OXFORD, Miss. -- At times Saturday, things got a touch dicey for Ole Miss.
The third quarter was the Rebels' rough patch against UTEP, as the defense was put into several unenviable situations, and for the most part Ole Miss stiffened in the red zone and limited the Miners to just 10 points on the night.
Head coach Hugh Freeze joked that he'd like a little less bending, but overall it was a solid night for the UM defenders.
"I was proud," defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. "I told (defensive line coach Chris) Kiffin that we did a great job. We did great with eye placement. We had been getting killed with our eyes. I think the kids saw things and fit things together so much better this week. I was proud of them against the run for sure.
"We spent more time on that this week, the goal line stuff. Assistants did a great job putting the plan together. We didn't always execute, but we took baby steps."
UTEP struggled passing in a 24-7 season-opening loss to Oklahoma but ran for more than 200 yards and controlled things at times on the ground against the Sooners. The script didn't stay the same against Ole Miss, as the Miners passed for 247 yards but could muster just 37 yards on 30 rushes.
"They threw a lot more," Wommack said. "Oklahoma had those dudes that get up in their face, and they couldn't get a ball off. They completed 6-of-23 against Oklhaoma, but we just don't have those players. We can't just get in their face and stop them every down.
"They're dangerous, their top back (Nathan Jeffery) was out, so take it for what it's worth. Team runs for over 200 yards against OU last week, so we emphasized it, and it was much better. We played physical and knocked guys out. As the guys get confidence, they are going to get to the ball faster and be a more physical defense."
Cody Prewitt has become a quarterback of the Ole Miss defense, shifting personnel and handling a lot of mental duties. Wommack said Prewitt could be used at linebacker, but he's too valuable helping the other youngsters get in the right positions. The sophomore had an interception and a sack on Saturday, helping the Rebels dodge a few troubling moments.
Freshman Trae Elston also had a solid game at safety, with four tackles and a bone-jarring hit on a UTEP wide receiver late in the game. On an incomplete pass, Elston left his feet and flew through the Miner, causing several replays on the video board during an injury timeout.
"I love that kid," Wommack said. "He's exactly what you're looking for in the SEC. You just have to bring those young guys along. He's picking things up and recognizing. He comes in and watches film, so proud of him and the way he plays."
GROSS PLAYS THROUGH CALF PAIN: Freshman defensive tackle Issac Gross suffered a calf injury against Central Arkansas, and the injury is still hampering him.
However, he fought through the discomfort and was a vital part of Ole Miss' defense in the red zone.
"In warm ups, I stepped wrong, and same incident popped back up," Gross said. "Calf is sore, but I played through it. Coach Kiffin had been on us all week to get to the quarterback. We knew this team was better than last week, and we went out there with our mind focused."
WALLACE MAKING PROGRESS: Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said "it's too early to tell" how good Bo Wallace can become, adding he didn't want to set up the sophomore for failure.
"He played a solid game," Freeze said. "He missed some things, too, early on that I thought were one-yard gainers that maybe could have been five- or six-yard gainers and keep us on schedule a little better. But 15-of-22 with no picks is a pretty solid night. I do think he's a competitor night and he likes the bright lights."
Wallace said he's still hoping to put four consistent quarters together and is hoping to be more efficient in the red zone next weekend against No. 17 Texas. Wallace said he can sense a growing level of confidence in the Rebels' offense and the team in general.
"I think that's huge for us," Wallace said. "I think that's huge for our fan base. I think they're believing in us a little bit. Hopefully they'll come out Saturday and have the Vaught rocking."
WILLIAMS MAKES STOP: Ole Miss defensive end Ralph Williams made the early defensive play of the day when he stopped UTEP quarterback Carson Meger on fourth-and-goal from the Ole Miss 1.
"Pre-snap, I had my eye on the guard, waiting to see if he was going to pull because I was going to scrape over," Williams said. "I was going to shoot the gap. I saw the guard block down and the B-gap open up. I saw the quarterback keep it so I just shot it."
Williams said the Rebels' defense is gaining confidence with each stop.
"Seeing our offense go 97 yards for a touchdown, it felt good getting points," Williams said.
ROSE STRUGGLING: Bryson Rose missed field goal attempts of 56 and 36 yards Saturday and is now 0-for-4 on the young season.
"I wish I could help him," Freeze said. "We're going to talk some. I don't know. It's kind of like my golf swing. I don't know what goes wrong with it at times. …That swing is just like that. It gets in his head a little bit. He's had a couple of wide rights, but I have confidence he can bounce back."
OXFORD VISITORS BUREAU: Ole Miss will bring in a huge group of visitors next weekend. Saturday's list of visitors wasn't long, but it did include a pair of targets.
Ole Miss commitment/four-star running back Mark Dodson Jr. and Florence, Ala., linebacker Ray Ray Smith visited Oxford for the UTEP game. Smith is believed to be heavily considering Ole Miss and Mississippi State.
REBEL RUMBLINGS: Randall Mackey, Rose and Mike Marry were Ole Miss' captains Saturday. …Cameron Whigham and Uriah Grant were in the starting lineup on defense. …Freeze said Ole Miss escaped Saturday's game without major injuries. …Freeze said Jeff Scott will get a look at punt return duties this week. Both Korvic Neat and Philander Moore muffed punts on Saturday.