When 6-3 Ole Miss and 5-4 Tennessee lock up in their SEC match Saturday morning at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, there will be a lot on the line and the story lines will be plentiful.
It will be about. . .
. . . the Ole Miss offensive staff matching wits with Vols' Defensive Coordinator Monte Kiffen, who is universally recognized as one of the premier defensive minds in the business. Kiffen, a grizzled NFL coaching icon, has forgotten more defense than a lot of coaches know.
On the opposite sideline, Rebel Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin and his offensive staff, with a major assist from Coach Houston Nutt, will be trying to right a ship that has produced inconsistent results, with equal parts of brilliance and perplexing ineptness. Mistakes, of all varieties and most significantly including turnovers, have been the Rebs' Achilles heel. A masterful gameplan and a clean game will be required against the Kiffen-led defense.
The most crucial element will be for the Rebs to stay out of third-and-long situations against Kiffen, who feats on those scenarios.
. . . the Ole Miss defense regaining the pre-Auburn form that earned them the reputation as one of the top defensive units in the SEC. They'll be facing a Volunteer offense that sputtered early in the year due mostly to sporadic play by Quarterback Jonathan Crompton. Lane Kiffen's offensive staff has now fine-tuned what Crompton is and isn't capable of executing and has adjusted the play-calling accordingly.
Meanwhile, the Rebels have shown a troubling susceptibility to the big play of late, something they avoided like a third-grader deftly dodges eating carrots earlier in the year. Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix knows that has to cease and desist for the Rebels to win.
. . . athletes. While both teams have still-unexplained and unexpected losses, both have enough SEC quality athletes to win this game. Like most SEC games - surprise, surprise - this one will be decided by who executes best and who minimizes their mistakes. Intensity, focus, all the intangibles are in play.
. . . the magnitude of the game for both teams. Neither are bowl eligible yet and both need to get that monkey off their backs. Not many expected the Rebels to be searching for a bowl-eligible win this late in the season, but it is what it is. UT, who has an easier November schedule, was expected to make their bowl-eligible run late. This is their first chance to put that behind them as well.
. . . the Vaught-Hemingway atmosphere. The Rebels will need a 12th man. This team, for whatever reason, has not been able to sustain much momentum this year. It seems every time they have gotten a glimmer of downhill motion, they have hit a wall and been stopped in their tracks, having to rev up the engine again. Instead of catching a tailwind and gaining some speed, they've hit spots of dead seas. To finish off this year the way all Rebels want, you will have to be a part of the equation. They need you in the stands early, vocalizing loudly for 60 minutes. Sure, this season has produced some frustrations, and for good reason, but now is the time to check those feelings at the gate and bring some positive energy to this team. It's the right thing to do and will definitely be a factor in the outcome.
Yes, this one has a lot of different sidebars. It will be about strategy, execution, emotions, an intriguing chess game between two quality staffs, intensity, excellent athletes matching skill sets and the electricity created by fans in the stadium.
What it won't be about is Ed Orgeron and all the rehashing of this, that and the other of his short-lived, volatile tenure at Ole Miss.
Sure, the media has made O's return a big deal because it's "sexy" and has some juice to it, and "everyone" will like reading about it because some love sensationalism, but he's irrelevant to the task at hand other than how his defensive linemen for UT perform. A few players have been baited to say some off-the-cuff comments about Ed, but that won't make a hill of beans after the first hard hit is passed.
Will some of the players get some added incentive and extra motivation from O's return? Probably, but the majority of their attention should go elsewhere.
To make Orgeron's return a focal point by rehashing who-shot-John? is a waste of time and energy and counterproductive to the important cause at hand - to win.
Ole Miss vs. Tennessee
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