Oct. 19, 2013
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TV Network: ESPN2 | Ole Miss Radio Network: (Sirius 112, XM 200)
OXFORD, Miss. -- Ole Miss plays its third top-10 ranked opponent in four games with No. 6 LSU, as it looks to snap a three-game losing streak. It is the second of six straight home games for the Rebels, and kickoff is set for 6 p.m. from Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“It’s been a great challenge,” head coach Hugh Freeze said. “It’s been one where we’ve learned quite a bit about ourselves. I continue to be extremely proud of the way our kids compete and prepare. It was great being back home in front of our home crowd (vs. Texas A&M). It definitely is a boost for our kids and raises our level. We’re going to need that for the remainder of the year.
“Again, we’ve got a very tough opponent coming in this week. We’re a beat-up football team right now. We’ll get ready for it. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”
The Rebels (3-3, 1-3 Southeastern Conference) are coming off a heartbreaking 41-38 loss to then-No. 9 Texas A&M. The Tigers improved to 6-1 overall and 3-1 in SEC games with a 17-6 win over then-No. 17 Florida. LSU’s only loss was a 44-41 decision at then-No. 9 Georgia.
“I just keep coming back to the experience I’ve had with these kids,” Freeze said. “They will bounce back and will fight. That gives me confidence to walk out there with the same swagger we hope to have every Saturday.”
"We're still confident," junior quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We played a tough schedule, but we're not using that as an excuse. We're 3-3, and we have a big game this weekend."
For Ole Miss, Wallace completed 22-of-36 passes for 301 yards with three touchdowns and an interception, his second-straight 300-yard passing game. He ranks fifth in the SEC in total offense (264.7 ypg) and sixth in passing (240.7 ypg).
Starting running back and leading rusher Jeff Scott was held out of practice on Tuesday and Wednesday, and if he is unable to play on Saturday, running back duties would fall to sophomores I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton.
"I feel good," said Freeze of Mathers and Walton. "Both of them have proven they're ready to have that responsibility that comes their way. I have been pleased with their performance and think we'll be fine there."
Led by senior quarterback Zach Mettenberger, the Tigers’ scoring offense ranks third in the SEC with 41.4 points per game, while the defense allows just 22.0 points per game, which ranks fourth in the SEC.
Mettenberger leads the SEC and ranks fourth nationally in pass efficiency (184.1) and has completed 116-of-174 passes for 1,890 yards with 15 touchdowns and two interceptions.
“He was good, and he was certainly good in our game last year, but he certainly has improved,” Freeze said. “The offensive mentality has changed a bit. They’re certainly playing their strengths of winning one-on-one matchups to the outside.
“You have to load the box to stop the run. Mettenberger isn’t missing many open receivers when he has them. He’s making very, very good throws and managing the game extremely well.”
Mettenberger’s two favorite targets, juniors Odell Beckham and Jarvis Landry, rank among the nation’s best in receiving yards with 104.7 and 96.3 per game, respectively, and have combined for 13 touchdowns.
Beckham, who had an 89-yard punt return for a touchdown in last year’s game, leads the SEC and ranks second nationally with 209.1 all-purpose yards per game. On the ground, sophomore Jeremy Hill is second in the SEC and 11th nationally in rushing (119.2 ypg) and tied for first in the SEC in scoring (9.0 ppg).
The Rebels are also battling a number of injuries to key players, especially on the defensive side of the ball including a season-ending injury to junior defensive end C.J. Johnson.
Freeze remains hopeful some players, such as sophomore safety Chief Brown, sophomore defensive lineman Issac Gross and redshirt freshman linebacker Temario Strong, may be able to play on Saturday.
“You sure hate it,” said Freeze of injuries. “You hate it for the kids. You fear that because of our depth issues that we won’t be able to adequately represent the progress that we’re making against these top teams. That’s part of the game. We won’t blink. We’ll get everybody ready that can play. I know they’ll compete with great passion for our university Saturday evening.”
"It's a next-man-up attitude,” junior defensive tackle Bryon Bennett said. “Everybody is excited for the game and wants this win. We're trying to stay fresh, stay healthy and be ready for the game."
This game marks the 102nd all-time meeting between Ole Miss and LSU dating back to 1894. The Tigers lead 58-39-4 in the series, including last year’s 41-35 win in Baton Rouge. Since the rivals started playing for the Magnolia Bowl in 2008, LSU holds a 3-2 advantage.