The Rebels are 3-0 overall, 1-0 in the Southeastern Conference (41-3 win at Vanderbilt), and are ranked No. 10 in the latest Associated Press Poll.
Memphis is 2-1, has convincing home wins against Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee, and a 42-35 road loss at UCLA.
Ole Miss is improved. Memphis is improved. The neighborhood showdown is an important game for both teams as September closes.
“It’s time to move back into a very difficult stretch of games,” said Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze after the Rebels’ first open date of the season. “We’re playing a very difficult opponent, and I’m extremely impressed with the job Justin (Fuentes) has done there. They play with tremendous passion and play physical football. He’s upgraded the talent level significantly. Credit goes to him and his staff.”
Freeze said Memphis is a team that is playing well, and some things stand out.
“Their athleticism. Their quarterback is playing really well. And defensively they are very aggressive and tackling extremely well. They get off the field on third down. They went toe to toe with one of the nation's best (UCLA) at their place.”
There’s no looking past the Tigers toward Alabama next week for the Rebels or for Freeze, who lived and coached for a number of years in Memphis on the high school level. He knows the series, even though it’s been five seasons since the two have met on the gridiron. He believes both teams will give it their all in this one.
“We’ll have to play very, very well to win,” Freeze said. “It’s a challenge we need at this point in the season.”
* On the open week: “We got a lot of good reps for the twos and threes. Also we made an effort to continue to rush the football. We’re trying to come up with good stuff we believe our kids can do to be successful. We wanted to get some kids healthy. We did that. It was about us getting more reps for our young kids.”
* On the SEC West: “I really feel like all seven are quality top 25 teams. That just means our league, the West in particular, is certainly top to bottom arguably as strong as it's ever been. Certainly we've got a difficult game with Memphis this week before we worry about that.”
* On the Rebel offensive line and how many might play there: “It depends on the course of the game, of course. We'll have 7 or 8 that are our core guys, and that's probably where we are right now.”
* On I'Tavius Mathers and Collins Moore injuries: “I expect I'Tavius to be ready go. He practiced yesterday. Collins tried to practice yesterday, but he’s not ready yet.”
* On Rod Taylor: “He's progressed to where he is in the mix and going to play a lot of snaps. Probably will not start him anytime soon. I don’t know if that’s best for him or our team, but he will be in the game very quick.”
* On Ole Miss players from Memphis, and also how this game might affect recruiting: “It adds something to it for those guys from there. They want to play well. Any win, having winning records, and going to bowl games help recruiting.”
* On Aaron Morris and C.J. Johnson: “I think they’re still a little rusty. C.J. is probably a little farther along than Aaron.”
* On scoring being up in the SEC this year: “I think it's what football is right now. Drastic difference than five years ago. I think the fans like it. It's exciting. Even the more power oriented teams are doing things they have not done before. It makes them very difficult to defend because they’re so talented. It’s a chore to try to figure it out.”
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