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October 23, 2013

Third-down focus pays off for Wallace, Rebels

OXFORD, Miss. -- Staying on the field was top priority for Ole Miss in its win over then-No. 6 LSU.

Staying on schedule by virtue of solid first-down gains is critical, but Bo Wallace didn't think about that all week in practice leading up the game. The Ole Miss quarterback focused on getting out of third-down trouble when necessary.

Facing difficult yardage against an aggressive defense, the Rebels were successful in that regard, completing 11-of-18 third down opportunities. The confidence that comes from it will be with Wallace moving forward.

"I'd been thinking all week about how I had to be better on third down," Wallace said. "I really concentrated on it all week during practice on third downs and our game plan, and it showed this week… We needed a game like that. We put up a lot of points against A&M, and we knew we'd have to put up points with the injuries and the defense they had, so everybody prepared and we got the game plan done early in the week and everybody executed and knew it."

Wallace dropped back and passed 10 times facing 3rd-and-7 or longer and picked up the first down on seven occasions, also getting sacked once and throwing two incompletions. The success was most apparent on the game-winning drive, as Wallace rushed for six yards on 3rd-and-6 to begin the series and soon after found Ja-Mes Logan for 13 yards on 3rd-and-9.

"It was really critical (to get the first first down)," Wallace said. "If we have a good first series and get the first first down, then we can get rolling. We had to do something. We couldn't leave it in the defense's hands again. We couldn't leave it in anybody else's hands. We had to go down and score, and it's what we did."

Getting defensive players will certainly be a boost, but the other side of the ball impressed Wallace against LSU. He admitted worry during pregame, but it worked out.

"I was concerned just because I knew they'd have a great plan and fight but we were so short handed," Wallace said. "Going through the week we had red ball, and there were guys out there I hadn't seen since camp. We were really thin, and it was in our minds that we had to score every time we touched the ball."

INSIDE GAME SHOULD HELP OUTSIDE: Ole Miss executed its inside run game against LSU, and that accomplishment should help when the Rebels run outside, as well.

Sophomore Jaylen Walton rushed for 105 yards and two touchdowns, using a lot of between-the-tackles work against the Tigers. Ever since Alabama moved its defensive ends out wide, Ole Miss' outside run game has been a bit stymied, but this could loosen things up.

"Ends are going to have to play us differently," Wallace said. "If you have play us a specific way we can hurt you in other ways. Running inside was a big deal and will help us.

"I was really impressed, but I believe in (Walton and I'Tavius Mathers) just as much as Jeff (Scott). I'Tavius had a big night against A&M, and Jaylen came out and played well against LSU. It was exciting to see."

Offensive lineman Emmanuel McCray says several factors were part of the increased run game. However, a major part was simply the blockers becoming "more nasty."

"Playing with pad level and being physical, getting a nastier attitude," McCray said. "A lot was play-calling as well, but it was getting lower and playing dirty.

"We'll continue to go inside and outside and teams will have to play us different with the ends. LSU played the ends up field, and it opened up our rhino and down-and-around. When Jeff gets back he just has to trust us and hit those holes, and they'll be there."

Ole Miss wide receiver Donte Moncrief meets with the media following Wednesday's practice.

REBELS DONE WITH GAUNTLET: The niceties of saying all teams on the schedule are equal is all well and good, but the Rebels finished with the toughest four-game stretch of any team nationally, and the rest of the slate is a relief after that.

Coming off the win over LSU and physical games against Alabama, Auburn and Texas A&M before that, Ole Miss isn't unhappy to see a 1-6 opponent up next.

"I don't think anyone has played a tougher schedule in the country," Wallace said. "When you can go ahead and get rid of those guys it's a relief."

McCray thinks the Rebels may have lost for the last time.

"That stretch will make us better, but we have to play every Saturday," the senior said. "It's nice to get it out of the way. Remaining schedule looks good. WIth how everything is playing out, we can win out, most definitely."

RESPECT FOR PETRINO: Saturday will mark the third time in three straight years Hugh Freeze and Paul Petrino have squared off.

Freeze's Arkansas State team lost at Illinois, where Petrino was the offensive coordinator, in 2011. Last season, Freeze's Ole Miss team won over Arkansas in Little Rock. Petrino was the Hogs' offensive coordinator.

"The job that he's done offensively at the places he has been has always been impressive to me and I thought he always did a great job of keeping you off-balance and making you defend run and pass in whatever set they get into," Freeze said. "We're certainly not taking anything for granted because I know the type of job he does and that he has answers for the things you are doing."

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze meets with reporters following Wednesday's practice.

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