Short trip: No. 13 Ole Miss visits surging, unbeaten Memphis
Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze has some fond memories of the early days during his tenure in Oxford, when the Rebels pulled off some surprising wins, created some momentum and energized the fan base.
He sees the same thing happening this week in Memphis.
Now the 13th-ranked Rebels (5-1) must make the short trip to Memphis (5-0) and face one of the hottest teams in the country. The Tigers have won 12 straight games dating back to last season – a streak that’s lasted nearly a full calendar year.
”That is a credit to their players, their coaching staff and their administration. It is a quality football team,” Freeze said. ”They are playing with great confidence.”
A sellout crowd is expected in Memphis on Saturday. So is a lot of offense.
Memphis is scoring 47.8 points per game, which ranks fourth in the nation. Ole Miss is right behind them in fifth with 46.8 points per game.
Freeze had especially high praise for Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch, who is completing more than 70 percent of his passes and thrown for at least 300 yards in each of the past four games.
”They have good coaches, good players, and a good scheme,” Freeze said. ”With the confidence that they have, there is no question that they are one of the better offenses in the country right now.”
Memphis coach Justin Fuente was equally complimentary of Ole Miss. He called the defensive line, which is led by junior Robert Nkemdiche, ”pretty impressive to say the least.”
Fuente also said it would be important for the Tigers, including the coaching staff, to manage their emotions.
”Hopefully we can keep our wits about us and put together a good plan that gives our kids a chance to succeed,” Fuente said.
Some things to watch when No. 13 Ole Miss travels to face Memphis on Saturday:
PAXTON’S THE MAN: Memphis quarterback Paxton Lynch has had a spectacular season so far for the Tigers. He’s thrown for 1,535 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. His completion percentage of just over 70 percent ranks third in the country and he’s thrown for at least 300 yards in four straight games.
TEST FOR THE OLE MISS DEFENSE: Ole Miss will try to counter Lynch’s passing ability with a secondary that’s had good moments, but also been inconsistent. The Rebels miss junior safety Tony Conner, who is out at least a few more weeks with a knee injury. Ole Miss could use a big game from senior safety Trae Elston, who has four interceptions this season, including two he’s returned for touchdowns.
MEMPHIS HAS SPOILED BEFORE: Overall, this regional rivalry has been dominated by Ole Miss. The Rebels have a 48-10-2 lead in the series and have won the past six dating back to 2005. But Memphis has put a dent in a big Ole Miss season before. The Tigers beat an Eli Manning-led Ole Miss team 44-34 in 2003. The Rebels went on to win 10 games, including the Cotton Bowl.
STOPPING OLE MISS: Much has been made of the Memphis offense, but Ole Miss can also put points on the board in a hurry. Chad Kelly has thrown for 1,862 yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions this season. Leading receiver Laquon Treadwell has caught 21 passes for 313 yards and two touchdowns over the past three weeks. The Memphis defense is giving up 26.8 points per game.
LAST GAME WITHOUT LAREMY: The Ole Miss offensive line will receive a boost on Oct. 24 against Texas A&M when starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil returns. Tunsil was suspended seven games by the NCAA because it ruled he received illegal benefits. But Tunsil can’t help Ole Miss against Memphis. Fahn Cooper, who was the starting right tackle last season, will start his seventh straight game at left tackle in Tunsil’s absence.
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