What to Watch For

Ole Miss hosts No. 12 Texas in one of the biggest non-conference matchups in years. An in-depth look at the game, with players to watch for and much, much more.

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Yes, there's a different feel to this one. And it has nothing to do with Matthew McConaughey.

Ole Miss and Texas meet Saturday night at 8:15 p.m. in a nationally-televised game on ESPN. For the first time in two seasons, the Rebels, 2-0 to open a season for the first time since 2009, are nationally relevant. They couldn't say as much last season, when they finished 2-10 and winless in Southeastern Conference play.

Oxford has been buzzing since early in the week, with RVs rolling in on Tuesday. A few days later, fans were seen staking their spot in the Grove, including Friday morning, on the eve of mass groving.

Folks are excited. Some have predicted that 100,000 people are set to cram into Oxford this weekend. Ole Miss announced the game as a sellout Friday afternoon. Makes sense, of course. This game offers the first real test for the Rebels in 2012.

Ole Miss did what it had to over the season's first two weeks. The Rebels beat UCA and UTEP, two lesser opponents, and neither game was all that close.

Hugh Freeze
US Presswire

Sure, Ole Miss laid an egg offensively in the third quarter against UTEP, but its defense bounced back from an up-and-down performance against UCA to stifle the Miners, who entered the game fresh off a closer-than-the-scoreboard-indicated loss to Oklahoma.

However, this week, Ole Miss is getting a taste of what's to come. What, with Ole Miss facing one of the more difficult schedules in the country the rest of the way. Ole Miss will have a much better understanding of where it is once the clock strikes zero against No. 12 Texas, even if head coach Hugh Freeze is treating the game as any other.

"I like our demeanor. I like our coaches' demeanor," he said Wednesday. "It's all about business. Really haven't treated this as any different week. It's really not. We've got a lot of games that are going to be big games. You've got to learn how prepare for them all the same, or you get on a roller coaster. I don't like roller coasters."

He better hold on tight. Saturday could be just that.

Ole Miss Player to Watch:
Bo Wallace – Quarterback

If we've learned anything about Bo Wallace through two games, it's that he's a gamer. Let's get real for a second: Wallace wasn't anything special in spring practices and on into August camp. The job was his to lose, but he never did enough to distance himself from Barry Brunetti, no matter his familiarity with Freeze's offense and superior throwing ability.

Still, as he proved in a handful of scrimmages in camp, he's at his best when game lights are on. Well, at least so far. Texas is a totally different animal than UCA and UTEP. The Longhorns rank eighth in the nation in scoring defense, allowing just 8.5 points per game. Granted, those games were against Wyoming and New Mexico, but their ability to apply pressure to opposing quarterbacks makes the challenge of keeping Wallace upright that much more formidable for Ole Miss' developing offensive line.

Senior defensive end Alex Okafor and junior defensive end Jackson Jeffcoat are two of the top play-makers for the Longhorns. They've combined for 208 tackles, 51 tackles for loss, 22 sacks, five forced fumbles, two fumble recoveries and 53 QB pressures in their careers.

For Ole Miss to pull off the upset, Wallace has to create with his feet, make sound decisions, protect the football and capitalize on big plays when they're there. A simplistic view, I know, but he did all four against UCA and UTEP. And, in turn, Ole Miss is 2-0. Lastly, you can never discount confidence in a quarterback. Wallace has plenty of it as the Longhorns invade Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Last Game: ATT: 15 / COMP: 22 / YDS: 174 / TDs: 3 / RATT: 11 / YDS: 53 / TDs 1

Texas Player to Watch:
David Ash – Quarterback

I know, I know. Picking both quarterbacks as the players to watch is pretty much a cop-out, right? Wrong. And I'll tell you why.

Texas hasn't been the Texas of years past for the last few seasons. Why? Well, Vince Young and Colt McCoy are long gone. The Longhorns have struggled with quarterback play ever since.

However, Ash has all but solidified the position. Dating back to the 2011 Holiday Bowl, he's completed 50 of 72 passes for 519 yards with four touchdowns and no interceptions. He ranks 29th in the FBS in passing efficiency this season (158.3).

Diving a little further, the Longhorns are scoring 41 points per game, good for 21st in the FBS. Their third-down efficiency is a big reason why. Texas is converting 61.3 percent of its third downs, with Ash having completed a combined 9 of 12 passes for 105 yards and one touchdown on third down against Wyoming and New Mexico, both wins.

Ole Miss has to pressure Ash and pressure him often. So far, the Rebels have been much improved in getting to the quarterback. Through two games, they lead all SEC teams with 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks. Those nine sacks are also top-10 in the country.

Last Game: ATT: 16 / COMP: 22 / YDS: 221 / TDs: 2 / RATT: 4 / YDS: 31 / TDs 1


Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, on Texas QB David Ash:

"They went back and forth with two guys last year, and obviously they've settled on him being their guy. He's like anybody else. The more reps he gets, the better he gets. They scored 45 points last week, so we've got a job ahead of us.

"He's got a strong arm. He's got the ability to escape and put you in a bad position. You'd better stay with those receivers, too. If you don't, he'll find them. I actually think he throws better on the move than he does sitting in the pocket, personally."

Ole Miss defensive line coach Chris Kiffin, on the athleticism of the Texas offensive line:

"They're the University of Texas and they'll have skilled, athletic, big linemen. We won't see anything we haven't seen up front, we'll just be playing against better people. We have to dominate the line of scrimmage. That's the challenge I've put to my guys. They're going to have athletes, they're going to make a couple of big plays, but we just have to limit the big plays and not allow anything over our heads in the back end and we'll be fine."

A.J. Hawkins & Gilbert Pena
Chuck Rounsaville

Ole Miss offensive line coach Matt Luke, on the challenges Texas presents defensively:

"Most teams are traditionally a four-down or three-down team, but Texas does both and they have packages where they interchange people. They have a lot of good players and they use them in different packages. We'lll see a variety of looks, instead of preparing for one basic look. Plus, they have multiple blitzes out of each look, which is even more to prepare for."

Luke, on the offensive line's progress from week one to week two:

"We played harder. Guys had a better understanding of what we wanted to get done. They were downfield blocking better. From an effort and knowledge standpoint, we were a lot better. We have to take it to another level this week. We can't stay stationary. You're either getting better or getting worse."

Ole Miss wide receiver Philander Moore, on this game being an opportunity to finally put last season's 2-10 record in the rearview mirror:

"As a team, we knew that we were capable of this last year. This year we came out (the first two games) and proved it. So it's built a lot of confidence. It's allowed us to come out here and feel good about ourselves. We've got a swagger, as coach would say. That's what we've got, and that's what we need."

Must-See Video:

No player has meant more to Ole Miss opening its season 2-0 than Wallace, who signed with Ole Miss in December, arrived in January and battled junior Barry Brunetti for the right to be the Rebels' starting quarterback for nearly seven months.

Through two games, Wallace is third in the SEC and 29th in the NCAA in total offense at 286.5 yards per game. He leads Ole Miss in rushing with 135 yards, and is responsible for 42 points (five pass TDs, two rush TDs), which tops all SEC players.

Against UTEP, a 28-10 win, Wallace was 15 of 22 for 174 yards and three touchdowns. He also carried 11 times for 53 yards and another score.

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