By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Something will have to give at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night.
Ole Miss players hope it’s a Missouri defense that hasn’t budged much this season, and the Rebels believe they have the goods on offense to make it happen.
While the opponent was of a different caliber, the Rebels are coming off a school-record 751 yards against Troy in last Saturday’s 51-21 win.
It wasn’t the first time in recent weeks that Ole Miss – which returned to the rankings at No. 24 in the AP Top 25 – has been clicking. Missouri comes in ranked No. 8.
In their four-game win streak which goes back to a 27-24 victory against then-No. 6 LSU, the Rebels have had no less than 525 yards.
“Our confidence is up. We know exactly what we’re doing. We’ve kind of shortened the package a little bit,” Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze says he’s seen balance in this stretch, although he believes the Rebels have left a few points on the table.
Last week, Freeze said he felt the Rebels’ scoring was five to seven points off relative to the yardage.
“We’re rushing the ball fairly well. We’re throwing the ball fairly well,” he said. “We’re scoring some points, but we could have a few more. I do think we’ve improved in all those areas, particularly with the challenges we’ve faced.”
The four-game win streak hasn’t seen dominance in all areas.
The Rebels rushed for 176 yards against LSU and plowed through Idaho and Troy with a combined 674 rushing yards.
Arkansas, though, held Ole Miss to 103 yards on 38 attempts, an average of 2.71 yards per carry.
Missouri has been strong against the run, both within conference play and without. League opponents are getting just 109.3 yards a game and 3.1 yards a carry against the Tigers.
Missouri has been the SEC’s best at making plays in the backfield with defensive end Michael Sam leading the league in sacks and tackles for loss.
He’s most often lined up against the opponent’s right tackle, which would pit him against Ole Miss senior Pierce Burton.
“You’ve got to have great technique against great players,” Burton said. “I always play hard, I think, and I play with extreme effort, but I’ve got to have more attention to detail with my technique in order to be successful against a guy like that.”
Success from Burton and all of his offensive linemen is important, Freeze says, because the Rebels must run the ball to have their best chance against Missouri.
Ole Miss is averaging 200.6 yards a game on the ground, fifth in the league, but has surpassed 140 yards against SEC foes just twice.
One of those was a 206-yard effort in the season opener at Vanderbilt, which was fueled by Jeff Scott’s 75-yard touchdown run in the final 67 seconds.
Because the run game was ineffective at Auburn and he was hurt early against Texas A&M, Scott had carried just 10 times in the five games prior to Troy. He appeared in good shape against the Trojans with 11 carries for 54 yards.
Scott remains the team’s leading rusher with 488 yards and two touchdowns on 64 carries.
“We’re pretty good when we can run it,” Freeze said. “When we’re not running it – look at the Alabama and Auburn games – we’re not the same team.”