With the bye week comes NFL questions for a host of Rebels

A bye week couldn’t have come at a better time for Ole Miss.

The Rebels are 7-3 (4-2 SEC) on the season following their 53-52 loss to Arkansas. A week reprieve to detox from what happened, and to give injured players some much-needed rest, is just what the doctor ordered. Ten weeks of games is tough to ask of any football team.

But back to Arkansas. A loss is a loss, but Ole Miss was dealt some cruelty in how the game ended. Twice the Rebels thought they had made made game-winning plays (the fourth-and-25 miracle and Marquis Haynes’ sack of Brandon Allen on the first two-point conversion try), only for the Razorbacks to be given additional opportunities, which they cashed in.

“It was upsetting, for sure, just to let it slip through your fingertips on a couple of plays,” junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell said. “We told each other it’s time to work. This team’s been through a lot the last two years. It’s not the last thing that will happen to us in our time, so we just try to stay positive and take it one day at a time. A loss is a loss in this league, so you’ve got to move on and take the next step and get back to work. You can’t let it hold you down too long, or you’ll lose the next game and the next game. We just try to stay positive, stay humble and keep working hard.”

The Rebels no longer control their own destiny in the SEC West. The road to Atlanta, site of the league championship game, runs through Alabama. 

Ole Miss holds the tiebreaker over the Crimson Tide after winning the head-to-head meeting earlier this season, but the Rebels will need at least one Alabama loss and to win both of their final two games to make their first title game appearance in school history.

Petre Thomas

“It won’t be tough at all,” Treadwell said, when asked if it will be tough to play with same intensity from here on out. “This team is built around playing with intensity, playing with passion and having fun with each other. Loving on each other, and we’ll go out and attack LSU just like we attack any other team and try to win. We’ll play to win. If the chips fall our way, we’ll be appreciative of that, and we’ll just make the most of the opportunities we’re given.”

Treadwell caught seven passes for 132 yards and a touchdown in Saturday’s loss, his school-record fifth straight game with 100 yards and a score. It was his sixth 100-yard receiving game of the season, a school record, and he’s just the second receiver in school history to go over 1,000 yards receiving in a season. With 1,002, he trails only Shay Hodge’s 2009 total of 1,135.

He’s done nothing but improve his already sky-high NFL Draft stock. And because the bye week is here and there’s plenty of free time, talk of what’s to come for him after the season has intensified.

Treadwell said it’s easy to block out all the noise. The Rebels host LSU next week at 2:30 p.m. on CBS before closing out the regular season at in-state rival Mississippi State.

“It’s easy. If you love the team enough, you’ll do it,” he said. “I love my guys just as much as I love myself. You’ve got to play for your brothers. We’re in this together. We win together, we lose together. I told the coaches I’m going to do my best this whole season and push these guys to be their best every day. That’s what we’ll continue to do.”

Treadwell isn’t the only Rebel who will soon face with a stay-or-go decision following the season. Junior tight end Evan Engram is eligible to forgo his senior year, and he’s ranked by some as the top underclassman tight end in the draft, namely ESPN’s Mel Kiper.

“It’s definitely in the back of my mind just because growing up as a kid and stuff you definitely want to play in the NFL,” Engram said. “It’s there, but really ever since the Memphis loss, my mind has been focused on making sure this team is ready and the locker room is good and the practices are good. I’ve been really focused on this season so that’s way, way in the back right now and I’m focused on finishing these last two games strong.”

Quarterback Chad Kelly is set to graduate in May, and as the conference leader in passing yards (3,224), among other categories, he could see his name crop up more and more on draft boards.

Kelly has started all 10 games for the Rebels this season, completing 65.7 percent of his passes for 23 touchdowns compared to 12 interceptions.

“I’m just worried about this next game,” he said. “Whatever happens, happens. But I know one thing is I need to get my degree. When you’re focused on the season and winning each game game by game, it’s easy.”

Petre Thomas

One player who was long considered an early-round lock was Tony Conner. However, the junior safety suffered a torn meniscus in his knee in the fourth quarter of the Rebels’ win at Alabama, the first for the program since 1988, and was sidelined until Arkansas.

He played 30 snaps Saturday, and he said the knee responded as one might expect it would. Soreness has been an issue, and the knee stiffened up at halftime due to inactivity. He had to have his knee drained on Monday, which head coach Hugh Freeze said was always the plan.

“During the game, at the beginning, I didn’t really have no pain,” he said. “Once I got out there, I wasn’t thinking about it. But while I’m out there I just had to get back myself and after I just made my first tackle I was more confident of just going in there. When halftime came, just sitting in the locker room, I got stiff from that. Once I got back out, I got stretched and got on the bike, I was constantly moving.

Conner opted to have his knee scoped rather than undergo the full-on season-ending surgery that comes with a torn meniscus. The remainder of the season is about pain management, and he’ll go under the knife after the bowl game, wherever the Rebels end up.

The injury has certainly complicated the draft process.

“I mean, I haven’t really been thinking about it,” he said. “Right now, I’ve been focused on this season. Right now, with my knee injury and everything, I really just haven’t been focused on that. I’ve been trying to get back into rehab and get back on the field and I’ll just think about it as we go on.

“I’ve still been talking it over with my parents and everything. I told them I’ll let them know something pretty soon. We’re still communicating about it.”

Random Notes:

* The bye week is as good a time as any to get an evaluation or two on some of the newcomers, many of which are finishing up their redshirt freshman seasons. One player of interest is quarterback Jason Pellerin, who Kelly had high praise for. “Dude’s got one of the livest arms I’ve ever seen. He’s a big, strong dude. He’s learning the offense, he’s paying attention in meetings and he’s taking everything in, as any freshman would. He’s doing a good job so far. I’m anxious to see what’s to come in the next couple of years.”

* Former Ole Miss wide receiver and current Indianapolis Colt Donte Moncrief was at practice today. He spent much of his time, as you would expect on the offensive side of the practice fields, chatting with coaches and a number of players, including Treadwell and Rebel receivers. I’ve covered Ole Miss for a long time now. Moncrief is the most active former player I’ve seen. He’s always around, and that’s a good thing.

* Linebacker C.J. Johnson, safety C.J. Hampton, linebacker Terry Caldwell and defensive end Fadol Brown were all in street clothes during the some two-hour session. Again, with no game this week, now’s the time to rest up. Of note, however, Brown had a boot on his left foot. Conner didn’t practice either, as expected, after getting his knee drained.

* Conner talked a little more about the additional surgery he’ll have to have once the season is over. “I have to go back in and get a piece of cartilage put back in in between bones. Right now, it’s just bone on bone. I have to go back in at the end of the season and get a piece in.”

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