OXFORD – Sometimes teams complete their game preparation and by week’s end are able to coast into game day without incident.
Then sometimes news happens.
News happened for both Ole Miss and Tennessee this week, and none of it was good.
The Rebels (6-3, 2-3 SEC) and Volunteers (5-4, 2-3) kick off at 11 a.m., today at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium before a CBS national television audience. The winner will become bowl eligible.
Ole Miss learned on Wednesday that it will be without sack leader Greg Hardy, who had surgery Thursday on a fractured wrist. Hardy has five sacks this season and ends his career with 26 1/2.
News for Tennessee came in the form of the arrest of three freshmen charged in connection with the armed robbery of a Knoxville gas station. Wide receiver and kick returner Nu’keese Richardson and safety Janzen Jackson have played key roles for the Vols this season. Mike Edwards is a special teams player and defensive reserve.
None of the three were expected to make the trip south, as their futures with the team remain very much in doubt. Richardson remained in jail in lieu of $19,500 bond on Friday morning.
In a prepared statement Tenneessee men’s athletics director Mike Hamilton said, “We are currently evaluating the circumstances … Any decisions or comments regarding their status will not be made until the evaluations are complete.”
Jackson has 33 tackles along with three passes defended, a forced fumble and an interception.
Richardson has eight catches for 102 yards and a TD but has made a bigger impact on special teams as a returned on kickoffs (22.5 yards per return) and punts (11.0 ypr).
Hardy has become the Rebels’ most recognizable defensive player, and today’s game marks the return of the coach who signed him, Ed Orgeron.
Orgeron was 10-25, 3-21 in SEC games in three seasons. He declined interview requests this week.
“I think if you’ve been fired, if you ever went back to the place that you were at it’s going to be a big deal to you, especially when you brought so many great players there and worked so hard,” said first-year Tennessee coach Lane Kiffin, who hired Orgeron as defensive line coach and recruiting coordinator. “It’s a big deal for him.”
Nutt says he hasn’t had to talk to his players about channeling, in one way or another, their emotion regarding Orgeron.
For Nutt, the big deal is stopping a Tennessee offense that has surged in its last four games. The Vols have won three of their last four.
“They’re handing it off more than when they started. They’ve got good, hard-nosed backs and a quarterback who’s doing a good job of taking care of the ball,” he said.
“Right now they’re a very efficient team on offense, defense and special teams, and that’s why they’ve been winning of late.”
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Today’s game at a glance
– Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, Oxford
– Kickoff: 11 a.m.
– Television: CBS
– Radio: Ole Miss network; XM channel 199; Sirius channel 220
– Records: Ole Miss 6-3, 2-3 SEC; Tennessee 5-4, 2-3 SEC
– Rankings: Both teams are unranked.
– Series: Tennessee leads 43-18-1
– Coaches – Tennessee: Lane Kiffin 5-4 (First year); Ole Miss Houston Nutt 126-77 (17th year)
– Statistical leaders – Tennessee: QB Jonathan Crompton 156-264-10 INT, 1,948 yards, 21 TDs passing; RB Montario Hardesty 179-901 8 TDs rushing; WR Gerald Jones 28-401 4 TDs receiving; LB Rico McCoy 76 tackles. 4 FF. Ole Miss: QB Jevan Snead 134-258 13 INT, 1,850 yards, 17 TDs passing; RB Brandon Bolden 100-523 2 TD rushing; WR Shay Hodge 45-733 6 TDs receiving; FS Kendrick Lewis 57 tackles, 6 PBU.
Trends: Tennessee has won 12 straight in a series that is not played every year. Ole Miss’ last win in the series was 13-10 in Knoxville in 1983. Tennessee won 27-10 in 2005, the most recent meeting. That was Ed Orgeron’s first season as Ole Miss coach.
– Notes: Ole Miss WR Shay Hodge has posted back-to-back 100-yard games. … Four members of the Tennessee coaching staff previously served at Ole Miss: Orgeron, WR coach Frank Wilson, strength coach Aaron Ausmus and administrative assistant Kyle Strongin.
– Summing it up: “I want to see us with tremendous focus, not going through the motions, but all-out effort. I’ve seen our guys like that before, where they’re in a frenzy and playing at a high level.” – Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt
Prediction: Tennessee 20, Ole Miss 19
Read more about today’s game in Game Day today in the NEMS Daily Journal.
Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal