Ole Miss dropped a pair of matches this past weekend, falling to No. 15 Kentucky 3-1 at home, and then losing at Missouri 3-2. The Rebels won the first set in both matches. Against Missouri, the Rebels led 2-1 and it was tied 24-24 in the fourth set before the Tigers won three of the final four points to extend it to a fifth set.
- The Rebels are now 2-2 in five-setters this year.
- Freshman Lexi Thompson led the Rebels against Kentucky with 21 kills.
- At Missouri, junior Ty Laporte recorded a career-high 23 kills, while senior Marie-Pierre Bakima notched a career-best 23 digs.
- Junior middle blocker Nakeyta Clair needs just seven kills this coming weekend to set the Ole Miss single season record in the rally scoring era.
The Ole Miss football team was off, but it was a busy week in Ole Miss athletics nevertheless, as the men's and women's basketball teams opened their respective seasons. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:
- The Ole Miss football team did not play Saturday, but the Rebels got the help they needed to remain in the Southeastern Conference Western Division race, as Alabama defeated Mississippi State and then Georgia defeated Auburn. To win the SEC West, Ole Miss still has to win on the road at Arkansas and at home against Mississippi State, and then Auburn must defeat Alabama on Nov. 29.
- On the other side, in the SEC Eastern Division, Missouri controls its own destiny at 8-2 overall and 5-1 in SEC play, with games remaining on the road at Tennessee and at home against Arkansas. If Missouri falters, Georgia would win the SEC East title at 6-2 in the SEC.
- Speaking of Arkansas, the Razorbacks were going to beat somebody, and they finally did it by shutting out LSU 17-0 to snap their 17-game losing streak. Stat of the game: Arkansas held LSU to just 123 yards of total offense.
- Bruce Feldman wrote about Body Blow theory last year, as it related to Stanford football. The same theory can perhaps be applied to this week's Ole Miss-Arkansas matchup. SEC teams are just 1-4 in games the week after playing LSU with the lone exception being Alabama's 25-20 win over Mississippi State.
- If Ole Miss defeats Arkansas and Mississippi State defeats Vanderbilt, Nov. 29 sets up for another memorable day in the SEC Western Division. Ole Miss and Mississippi State would both remain in the SEC Western Division race, while Alabama would control its own destiny and Auburn would look to play spoiler.
- Ole Miss moved up two spots to No. 8 in the Associated Press and coaches polls by virtue of losses by Arizona State and Auburn. The Rebels are the highest-ranked two-loss team in the country
- The men's basketball team dropped an overtime heartbreaker to Charleston Southern in its season opener. Ole Miss went 19-of-63 from the field and 6-of-30 from 3-point range, but it was unable to overcome a 54-50 rebounding deficiency, as the Buccaneers won the game 65-64 on a tip-in dunk with 0.1 seconds left in overtime.
"I have been doing this for 10 years, and I have never had one like this," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "You have to do your best to learn from it. It's easier said than done. It's going to hurt. You want it to hurt. They were stunned in there. They should be."
- One of the bright spots was the play of junior guard Martavious Newby, who led the team with 14 points and seven rebounds. He's a stabilizing force and calming influence, providing a toughness that Kennedy said he hopes can become more contagious and spread throughout the team.
- The women's basketball team is off to a 2-0 start with wins over Grambling State and Mississippi Valley State. Ole Miss suffocated MVSU, as they held the Lady Devilettes to just 38 points and forced 46 turnovers, turning them into 51 points off turnovers.
"I have coached teams that have forced that number of turnovers," head coach Matt Insell said. "That's a number we look at. We can gauge our hustle on how many turnovers we force and how many deflections we get. Sometimes you may not turn a team over a lot, but you get a lot of deflections. That's just as good as a turnover. We really gauge a lot of what we're doing on turnovers, deflections and steals. If those numbers are high, we played pretty darned good defensively."
- Newcomers make up six of the top seven scorers, with five of them already finishing in double figures this season. Leading the way, however, is senior forward Tia Faleru averaging 21 points and 12.5 rebounds through two games. She also became the 26th 1,000-point scorer in program history.
No. 10 Ole Miss was without several starters and regular contributors against Presbyterian, and many others were limited.
But given an extra week of rest, head coach Hugh Freeze said he expects everyone, with the exception of the players out with season-ending injuries, to be ready to go when Ole Miss travels to Arkansas on Nov. 22.
