Cali Calling

Some 2,000 miles away, two teams ready for a critical game. A swing game. A game both teams desperately need to turn around pedestrian starts to the 2011 season.

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Ole Miss (1-3, 0-2 SEC) and Fresno State (2-2, 1-1 WAC) are meeting for the second time in history Saturday. The Bulldogs are the western-most team Ole Miss has ever played. The Rebels won last year's first matchup, 55-38, in Oxford.

"It ain't tough. Everybody's just got to stay focused and not think about it," freshman wide receiver Donte Moncrief said of the lengthy road trip. "Just concentrate on everything and get ready for the game. I've never been to California, actually. It's very exciting to get out that way. Never went that far. It's something to look out for."

The Rebels, with their current standing, are in a far more precarious situation than their counterparts.

The significance of this game, scheduled for an 8:15 CT start on ESPN2, is undeniable. Not only does the schedule get markedly tougher as the calendar turns to October, but public unrest surrounding head coach Houston Nutt and staff has continued to mount with each passing loss.

The Rebels lost their second conference game in as many weeks a week ago to Georgia. The loss followed a humiliating loss at Vanderbilt.

Donte Moncrief
Bruce Newman

"This is the one we know we've got to get," Moncrief said. "We got to go out there and play hard and put a whoopin' on them, be physical. Execute on offense and hit on defense."

Ole Miss has been handcuffed by its porous offense; an offense ranked No. 118 out of 120 FBS teams in total offense.

The Rebels are averaging a meager 235 yards per game, and just 18.75 points per game. And the scoring total is skewed by 35 points scored offensively against FCS opponent Southern Illinois.

"We took some steps to get better," against Georgia, Moncrief said. "I mean, we learned a lot. We shortened our playbook down a little bit. We're focusing on more things that we know we can do, and throwing the ball more.

"Right now, we're getting way more confidence. We had confidence but it's building every step. We just got to stay together."

Moncrief said the team, which has lost 10 of its last 11 conference games, still has confidence. Ole Miss is attempting to rebound from a 4-8 season a year ago.

"No doubt. We've still got faith. We always have faith," he said. "We can't look at the past; we've got to look to the future, get ready for more SEC."

Bennett responds in first career start:

Freshman defensive tackle Bryon Bennett recorded three solo tackles and a career-best 2.0 tackles for loss against Georgia, his first career start. Bennett was starting in place of three-game starter Uriah Grant.

"Pretty good. I got my chance to start, shine a little bit," Bennett said. "Coaches seem like every position's up for competition. I think I competed pretty well during practice. Went pretty well; we had a game plan for them. We executed, I think, really well in the second half. We came together as a team at halftime. Had to shut down the big plays and make more plays on defense."

"He's very active in there. I've said since day one he's a quick and physical guy that gives us a presence in there," Nutt said of Bennett. "Bryon seems like he's got a little confidence right now, and it feels like he can make some plays for us, which is great."

Georgia tallied 475 yards of total offense in a 27-13 win. However, the Bulldogs were allowed upwards of 17 minutes more of possession time. Ole Miss again struggled offensively. The Rebels were held to seven three-and-outs and 183 yards of total offense.

The Rebel defense hardly left the field.

"Right now, it's all over the place," Bennett said of the confidence of the team. "Everybody can't wait to show what they can do and show how we stand on our own two feet and stuff like that; fly around and make plays."

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