The Daily Helmsman Sports Editor Hunter Field Asks The Daily Mississippian Sports Editor Dylan Rubino about the Memphis Game Saturday
HUNTER FIELD, dh Sports editor: What’s the general excitement level around this Ole Miss team in Oxford right now?
DYLAN RUBINO, DM Sports Editor: The level of excitement is at an all-time high right now in Oxford. Hugh Freeze always talked about the journey of his football team and the journey is finally starting to come full circle in Oxford. The fans are excited about being ranked in the top 10 and have noticed the difference between the 2014 Rebels and teams in the past.
HF: This game has all the makings of a trap game for the Rebels with the possibility of Alabama and Gameday next week and Memphis historically struggling in football. Do you get any sense that Ole Miss is taking this game lightly or looking ahead to the Alabama game?
DR: I don’t see any sense where Ole Miss is looking ahead to Alabama. Hugh Freeze talked to the media about how annoyed he was getting with people asking him questions about looking ahead in the schedule. The players have shown the mentality and maturity of not looking ahead and focusing on who is in front of you. All you can do in football is worry about who is in front of you, and the players have bought into that.
HF: What are the strongest aspects of this year’s Ole Miss team?
DR: One of the strongest aspects in this years’ Ole Miss team has to be the defense. The secondary leads the nation in passes defended and the defense as a whole has depth and experience at every position. Guys like Cody Prewitt, CJ Johnson, D.T. Shackelford, are some of the leaders of this football. The depth of the defense has been key with freshman and sophomores coming in and playing valuable snaps to provide fresh legs. The development of quarterback Bo Wallace has been a strong spot also.
HF: What are the weaknesses that could be exposed?
DR: The coaching staff and fans of Ole Miss will all tell you the offensive line and the running game are signs of concern. The offensive line has struggled at times with protecting Wallace, communicating with one another, and making mental mistakes with penalties and miscues. The offensive line has also struggled with creating holes for the running game. The running backs have not produced the way Freeze had hoped so. The rushing attack has averaged 155 yards per game, which is middle of the pack in the country. That needs to improve in order to win games against Memphis and in the SEC.
HF: Memphis varies their looks on offense, but they really want to establish the running game. How do the Rebels stack up against the run?
DR: The run defense has been spotty at times so far this season. The Rebels have struggled in the past against good quality running backs, giving up 95 yards to Vanderbilt running back Ralph Webb and 86 yards to Boise State running back Jay Ajayi. The Rebels gave up almost 200 yards rushing to Louisiana-Lafayette two weeks ago. Mobile quarterbacks have also been known to give the defense fits. The Rebel defense needs to stack the box and put more pressure in the backfield in order to contain opposing run games.
HF: How do people down there feel about Bo Wallace?
DR: Has he been forgiven for last year’s Egg Bowl, and do most fans trust him? I think people have come to accept who Bo Wallace is. He’s a gunslinger that can make countless great throws and countless dangerous throws that can go the other way. The Egg Bowl loss last year was one of his worst games of last season, but the loss can’t be put entirely on him. I wouldn’t say that Ole Miss fans have lost trust in him. Some fans have grown tired of him not performing well when the teams needs him to, but the vast majority of fans have accepted who he is.
HF: Why is this year’s team better than last year’s squad?
DR: Depth and Leadership. In year three under Hugh Freeze, the Rebels finally have the depth necessary to compete for the SEC crown. Behind Laquon Treadwell at wide receiver, there are four or five guys that can make plays and be a difference. The offense likes to use four or five running backs to split carries. The defense can plug in at least two guys at every position to provide fresh bodies. Leadership has also driven the team to new heights. Bo Wallace has stepped in as a leader in his senior year for the offense. Seniors Cody prewitt and DT Shackelford have been vocal on defense.
HF: What are the expectations surrounding this year’s team?
DR: What end result would satisfy fans? 9-3? 8-4? As long as they win the Egg Bowl everyone is happy? My expectations at the beginning of the season was a 9-3 record for the Rebels. I think fans would have been satisfied with that, but with the recent success of the team in the first three games, expectations have increased. The Mississippi State victory over LSU may have also increased expectations as to who is the best team in the state. An Egg Bowl win at home would certainly make fans happy, but it’s not the end-all-be-all for the season. Increasing your conference record and making a high quality bowl game should be the main focus for Ole Miss.
HF: Prediction for the game.
DR: Memphis came one touchdown away from beating 11th ranked UCLA. The Tigers are a much improved football team, and head coach Justin Fuente has the program on the right track. Haunted memories of 2003 come up when Ole Miss plays Memphis in football, but it won’t happen again. The Rebels will be ready for this game, but Memphis will put up a fight.
Ole Miss 41 Memphis 17