"The plan this week was same as last week," Freeze said. "We had in our mind a two-week plan to hopefully have everyone. Those who were held out of things last week are being held out this week, but they're doing more stuff. They're running and getting lifts in. I'm going to hold them out of practice this week and be back Sunday, hopefully."
Junior running back I'Tavius Mathers and junior safety Trae Elston, who both missed the Presbyterian game while dealing with concussions, returned to practice this week. Senior linebacker Keith Lewis is going through the concussion protocol this week after suffering one against Presbyterian.
The starting left side of the offensive line, sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, were held out of the Presbyterian game and the portions of practice open to the media Tuesday and Wednesday, but they are also expected back against Arkansas.
Focus on Fundamentals
In addition to getting healthy, one of the focuses this week was working on the fundamentals, as Ole Miss focused on individual work more than in previous weeks.
On the offensive side of the ball, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said, they worked on inside run, the passing game, blocking by receivers and different things they felt like they needed to improve.
"Especially late in the season, you sort of subconsciously feel like if we don't know it by now we're not going to know it, but you need to hit it every day," Werner said. "When you get an open week and you don't have to worry about a game plan, you can work it hard.
On the defensive side of the ball, it was much the same, in addition to getting ahead on preparation for a road game at Arkansas.
The extra week, defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said, should be a big benefit because of the Razorbacks' shifts and unbalanced formations, to go along with its talented players in the backfield and along the offensive line.
"The goal is to get everybody healthy from all the nicks and everything that's happened with colds and all that stuff," Wommack said. "Cody (Prewitt) missed a day with the flu and whatever you've got with viruses and so forth. Just get them back healthy, and we want to improve fundamentally, which we have done the last couple of days. Obviously, we are also getting ahead on the game plan versus Arkansas."
Young Players in Review
The coordinators on both sides of the ball were pleased with what they saw from some of their younger players in extended action against Presbyterian.
Sophomore running back Mark Dodson and redshirt freshman Jordan Wilkins may have played their way into more significant roles going forward this season, but they were not alone in making an impression on Werner and the offensive staff.
"Derrick Jones caught five balls and that was huge with him moving over from the defensive side," Werner said. "He's gone back and forth, but he caught some nice balls, including for a touchdown.
"The quarterbacks graded out very well. They didn't make many mistakes. The balls were placed where they were supposed to be, and they made good decisions. I was really pleased with them. "
On the other side of the ball, Wommack has been pleased with the corner's mentality freshman cornerback Kendarius Webster has showed, noting his confidence and maturity in addition to his talent.
"He's a freshman and he still makes mistakes at times," Wommack said. "The game experience is so valuable. He's a very talented young man and he continues to get better and better. He's going to make some mistakes as a freshman, but I'm really pleased with them."
Wommack also mentioned freshman safeties C.J. Moore and C.J. Hampton as players who grew from game experience against Presbyterian. Among the freshmen who are redshirting this season, Wommack said defensive linemen Breeland Speaks and Victor Evans have stood out to the offensive coaches in practice.
"They've sat in the meetings and gone through practice and getting as many reps as the ones do, that's valuable stuff right there," said Wommack of the younger players. "I really like that class and I am excited about the future."
Games of Interest for Ole Miss This Weekend
No. 1 Mississippi State at No. 5 Alabama, 2:30 p.m. CT, CBS
No. 9 Auburn at No. 15 Georgia, 6:15 p.m. CT, ESPN
To win the SEC West and advance to the Southeastern Conference Championship, Ole Miss has to win on the road at Arkansas and at home against Mississippi State and get help. Alabama and Georgia have to defeat Mississippi State and Auburn, respectively, and then Auburn has to defeat Alabama on Nov. 29.
That would create a three-way tie among Alabama, Mississippi State and Ole Miss, and Ole Miss would hold the head-to-head tiebreaker over each team. Both games also hold importance in the College Football Playoff rankings.
No. 8 Ohio State at No. 25 Minnesota, 11 a.m. CT, ABC
No. 4 TCU at Kansas, 2 p.m. CT, Fox Sports 1
No. 3 Florida State at Miami (FL), 7 p.m. CT, ABC
No. 6 Arizona State at Oregon State, 9:45 p.m. CT, ESPN
Other than No. 5 Alabama, which hosts No. 1 Mississippi State, the other five teams ranked ahead of No. 10 Ole Miss are all on the road this week. For Ohio State and Florida State, Minnesota and Miami (FL) likely pose their toughest challenges before their respective conference championship games.
No. 2 Oregon and No. 7 Baylor, like No. 10 Ole Miss, are off this week.
