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September 23, 2013

Notes: Rebels looking to eliminate what-ifs


Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze meets with the media on Monday in Oxford.

OXFORD, Miss. -- Twice last season, Ole Miss put together scoring drives at Alabama.

Three other times, however, the Rebels committed turnovers against the Crimson Tide. Alabama did what Alabama does, turning those miscues into 13 points en route to a 33-14 win.

Ole Miss took some confidence from that game, however, especially a defensive unit that held the Crimson Tide to six second-half points and just 125 yards of rushing offense.

Hugh Freeze left that game wondering about what could have been had the Rebels been more consistent and less generous on offense. He doesn't want a similar feeling following Saturday's showdown in Tuscaloosa, Ala., between the 21st-ranked Rebels (3-0 overall, 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference) and No. 1 Alabama (3-0, 1-0).

"For several years now, Alabama has been the standard to which you measure yourself in this conference," Freeze said. "That hasn't changed. We look forward to the opportunity to go over. It's another opportunity for us to measure ourselves, see where we are.

"It's a tall task. Coach (Nick) Saban and his staff will have his guys ready to go. They always seem to do what it takes to get the job done. They'll be ready, and I think our guys will be too. I look forward to this challenge. …Do I feel we're better prepared year? I do. I think we have a better understanding of who we are and what we want to do and I think Bo (Wallace) is taking care of the ball better."

Ole Miss enters Saturday's 5:30 p.m. game ranked No. 6 in the league in scoring offense (38 points per game), fourth in total offense (490 yards per game), second in rushing offense (250 yards per game) and eighth in passing offense (240 yards per game). Alabama meanwhile, is fourth in scoring defense, allowing just 19.3 points per game, ninth in total defense (373 yards per game), sixth in rushing defense (122.7 yards per game) and 11th in passing defense (250.3 yards per game).

"(Saban) came in and has been kind of the cutting edge of the defensive stuff," Freeze said. "He's going to give you so much stuff and every game, he's going to have a new wrinkle on third down, in particular, that you may or may not be ready for. …You have a difficult time consistently having drives on them. That's the thing that just stands out just game after game after game.

"Physically they're very good and they're not going to make the mistake that allows you to have a lot of explosive plays. That's been the staple of their defense. They're going to stay in the right position and we've got to find a way to create those (explosive plays) or find a way to stay in third-and-short and convert those and stay on the field."

Some have already begun comparing Ole Miss' offense to Texas A&M's. The Aggies rolled up 628 yards in a 49-42 loss to Alabama two weeks ago in College Station. Freeze said those comparisons aren't apt.

"I don't think you treat us the same if you're defending us because of who's taking the snap for them," Freeze said, referring to Texas A&M quarterback Johnny Manziel.

Freeze said he's more interested in how his team handles Saturday night's stage. More than anything, he doesn't want giant question marks floating in his brain during the return trip to Oxford late Saturday.

"Let's go be solid in what we do and if they make a play on us, they make a play," Freeze said. "They're going to. They're going to make a play. They're going to make adjustments and stop something that was working earlier. That's what coaches do."

Freeze said he can live with any result as long as Ole Miss executes and plays its game.

"That's when I know our process is really getting to where we want to go," Freeze said. "Whether or not we're good enough to pull it off, I don't know."

SANDERS TO MAKE DEBUT: Freeze said wide receiver Vincent Sanders will play Saturday at Alabama.

"We'll incorporate him in just like we would anybody," Freeze said. "He'll be ready to go. You'll probably see him, Laquon, Donte and Ja-Mes all out there at the same time some. We'll just rotate them and keep them fresh. I love having him back. It gives us another threat for sure."

Sanders broke his collarbone in the first week of fall camp. He was cleared to play at Texas but Ole Miss elected to give him two more weeks to recover.

NKEMDICHE'S STATUS UNKNOWN: Linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, who hasn't played since suffering a knee injury at Vanderbilt on Aug. 30, will practice this week in hopes he can play at Alabama.

"He says he's going," Freeze said. "Tomorrow he's planning on practicing. We'll evaluate him in practice tomorrow. I will not play him if I don't feel like he's ready just because he wants to. It's a long season and we're going to need all the capable bodies just to get through this season. If he's ready to go, certainly we will play him."

Freeze said the Rebels likely won't decide until Friday whether Nkemdiche will play.

REBEL RAMBLINGS: Offensive tackles Pierce Burton and Emmanuel McCray returned to practice Sunday and looked "very, very good," Freeze said. The seniors will rotate with freshman Laremy Tunsil, with Tunsil getting the lion's share of the work. "You can't keep Laremy off the field," Freeze said. "He's that talented, that good." …Offensive guard Patrick Junen is "back healthy," Freeze said, adding the senior's return to the rotation is "good for us." …Ole Miss' Oct. 5 game at Auburn will begin at either 2:30 p.m. or 6 p.m. CBS exercised a six-day option for that weekend and will either show the Rebels and Tigers, Georgia at Tennessee or Arkansas at Florida.


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