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November 27, 2013

Know the Foe: Ole Miss

Mississippi State is coming off a scary overtime victory over the Arkansas Razorbacks. The Bulldogs had to insert true freshman Damian Williams into the overtime period where he immediately made an impact with a 25-yard touchdown run to win the game for the Bulldogs, 24-17. The win kept MSU's season alive and set up the opportunity to become bowl eligible with a win against Ole Miss in the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving.

Who: Ole Miss (7-4, 3-4) vs. Mississippi State (5-6, 2-5)
Where: Starkville, Miss. ; Davis Wade Stadium
When: Thursday, November 28, 2013; 6:30 on ESPN
Series Record: Ole Miss leads, 61-42-6. The Last Time: OM: 41-24, in Oxford 2012

About the Rebels

Ole Miss is coming off a surprise seven-win season in Hugh Freeze's first season and followed that up with the greatest recruiting class in school history signing the seventh best class on Rivals.com and a top five class elsewhere. That positive momentum carried over to this season as Ole Miss, still a young team, got a big upset over LSU and has an opportunity at eight regular season wins if they can defeat MSU on Thursday night.

The Rebels have a high-powering offense with short plays turning big quickly with speed on the outside and solid wide receiving blocking to free space on the edge. The defense has been improved from a year ago and there are several playmakers from the defensive line all the way back to safety.


The Coaching:
The main reason for the surge at Ole Miss has been the direction of Hugh Freeze. The second-year coach has been successful wherever he has been working his way up from high school to the Sun Belt and then to Ole Miss. He has a career record of 44-17 with no losing seasons at Lambuth University for two years, Arkansas State for a year and now Ole Miss for two seasons.

Freeze has made waves with his positive approach to the game and how he treats players and recruits and it's translated into success as players have bought in to his program and haven't let losses effect them. Freeze also has the benefit of a tireless recruiting staff and bright coaches making Ole Miss a threat to opposing schools around the country on the recruiting trail.

Offensive coordinator Dan Werner and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack combine for a wealth of experience leading their respective groups and have a solid group of young, fiery coaches beneath them. Chris Kiffin comes from a family of coaches and has experience working with defensive lineman. He's also been voted one of the nation's top recruiters. Matt Luke has also done a great job on the recruiting trail and has helped lead Ole Miss' prolific offense as well as develop a young offensive line. In addition, Derrick Nix has had a wealth of talent in which to work with at running back and has developed that talent as well. He's one of the staff's top recruiters.

The Offense:

Ole Miss' offense has made strides under Freeze and Werner the last two seasons. With tons of weapons upgrading the team this year, the offense has been as dangerous as ever. Ole Miss is lead by junior quarterback Bo Wallace who is beginning to challenge records that Archie and Eli Manning set in Oxford. Wallace has led the Rebels' offense to third in the league in first downs and passing offense and fifth in total offense and third down conversion percentage.

The QB himself is third in the SEC in total offense (286.0) and fourth in passing (264.4). Wallace has been known for his arm as he's thrown for 2,908 yards this season with 17 touchdowns to just six interceptions. The improvement from the young quarterback is noted after big numbers were often trounced by mistakes last year. The talented passer has also showed off his legs this season rushing for four touchdowns.

Wallace deserves a lot of credit, but he can't forget to thank a group of tough receivers that is hard to find many other places around the conference. Donte Moncrief is known my many from his breakout sophomore year last season and especially his big game against the Bulldogs in the Egg Bowl. The junior has had a "quiet" season this year with 50 catches and 801 yards and five more touchdowns. Not to be outdone, one of the country's top players in the 2013 class came down south to Ole Miss in Laquon Treadwell. He hasn't disappointed Rebel fans this year has he's shown flashes of greatness on his way to a freshman all-american campaign. He leads the team in receptions with 58, but is 300 yards shy of Moncrief with 500 yards even and five touchdowns.

Ja-Mes Logan has added 40 catches for 532 yards and three touchdowns as a primary threat in the passing game and Vince Sanders has come on strong this year with 17 catches, 292 yards and a touchdown in limited time.