"I'm not going to sit there and watch every play and be worried about it because at the end of the day, all we can control is our team. I'm excited to get some rest." - Senior quarterback Bo Wallace, on the open date Saturday
Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review
Nov. 3-9, 2014
- Ole Miss took a break from the rugged Southeastern Conference and earned a 48-0 shutout win over Presbyterian on Saturday.
- It was the Rebels' first shutout since beating Tulane 39-0 in 2012.
- The Rebels matched last year's win total of eight. They are 8-2 for the first time since 2003.
- Ole Miss dominated every facet of the game, out-gaining the Blue Hose in total yards (640-156), rushing yards (402-89), passing yards (238-67) and first downs (22-10).
- He only played the first half, but senior quarterback Bo Wallace accounted for three touchdowns (two passing, one rushing) and inched closer to Eli Manning's school record for career total yards. Wallace now needs only 111 yards to eclipse Manning and move into the top 10 in the all-time SEC record book.
- Backup running backs Jordan Wilkins (171 yards, one touchdown) and Mark Dodson (128 yards, two touchdowns) both had career-best days. Combined, they had four runs of 50+ yards.
- The Rebel defense did not allow Presbyterian to reach the red zone all day and racked up a season high-tying 12 tackles for loss.
- Ole Miss went on a 30-4 run over a 9:57 stretch in the first half, turning a 14-11 deficit into a 41-18 lead on the way to a resounding 97-58 win in its lone exhibition game of the 2014-15 season.
- Senior Jarvis Summers lead the team in scoring with 16 points, while a trio of newcomers in Stefan Moody (14 points), Roderick Lawrence (14 points) and Terence Smith (10 points) all posted double figures. Sophomore forward Sebastian Saiz led all players with 14 rebounds.
- The Ole Miss women's basketball team cruised to a 111-43 exhibition win over Christian Brothers University on Friday.
- Freshman Toree Thompson led the way with 25 points and nine assists while Kelsey Briggs, Tia Faleru and Bretta Hart combined for 22 rebounds in the win.
- Each of Ole Miss' six freshmen scored in the contest and each of the 13 players who played earned a spot on the stat sheet.
- Ole Miss went 1-1 last week, defeating Mississippi State 3-1 and losing to Texas A&M 3-1, both on the road.
With the win at Mississippi State, the Rebels have reached 20 wins for
the first time since the 2007 season, when they finished 25-8. The
Rebels swept the season series with MSU and have now won four straight
and six of the last seven meetings.
- Head coach Steven McRoberts now has 16 20-win seasons in 18 years as a head coach.
Junior Nakeyta Clair hit .492 on the week, averaging 4.38 kills per
set. She has now hit above .300 in 21 of 26 matches, including 14 above
.400. With five blocks on the week, Clair became the second player in
school history in the rally scoring era to reach 300 career blocks.
Sophomore setter Aubrey Edie recorded a career-high 62 assists against
Mississippi State to set the single match record in the rally scoring
era and then set the single season record Sunday at Texas A&M with
53 assists. She now has 1,037 assists to date this year and needs 14 to
notch 2,000 for her career.
- Freshman Lexi Thompson posted
back-to-back double-doubles and now has seven for the season. She
averaged 3.38 kills and 4.38 digs per set for the week.
- Senior Julia Jones competed in the USTA/ITA National Indoor Championships and went 2-2 , including defeating the No. 50 ranked player in the nation and the No. 1 ranked player in Division II.
- Jones finished the fall with a 10-3 record including the USTA/ITA Southern Regional Singles title.
- Men's Tennis wrapped up the fall last week at the USTA Futures in Birmingham and at the Commodore Classic in Nashville.
- Four players reached the final round of qualifying at the USTA Futures, while Stefan Lindmark and Gustav Hansson qualified for the main draw, with Lindmark advancing to the second round.
- At the Commodore Classic, the Rebels earned 16 wins in singles and doubles.
- Senior Blake Morris fired an impressive, career-low, single round 7-under 65 to lead the Ole Miss men's golf team on the final day of the Warrior Princeville Makai Invitational.
- Morris carded seven birdies, including four in a six-hole stretch, en route to a season-high seventh-place finish, posting a three-round score of 13-under, 203.
- As a team, the Rebels finished in fourth with a three-round score of 31-under, 833, tying their season-best finish as a team.
- After posting a career-low single round score in the second round, sophomore Noah West carded a career-low tournament score of 8-under, 208, and tied for 15th-place.
