What to Watch For

No. 24 Ole Miss welcomes No. 8 Missouri Saturday at 6:45 p.m. on ESPN. We take a look at what to watch for in the Rebels' quest for their eighth win of the season and fifth in a row.

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Burning Questions:

- Chuck Rounsaville, Publisher

How does Ole Miss combat the 6-4 to 6-6 height of all the Missouri wide receivers?

The talk all week has been the challenge of the Ole Miss secondary against the huge Missouri wideouts. To slow them down, the Rebels will have to do a lot of things well. One, the front will have to pressure the quarterback, be it James Franklin or Maty Mauk, and force him to throw too quickly and out of rhythm. Disrupt the timing of the routes, etc. Two, the coaches will have to do a good job of mixing and disguising coverages. Three, the secondary players will have to spend extra time in the film room in order to stay ahead of the routes. Four, the DBs will have to execute with near flawless fundamentals of going through the receivers as the ball arrives. In jump ball opportunities, the DBs have to go through the receiver's arms. Five, stay on top of the route and tackle well after the catch. The Rebel defense faces its biggest - literally - challenge of the year with the Missouri receivers, but they've had some success against bigger wideouts in Texas A&M's Mike Evans, for one, and the speed and athleticism of LSU's vaunted tandem of Landry and Beckham.

While the Tiger passing attack presents problems and concerns, the Missouri run game goes almost unnoticed, even though they are gaining 232 yards a game. What are the challenges there?

Against a spread offense, one-on-one battles will have to be won. If the box is crowded, it creates one-on-ones with the receivers. If the box is lessened, it creates one-on-ones, and double-team, battles with the guys in the box.

Bo Wallace
Associated Press

The Rebel front and LBs have to win the trench warfare even when they are outnumbered at times and, again, sound gap control and sure tackling will be key.

What is the key for the Ole Miss offense?

The Rebel coaches have stated all week that it is paramount to be able to run the football effectively to keep the Mizzou defensive linemen honest in its approach. Missouri leads the SEC with 34 quarterback sacks and the idea is to get them to honor the run game first to slow them down in their pass rush.

If the Rebels can muster a run game, there is a high confidence level they can be effective in the passing game. It all goes hand in glove with the ability to protect Rebel QB Bo Wallace and give passing plays time to develop.

How good is the Missouri defensive front?

They have generated 32 of their 34 quarterback sacks from their front four, so the answer is "real good." Many things, however, play into that. Missouri has had big leads a lot of times this year and opposing offenses were forced to pass, which, in essence, turned the Tiger DL loose to attack. A balanced attack will be one way to neutralize the Missouri defensive line. The Rebel offensive linemen are also going to have to deal with run blitzes and run twists, which most teams don't do because of the risk factor. One wrong move and it's a potential big gainer. Missouri, it's been said by the Rebel coaches, are able to do these more advanced moves without making many mistakes, so the Rebel OL will have to be as sharp and crisp as they have been all year.

Where are the Rebel advantages?

Without question, the home crowd will be huge. Other than a beat up Georgia team, the road schedule for Missouri, to this point, has been favorable and they handled the undermanned Bulldogs handily. The Tigers have not faced a team hitting on all cylinders this year on the road and the Rebel fans will be into this big matchup. Also, a couple of the same things that pose problems for the Rebels, also present challenges for the Tigers. The Rebel wideouts will have an advantage in their duel with the Missouri secondary. The rebs have big, strong, fast receivers too. The Rebel defense has been salty against the run most of the year. Ask LSU and Texas and others. In fact, the only three losses the Rebs have are when their run defense broke down at times. Once to the magician, Johnny Manziel; two busted plays to Alabama for long run; and at Auburn when the Rebs couldnot contain their quarterback effectively most of the night. If the Rebs can control the box with their front, it will go a long way in helping them to victory.

Ole Miss Player to Watch:
Robert Nkemdiche – Defensive tackle

Ole Miss signed a star-studded recruiting class in February. Robert Nkemdiche, rated the top overall prospect across all services, was the headliner. Expectations amongst Rebel fans soared the minute the ink dried on his national letter of intent.

He drew comparisons to South Carolina defensive end Jadeveon Clowney; his every practice, especially those first few in August, dissected by local and national media alike. Message boards hung on any little snippet of potential progress. The possibilities, they thought, were endless.

