Oxford, MS (SportsNetwork.com) – The third-ranked Ole Miss Rebels will attempt
to continue their undefeated campaign in their homecoming matchup on Saturday
night, as they welcome the Tennessee Volunteers to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
for an SEC clash.
Tennessee has split its six contests this season right down the middle,
although it is 0-2 in SEC action, having lost at Georgia (35-32) and at home
against Florida (10-9). The Vols most recently snapped a three-game losing
streak with a convincing non-conference victory over FCS opponent Chattanooga,
“I think everyone, obviously, knows the great challenge that lies ahead of us
but also the great opportunity, playing the No. 3 ranked team in the country,”
Tennessee coach Butch Jones said.
Ole Miss has established itself as one of the favorites in the SEC Western
Division and thus one of the best teams in the country. It had high
expectations heading into the season with a No. 18 ranking, but few envisioned
a rise to the elite this quickly, which was accelerated with back-to-back wins
over nationally-ranked squads Alabama (23-17) and Texas A&M (35-20) to improve
to 6-0 and 3-0 in the league.
“To play back at home against Tennessee is exciting for us,” Ole Miss coach
Hugh Freeze said. “It’s one of those scary games that you know they have good
enough athletes to beat you. They’ve played some really quality teams very,
very close. I know it’s going to be a tough challenge on Saturday.”
Tennessee has a handle on the all-time series with Ole Miss, 44-19-1, which
includes a win in the latest meeting on Nov. 13, 2010 in Knoxville, 52-14.
Despite scoring a season-high 45 points a week ago, Tennessee ranks as one of
the SEC’s worst in terms of scoring (28.0 ppg) and yardage (347.5 ypg).
Justin Worley has been stellar under center, completing 63.3 percent of his
passes for 1,388 yards, 15 touchdowns (three rushing) and just five
interceptions. He’s fresh off a five-touchdown performance in the Chattanooga
Jalen Hurd has emerged as the featured tailback as a freshman as has turned 84
carries into 374 yards and two touchdowns, although the Vols’ rushing attack
as a whole has disappointed (109.7 ypg).
Marquez North leads the team in every receiving category with 25 catches, 240
yards and four touchdowns. Eight players have double-digit receptions.
Defensively, Tennessee has stepped up its play in allowing only 19.2 ppg and
316.3 ypg while holding teams to a lowly 26 percent on third down.
A.J. Johnson is one of the nation’s best linebackers and has proven so with 68
tackles, 5.5 TFL, an interception, two forced fumbles and a blocked kick.
Jalen Reeves-Maybin has 49 tackles, 7.0 TFL and 2.0 sacks, while Cameron
Sutton’s presence has been felt both behind the line of scrimmage (4.0 TFL)
and in the secondary (three INTs).
Ole Miss’ offensive attack, which amasses 441.7 ypg and 35.7 ppg, is
spearheaded by its dark horse Heisman Trophy candidate under center.
Bo Wallace has done everything asked of him and more this season, throwing for
283.3 ypg with an outstanding completion percentage (.685) while accumulating
17 touchdowns (two rushing) and six interceptions, although he has just three
picks since throwing three in the season opener.
Wallace does a great job distributing the ball to a number of different
receivers, as Laquon Treadwell (30 receptions, 415 yards, four TDs), Vince
Sanders (22 receptions, 316 yards, three TDs), Cody Core (21 receptions, 333
yards, four TDs) and Evan Engram (18 receptions, 264 yards) have all played a
big part in the passing game.
The rushing attack (146.5 ypg) plays second fiddle to the aerial assault, but
Jaylen Walton (287 yards, three TDs) is still in the midst of a strong season,
averaging nearly six yards per carry.
As great a job as the offense has done, the biggest reason Ole Miss has
ascended this high in the polls is due to its excellent defense, as it boasts
the nation’s second-best scoring defense (11.8 ppg) while also ranking in the
top-15 in total defense (307.2 ypg) and turnovers gained (16). The unit held
Texas A&M to a season-low 20 points a week ago and returned two takeaways for
“Certainly, we’ve improved,” Freeze said of the defense. “We were playing
pretty good offense the other night (at Texas A&M). You’re only judged by your
last game, as we all know.”
Cody Prewitt (32 tackles, 3.5 TFL, two INTs) is one of the country’s best
safeties and scored a 75-yard touchdown last week on an interception return.
Senquez Golson has been a ball-hawk with five interceptions. Tony Conner (36
tackles, 4.5 TFL, INT), Mike Hilton (34 tackles, 2.5 TFL, INT)and Marquis
Haynes (4.0 sacks, two FF) have also played well on a defense with no shortage