- Ole Miss women's golf concluded its fall slate at the Jim West Challenge.
- The Rebels placed 10th with a score of 928. Alison Hovatter and Stani Schiavone led the Ole Miss contingent, finishing 22nd with 54-hole scores of 230.
- Ole Miss played one of its better rounds this fall in the final round with a 305, which is the sixth best round for the Rebels during the fall.
Austin Miller handled all of this week's edition of the Observations from the Best Seat in the House. Check out what he had to say below:
- The nation's best scoring defense finally got its first shutout of the season, as Ole Miss cruised to a 48-0 win over Presbyterian. The Rebels not only lead the nation in scoring (11.9 ppg), giving up a nation-low 13 touchdowns, but they extended the nation's longed forced turnover streak to 33 games.
- It was great to see Laquon Treadwell and Denzel Nkemdiche, both out with season-ending injuries, on the Ole Miss sideline with their No. 1 and No. 4 jersey adorning their respective scooters.
- With Treadwell out, Vince Sanders has been asked to step up as the team's No. 1 receiver, and he responded with a 100-yard receiving game and two touchdown receptions. One of the more underrated players, he ranks among the Southeastern Conference's leaders in most receiving categories and moved into the top 10 in school history with 11 career touchdown receptions.
- Ole Miss coaches and fans got an extended look at redshirt-freshmen quarterbacks DeVante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan in the second half. Kincade play three series and Buchanan played two series with each leading the Rebels on a touchdown drive. Kincade was 7-of-8 for 70 yards and carried the ball 10 times for 45 yards, while Buchanan went 6-of-7 for 28 yards.
- After losses by Auburn and LSU on Saturday, a possible path to the SEC Western Division title and the SEC Championship became much clearer for Ole Miss. The Rebels have to win on the road at Arkansas and at home against Mississippi State and then get help. Ole Miss fans need to cheer for Alabama to defeat Mississippi State, Georgia to defeat Auburn and Auburn to defeat Alabama. If the Rebels somehow win the SEC West and advance to the SEC Championship, they should send a Christmas card to head coach Kevin Sumlin and Texas A&M for their thrilling win on the road at Auburn.
- Ole Miss returned to the top 10 in the Associated Press and coaches polls, re-entering at No. 10 in both. In last week's College Football Playoff Top 25 rankings, the Rebels were the highest-ranked two-loss team in the nation and ranked ahead of four one-loss teams. It will be interesting to see how this week's CFB Top 25 compares to the Associated Press and Coaches polls.
- I was asked if a path to the four-team playoff was easier than a scenario where Ole Miss needed to win out and get help to advance to the SEC Championship game. Yes and no. Yes, it might be beneficial for Ole Miss if Alabama was to finish 12-1 or if Mississippi State was to enter the Egg Bowl 11-0 from a résumé standpoint. On the other hand, the CFB Playoff committee has been instructed to place an emphasis on conference championships, so if Ole Miss was to advance to the SEC Championship Game then it might also be beneficial. Simply put, win out and let the chips fall where they may.
- It was an exhibition game against Delta State, so take it for what it's worth, but the Ole Miss men's basketball team had four backcourt players finish in double figures, including a trio of newcomers in Stefan Moody, Roderick Lawrence and Terence Smith. Aside from the visible experience on the floor, two things stood out: perimeter shooting and perimeter defense. The Rebels shot 40.9 percent from 3-point range and forced 29 turnovers, turning them into 53 points.
- Some individual observations from Friday's exhibition: Moody is going to become a fan favorite with his high-energy play on both ends of the floor. Head coach Andy Kennedy said he's as explosive as they have had in the program. Lawrence and Smith are steady, efficient players who can help spread the floor and knock down perimeter shots. Dwight Coleby, known more for his shot-blocking and rebounding ability, appeared more comfortable on the offensive end.
- It might not be fair to compare the two games, but the first thing that stands out from the Ole Miss women's basketball team's exhibition game was the final score. Ole Miss defeated Christian Brothers 111-43, having defeated the same team 74-59 in last year's exhibition. There's a lot of youth on the roster, but it is clear head coach Matt Insell has raised the talent level in Oxford.
- One of the areas where the Rebels are young is in the backcourt, where Insell started a freshman point guard in Toree Thompson and a sophomore shooting guard in Erika Sisk. They combined for 38 points on 12-of-16 shooting, including 9-of-11 from 3-point range. Thompson appears to be the heir apparent to four-year starter Valencia McFarland, having scored 25 points to go along with nine assists and just three turnovers in her college debut.
