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Kentrell Lockett wasn't himself over the course of the first seven games of his senior season. He knew it. His coaches knew it. The decrease in his playing time reflected it.

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Against Auburn, however, Lockett played his best game of the year. He looked more like the Lockett of two seasons ago, when he started all 13 games at defensive end and ranked second on the team in tackles for loss and sacks.

In the game, a 41-23 Ole Miss loss, Lockett had six tackles, including one tackle for loss. He also recovered two Auburn fumbles.

"I felt good, you know? It was kind of a battle with myself, ‘cause me and coach had been talking all week. He said ‘We're going to play you. We're going to play you.' Him just saying that, I was getting my opportunity, really. I had to show out," Lockett said. "If I get one play, I'm going to do something good so I can get the second play. If I get the second play, I'm going to do something good so I can possibly stay there the whole game.

"I was really challenging myself, ‘cause I've been battling what I can do on the knee, what I can't do on the knee. After I saw what I could do, I was like, man, let's just play ball now. I just got into a groove. I felt like myself again."

Head coach Houston Nutt said Monday Lockett was at his best at Auburn.

Lockett, who suffered a devastating, season-ending ACL injury in the fourth game of the season against Fresno State last season, admitted this season has been a struggle. He has fought a mental battle with himself, of how much he can push his still improving knee.

"I felt like I was a go. I felt like I was good," he said. "Whenever (the coaches) asked me to get on the field, I felt like I was good."

Kentrell Lockett
Bruce Newman

Lockett was a starter to open the season. However, as the season progressed, his playing time was drastically reduced. Lockett said the decrease was due to him not playing to the level of two seasons ago.

"Nobody on the field is 100 percent when it comes to playing. But the coaches saw different," he said. "They saw I wasn't the player I was before I got hurt. I had to show them and prove to them I could, be it in practice or in the game. I'm happy they did put me on the field."

Ole Miss (2-6, 0-5 SEC) has but four games left in 2011. Lockett's life after Ole Miss is rapidly approaching. He said he isn't thinking much about the future a day away from November.

"I haven't even thought of it at all," Lockett said. "I'm not even worried about it. Just finishing out the season strong, and whatever happens after that, happens. If I get a shot (at the NFL), I'm going to run with the shot. A ballplayer can play. Anybody can play. (The knee injury) was a minor setback. What I can control is training and possibly going to the combine. If not, then just pro day. Whatever happens after that just happens."

Ole Miss travels to Lexington, Ky., to face the Wildcats Saturday at 2:30 p.m. Both teams are desperate for a win, if only to salvage some good in respective seasons filled with disappointment. Kentucky, like Ole Miss, is winless in the SEC, and 3-5 overall.

Lockett said the Rebels are still driven to win. He's seen the drive, the emotion of his teammates as the losses have mounted.

"Definitely. You can see it. People are so emotional after a loss," he said. "It can't be fake. It can't be phony at all. It's becoming frustrating to some of the younger guys who haven't been through it all. All they know is winning, coming from high school and everything. Now they have to learn how to bounce back from a loss and work even harder to get that bad taste, that bad feeling away from you."

As to Kentucky, Lockett said the team's approach can't change. Saturday will be the 42nd meeting between Ole Miss and Kentucky. The Rebels hold a 27-13-1 lead in the all-time series, and have won seven of the last nine games played.

"You're looking at a team that's maybe not the good team of Alabama. You look at it as maybe we can roll our hair out and come out with a ‘W.' But teams look at us just the same," Lockett said. "So it's going to be a battle. We're going to have to battle just as if we were playing Alabama a couple of weeks ago; just as if we were playing Auburn this past Saturday. Every Saturday's a big game, no matter who it is, no matter what record it is."

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