Expectations are never easy to live up to. They're made that much more difficult to manage when they're as unrealistic as those placed on Nkemdiche. Actually, they're impossible. Bottom line: Even if his numbers aren't jump-off-the-page great, he's had a really, really strong debut season. He's second on the team in tackles for loss despite missing two games with a strained hamstring, and since moving from defensive end to defensive tackle, where his NFL future likely lies, the 6-foot-5, 294-pound Nkemdiche has settled in quite nicely. His aggressiveness, the same aggressiveness that was burning him early in the season on the edges, translates perfectly to the interior, where he can go one-on-one with the lineman in front of him. And Robert Nkemdiche one-on-one is going to win more often than not. He ranks 13th in the SEC and first among league freshman with 0.88 tackles for loss per game.

He's making his ascension when the Rebels need him most. He was named SEC Defensive Lineman of the Week after a four-tackle, two-TFL, one-sack performance vs. Troy, an offense very similar to Missouri, though the talent gap is substantial. In the Tigers, the Rebels face one of their toughest challenges of the year, if not the toughest. And for a defense that has struggled all season to generate a consistent pass rush, an emerging Nkemdiche could play an integral role in Ole Miss pulling out a win.

Last game vs. Troy: TKL: 4 / TFLs: 2 / SACK: 1

Missouri Player to Watch:
James Franklin – Quarterback

Missouri quarterback James Franklin will make his return against Ole Miss. The senior led Missouri to a 28-10 halftime lead at then-No. 7 Georgia Oct. 12, and he finished the game completing 18 of 27 passes for 170 yards and one touchdown. He also rushed for his third touchdown of the year.

However, he was knocked out of the game midway through the fourth quarter with a shoulder injury.

Tiger head coach Gary Pinkel has indicated that althought Maty Mauk, who was impressive while filling in for Franklin, will play, Franklin is his starter. There isn't a quarterback controversy. Missouri will win or lose Saturday with Franklin under center, and when he's played, he's been one of the more dynamic players in the SEC.

Through six games, Franklin, a run-pass threat, had Missouri's offense ranked 12th in the NCAA in total offense, eighth nationally in scoring offense and 10th nationally in third-down conversion rate. He sits third behind only Chase Daniel and Blaine Gabert in career 300-yard passing games, and his seven three-plus touchdown performances rank second.

Basically, when he's right, Franklin and Missouri present one of the more potent offenses in all of college football. If Missouri is to claim the East and reach the SEC title game, it'll be Franklin who leads them there. The task is clear for the Tigers. They're off to Atlanta if they win their last two games. Yes, Mauk waits in the wings. Franklin, though, is the guy to take them there.

Season stats: ATT: 195 / COMP: 132 / YDS: 1577 / TDs: 14 / RATT: 3 / YDS: 225.3


- Ole Miss Spirit staff

Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace, on significance of the Missouri game:

"It's a huge week for us. We get to really see how good we are. We have some games that we feel like we didn't play as well in that we could've been in. This is kind of our redemption game. We can see how good we are."

On the roll the offense has been on for the last month:

"Everybody's really confident. Our confidence is up. We know exactly what we're doing. We've been great on third down, being able to keep drives going. That's what it comes down to."

Hugh Freeze
Associated Press

Junior linebacker Serderius Bryant, on the Missouri offense:

"Missouri's a very high-caliber offense, just because they do a lot of things. Both of their quarterbacks are good, and they've got great receivers. Missouri's probably going to be one of the best offenses we've played this year. Missouri can spread it out and run the ball."

On matching up against tall, rangy Missouri wide receivers:

"I know we don't have a lot of height on our defensive backs. But if you look at it, Mike Hilton, D.J., all of them have heart. I feel like it's not about size in football, it's all about heart. A player like me, I'm 5-9. Everybody's got to step up. I know they're taller than us. We've just got to defend them."

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, on Mizzou QBs James Franklin and Maty Mauk:

"Franklin is a little more physical but Mauk is probably a little quicker and faster and moves around a little more in the pocket. Both of them are really good players. I've been impressed with the way the young guy came in when the senior got hurt and they didn't seem to miss a beat."

On true freshman CB Derrick Jones:

"I'm so pleased with him. We're getting more out of him this year than I ever thought. I thought he would be a safety when we recruited him, but he's got great hips and speed. Some taller guys can't flip their hips and struggle with change of direction, but Derrick has all those things. He'll make a bunch of money one day. I wish we could have redshirted both him and Bobby Hill, but we needed them this year with our injury situation."

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