Ole Miss racked up the second-most yards in school history, totaling 640 yards, including 402 yards on the ground, in a 48-0 rout of Presbyterian.
The Rebels were able to limit the reps for several players in the contest, with younger players and backups picking up the slack. Among them, two players stood out for head coach Hugh Freeze, as the Rebels more than doubled their highest rushing total of the season.
"The two that jumped out to everyone were Jordan Wilkins and Mark Dodson," Freeze said. "Their physical, downhill running they did was very impressive today. How does that equate to some of the defenses we'll play in weeks to come? I'm not sure. I'm impressed with what we saw, for sure."
Wilkins and Dodson notched their first career 100-yard rushing games, and it was the first time Ole Miss had a pair of 100-yard rushers since the Louisiana-Lafayette game in 2010. The Rebels' 402 rushing yards were their most since totaling 443 yards against Vanderbilt in 1979.
Wilkins led the way on the ground with 10 carries for 171 yards, including a 73-yard touchdown run, while Dodson rushed three times for 128 yards, including touchdown runs of 62 and 65 yards.
"They were making big runs," co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said. "On a couple of his runs, Mark made a nice cut that set up the run. It looked like there was a huge hole, but on one of them there was a guy in the hole. He made a nice cut that messed him up and took it to the house. Jordan was getting hit 20 yards down the field and carrying guys for 10-15 yards, which is what we want. He's that type of back."
Wilkins, Dodson and the rest of the ball-carriers ran behind an offensive line that was without sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and junior offensive guard Aaron Morris. In their place, freshman Rod Taylor made his first career start at right guard, while junior Craig Frigo played significant snaps at the other guard position.
Some of it was their FCS opponent, some of it was their own execution, Werner said, but the 400-plus-yard rushing game was a significant improvement over its 149.1 yards per game average entering the game, which ranked 12th among Southeastern Conference teams.
"The young guys, when they came in, we were moving the ball," Werner said. "Those backs weren't running with no holes, so they obviously did a good job. That was not an SEC defense over there, but we have really told ourselves we have to get better in the run game, and we did today."
Three areas to watch as No. 11 Ole Miss hosts FCS opponent Presbyterian in its final non-conference matchup of the regular season.
Execute, Stay Heathy
Saturday's game with Presbyterian is more about Ole Miss than its opponent, as the team's two primary focuses are executing and staying healthy.
To expect his team to be all hyped up and excited coming off the last two weeks, head coach Hugh Freeze said, is probably not a reasonable expectation, but they have to execute and find a way to win.
The Rebels are also battling a number of injuries, so they look to hold out or limit some players, while keeping others healthy ahead of a bye week and their final two games at Arkansas on Nov. 22 and at home against No. 1 Mississippi State on Nov. 29.
"It's important to our program that we bounce back and we play well with the ones who are healthy," Freeze said. "I've been in these games before where if you don't play well you don't feel great. We need to feel great going into our open week. We need to feel great about the way we're progressing. We have to work hard this week to get our kids ready for that. Hopefully our fans understand the importance of being here to support these guys."
Another Look at the Backup Quarterback Battle
Depending on the flow of the game, Saturday should present an opportunity for Freeze and his staff to get a longer look at backup quarterbacks Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade.
Listed as co-backups on the Ole Miss depth chart, neither Buchanan nor Kincade have attempted a pass since the Louisiana-Lafayette game Sept. 13.
Buchanan is 5-of-9 for 42 yards with two carries for 18 yards, while Kincade is 7-of-8 for 33 yards with 12 carries for 44 yards, and they both look to position themselves as the backup quarterback going forward this season and the starting quarterback in spring drills.
"I would hope we can work Ryan and DeVante some Saturday," Freeze said. "I would be disappointed if we don't get them some look They deserve it, and we need it."
Young Players on Display
Two freshmen, defensive end Marquis Haynes and cornerback Kendarius Webster, have already made their first career starts for Ole Miss this season.
Webster is expected to make his second career start against Presbyterian, while offensive guard Rod Taylor is expected to join the list and make his first career start at right guard.
With players being held out and limited on both sides of the ball, Saturday presents an opportunity for Haynes, Webster and Taylor, among others to make an impression on the coaching staff going forward this season and in the future.
"Hopefully the case will be a lot of kids will get some reps," Freeze said. "That will be determined Saturday by the way we perform."