The running backs almost seem interchangeable for the Rebels as there isn't nearly a drop off between the three. Jeff Scott was the Rebels big threat at running back and the unquestioned leader at the position before the season, but he's been hobbled by injury at times this year only starting six games. In that time, he's still made an impact with 67 carries, 493 yards and two touchdowns. The biggest of his touchdowns came on a 75-yard run with less than a minute to play at Vanderbilt to win the game.

I'Tavius Mathers has been a big boost for the Rebels taking over at running back for the most part and he's led the team with 75 carries for 495 yards and three touchdowns. Jaylen Walton has added a team-leading 87 carries with 433 yards and six touchdowns which also leads the team.

The offensive line has been improved from a year ago but is still probably a year away from big things. They're led by star tackle Laremy Tunsil, a remarkable freshman who hasn't missed much of a beat since transitioning from high school. The 6-5, 315 true freshman has been SEC offensive lineman of the week once this season and is on pace for Freshman All-American honors. Justin Bell works next to Tunsil with center Evan Swindall anchoring the line in the middle as a senior. Jared Duke and Pierce Burton round it out on the right side at guard and tackle respectively.

Defense:

The Rebels aren't world beaters defensively, but they're not pushovers either. Ole Miss has a knack for giving up plays but making one of their own as MSU has done lately. The Rebels give up 24.9 points and 383.8 yards per game defensively with their strength being in the run game where they allow 160.4. The secondary has given up 223.5 yards a game and can be gashed at times, but they make their plays when needed.

Starting upfront, Ole Miss isn't hurting for talent. The Rebels have gotten a huge lift from senior defensive end Cameron Whigham this season who might have been the player of the week in the conference against LSU, a game in which he did earn SEC defensive lineman of the week. He's tied for second on the team with 2.5 sacks and tied for fifth with 4.5 tackles for a loss. He's recorded 30 total tackles and three quarterback hurries along the way. On the other side, Bryon Bennett has had a decent junior year with two tackles for loss and a sack. Coming off the bench for good playing time will be sophomore Channing Ward who has had a solid season with 23 tackles, two tackles for loss and a sack.

At defensive tackle, the Rebels reeled in one of their biggest fish ever as far as rankings go when they hauled in Robert Nkemdiche as the nation's number one recruit. He's takena a similar path as MSU's Chris Jones who was also highly recruited and moved inside to help the defense out a bit more. Nkemdiche has a wealth of talent but hasn't put huge numbers on the board this season as expected. He's still created problems and is second on the team with seven tackles for loss to go along with two pass breakups and a sack. Next to him will be South Panola native, Issac Gross. The sophomore is a big run stopper up front who has the wheels to chase down the quarterback as well. He has 22 tackles, five tackles for loss and a sack this year.

A talented group of linebackers await the Bulldogs on Thursday led by outside linebacker, Serderius Bryant. Bryant has wrecked havoc this season posting 63 tackles, nine for loss, and three sacks. He leads the team in both TFLs and sacks at linebacker and has had an excellent season. Denzel Nkemdiche hasn't made quite the impact he did a year ago, but he's still a valuable playmaker in the group. He's posted 31 tackles this year with a forced and recovered fumble. Mike Marry is making the best of his senior year being one of the leaders defensively and came up with his best game of the season last week against Missouri garnering 10 tackles a sack and a forced fumble.

The secondary is a talented group of playmakers still trying to find their niche. Tony Connor might be one of the most talented defenders in the conference and has had a solid freshman season starting from his first snap on. The freshman safety picked off a Vanderbilt pass on the first possession of his career opening night and has capitalized on that defending five passes this year and corralling 55 tackles. He floats around the defense covering deep or coming in to stop the run.

Senquez Golson and Mike Hilton will roam around at corner and Trae Elston can play multiple positions in the secondary as well. Cody Prewitt has been the dominant force floating around at free safety the last three years and the junior leads the league with five interceptions so far this year. He can also lay a punch as he's made 66 tackles with four for loss and knocked down another 11.


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