Raise your hand if you thought in August that all eyes would be on Oxford in the next-to-last weekend of the regular season for the Missouri/Ole Miss game.
Put your hand down, because you didn't.
But here we are in late November with Missouri in the driver's seat in the SEC East, needing to win out to secure a trip to Atlanta as division champs.
How can Ole Miss spring the upset?
The most important thing for the Rebels is to put pressure on quarterback James Franklin. Franklin returned from a shoulder injury for some mop-up duty two weeks ago, but he will still be a bit rusty when he takes the field on Saturday night.
That means freshman defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche needs to have a big day for the Rebels.
Nkemdiche had four tackles, one sack and two tackles for loss last week versus Troy, in a 51-21 Ole Miss win in which Troy rushed for minus-13 yards. He was awarded Defensive Lineman of the Week honors from the SEC for his performance, and he has established himself as one of the most promising defensive linemen in the SEC.
“He’s gotten more comfortable as the year has gone on," Freeze said on Monday in quotes released by Ole Miss. "He is getting healthy again. That’s helped. And he’s getting more comfortable with his transition to playing an interior position instead of on the edge."
If the Ole Miss front seven can rattle Franklin early and force a mistake or two, it will put the Rebels offense in good field position and potentially give them an advantage if and when this game becomes a shootout.
The Rebels also need to protect quarterback Bo Wallace.
Missouri has been so successful on defense because the Tigers consistently generate pressure with their front four, which is headlined by Walter Camp semifinalist Michael Sam and rolls about eight deep. That consistent pressure is a big reason why the Tigers lead the conference with 25 takeaways and 17 interceptions this season.
That's bad news for Ole Miss, which has given up 22 sacks this season—the fourth-worst mark in the conference. But it has only given up three over the last three games, and if that hot streak continues, Wallace should have a big day.
He's topped the 300-yard mark in the air in four of his last six games, and he has reconnected with star wide receiver Donte Moncrief after Moncrief got off to a slow start this season.
The Rebels secondary also needs to shut down Missouri's passing attack.
Franklin knows that his talented group of wide receivers—three of which are 6'4" or taller—turn 50/50 balls into 75/25 balls. That puts pressure on cornerbacks Senquez Golson, Mike Hilton and Derrick Jones, who will need to come up big for the Rebels.
"That’s a physics problem that we can’t solve," Freeze said during his Monday press conference." It is a concern for sure, because there are times where their guys are just more able to make a play on the ball than maybe some DBs that they’ve faced. That is a great concern and something that we’ve got to figure out what the best answers are when those cases arise.”
In a game that is destined to be a high-scoring affair, Ole Miss' cornerbacks need to take advantage of mistakes and get a few key pass breakups in big situations to get its offense back on the field.
This should be a fun game.
Ole Miss is on a roll, and Missouri has a target on its back, which will create a big-game atmosphere in Oxford on Saturday night.
If Ole Miss plays its game—the game it has used to get on this four-game winning streak—it should spring the upset over the Tigers.
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