With injuries mounting on both sides of the ball, Saturday's game against Presbyterian presents an opportunity for young players and backups to gain experience and make an impression on the coaching staff.
Among those injured players, head coach Hugh Freeze said, are sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil and junior offensive guard Aaron Morris, who will both be held out Saturday.
Junior running back I'Tavius Mathers and junior safety Trae Elston, Freeze said, have not been cleared for practice and are doubtful to play, while they will try to limit the reps for senior safety Cody Prewitt and junior center Ben Still, among other players.
As part of the shuffle, freshman Rod Taylor is expected to make his first career start at right guard, while freshman Kendarius Webster is expected to make his second career start at cornerback opposite senior Senquez Golson.
"I hope to execute whatever we do and get everyone some time," Freeze said. "I'm concerned about winning the game and executing. I'm not concerned about how much you win a game by. At this point in the season, getting a win and getting your team ready for whatever lies next is very important. That's what my focus will be."
Moving on without Treadwell
Sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, Freeze said, is back around the team and ready to help coach the other receivers up after suffering a season-ending leg injury against Auburn.
With his absence, junior Cody Core moves to outside receiver opposite senior Vince Sanders, with sophomore Quincy Adeboyejo and freshman Markell Pack working at slot receiver. Sophomore Derrick Jones also moved back to wide receiver from cornerback , giving the Rebels another option at outside receiver.
"We had to move some people around, but it's not as drastic as people think," wide receivers coach Grant Heard said. "Putting Cody outside, he was there for the first two years of his career. They're all interchangeable, so it's not a big deal for us. Next man up. We have to keep rolling."
"Laquon is going to rooting for us as much as he can," Adeboyejo said. "He's been shooting me texts. With him out, it makes you want to go out there and do it for him, do it for this team, and do anything we can to help this thing keep going."
The Rebels' second-leading receiver in receptions (33), receiving yards (536) and receiving touchdowns (4), Sanders is being asked to step up in terms of production and leadership as the team's No. 1 receiver.
"My guys, they respect him and look up to him," Heard said. "He's been through more wars than anybody in that room. He's the grandfather in my room. He's going to do a good job and make sure those guys are ready to go Saturday."
"I'm excited for this opportunity to be in this position," Sanders said. "I hate I got it the way I got it. Now that I got it, I have to take it in stride and make the best of it. That's what I plan on doing."
Shuffling the Deck at Other Spots
Along the offensive line, without Tunsil and Morris, junior Justin Bell will move to left guard from right guard, while junior Fahn Cooper and sophomore Robert Conyers will start at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, for the second straight week.
Senior Chase Hughes and Craig Frigo will be the backup centers behind Still, with Frigo also playing some backup guard. A trio of redshirt freshmen in Christian Morris, Davion Johnson and Daronte Bouldin will also figure in the mix Saturday.
"We're going to rotate them in and out and hopefully can find a way to score a few points with them," Freeze said.
In the secondary, junior Mike Hilton will move from cornerback to Rover safety, where he started in the Music City Bowl against Georgia Tech last season and played some against Auburn last week.
Junior Chief Brown, who made his season debut against Auburn, will provide depth at safety, and senior Cliff Coleman and sophomore Kailo Moore will be the primary backups at cornerback.
"Kendarius had a great camp and he's played in every game," cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said. "He's done well. He started the first half of the Texas A&M game. He's been tested, and I think he'll do well."
Rebels Fall to No. 11 in CFB Playoff Poll
After debuting at No. 4 in the first College Football Playoff poll, Ole Miss fell seven spots to No. 11 in the latest top 25, revealed Tuesday by the CFB Playoff selection committee.
At No. 11, the Rebels are the highest-ranked two-loss team and are ranked ahead of four one-loss teams from power-five conferences in Baylor (No. 12), Nebraska (No. 13), Ohio State (No. 14) and Duke (No. 22).
"We don't feel like we're out of it," senior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "Obviously we don't control our destiny anymore, but crazy things can happen in the SEC. A lot of people still have to play each other, so we're hopeful good things can happen for us, but we can win all our games down the stretch. We have to come in and prepare and come out and have good showings in every game."
This weekend features six matchups of ranked teams, including five involving teams ranked ahead of Ole Miss.
No. 4 Oregon travels to No. 17 Utah, No. 5 Alabama travels to No. 16 LSU, No. 6 TCU hosts No. 7 Kansas State, No. 8 Michigan State hosts No. 14 Ohio State, and No. 9 Arizona State hosts No. 10 Notre Dame.
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