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Week Two Preview: Ole Miss vs. Fresno State

Week Two Preview: Ole Miss vs. Fresno State

At his weekly press conference on Monday, Ole Miss head football coach Hugh Freeze noted that the “T” in the first word of this season’s “Take a Stand” theme refers to being “Teachable.” Each week is a new week for Freeze, and he expects his players, coaches and staff–including himself–to learn from whatever happened in the prior game.

After Ole Miss  throttled FCS school UT-Martin 76-3 in week one of the 2015-16 college football season, Freeze quickly pointed out the positives–as well as the negatives– from the game, to ensure his Rebels will learn all they need to before Fresno State comes to town on Saturday.

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Safety Trae Elston intercepted the ball against UT-Martin and returned it for a touchdown. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

“From my short time in San Jose, one thing was evident to me from the kids at Fresno that play for (head) coach (Tim) DeRuyter; they love challenges,” Freeze said. “They love playing in environments against schools people would consider the bigger schools. They are a 3-3 multiple defense that gives you a lot of problems. They can come from a lot of different areas.”

From opening week’s performance, Freeze liked the fact the offense had nine explosive plays, but was not particularly happy with the defense giving up two such plays, though he pointed out how pleased he was with the defensive touchdown by senior free safety Trae Elston. Freeze also indicated that 4 of 9 third-down conversions on offense is one aspect of the game the offense can improve on.

Scouting Fresno State and its high-octane offense

Ole Miss (1-0) has defeated Fresno State twice, in 2010 and 2011, and leads the series against Fresno State 2-0. In the 2011 victory, the Rebels got the best of the Bulldogs, 38-28, at Bulldog Stadium.

The Bulldogs (1-0) return six offensive and five defensive starters from last year’s team that won the Mountain West Conference West division title and went to the Hawaii Bowl with a 6-8 overall record. In its season opener against Abilene Christian, Fresno State allowed only 34 rushing yards and forced two interceptions. The Bulldogs were also able to sack the Wildcats’ quarterbacks Parker McKenzie and Dallas Sealey five times in the 34-13 win.

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The Landshark Defense held UT-Martin to 290 total yards of offense. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

Freeze expects his team to be physically challenged on both sides of the football, something he feels No. 17 Ole Miss needs before conference play kicks off in week three against No. 2 Alabama.

Bulldogs’ tempo: “Offensively they spread you out all over the field with tempo, which will be a great challenge for us to be prepared for,” Freeze said about the Rebels, whose defense relinquished just three points and 290 yards of total offense against the Skyhawks. “It will be a better test for us this Saturday to judge exactly where we are.”

As Freeze suggested, Fresno State is known for spreading opponents with its high-octane offense, having the ability to run a balanced offense for the entire game.

Against Abilene Christian, senior running back Marteze Waller rushed for 154 yards on 22 carries and sophomore quarterback Zack Greenlee threw three touchdowns, including two scores to sophomore tight end Chad Olsen. Waller is currently seventh in the NCAA FBS active career leaders in rushing yards (2,342).

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Quarterback Chad Kelly will start the game for the Rebels against Fresno State Saturday. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

“I have gotten to know Coach DeRuyter the last few years on the Nike trip. He is one of my golfing buddies on those trips,” Freeze said about DeRuyter, who led the Bulldogs to back-to-back MWC titles in 2012 and 2013. “He is a great guy. He does a really nice job coaching the defense.”

Kelly gets the nod to start on Saturday

Chad Kelly, who threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns on 9 of 15 completions against UT-Martin, will start for the Rebels against Fresno State. Freeze noted Kelly made some explosive plays in the team’s season opener, but the head coach is not sold yet on him being the starter for the remainder of the season.

“I know this isn’t probably the answer that everyone wants to hear, but I like all three right now,” Freeze said on Monday. “Chad Kelly certainly played well. He did seem comfortable, probably much more comfortable than I anticipated him being. I thought Ryan Buchanan played well, I thought DeVante Kincade did some really nice things too. I like all three. I thought they played well as a unit.”

C.J. Johnson is ready to go; C.J. Hampton is being evaluated

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C.J. Johnson will play Saturday. (Photo credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk)

At Monday’s press conference, Freeze made the announcement that after missing week one week middle linebacker C.J. Johnson is expected to play against the Bulldogs. “Number 10 is ready to go,” Freeze said of Johnson on Monday. “I know he is ready to go. I thought he did a good job of leading on the sideline and helping teach some of the younger kids some of the adjustments they have to make.”

The status of free safety C.J. Hampton is still in the air. Freeze and his staff will evaluate the situation and announce a decision before Saturday.

Tunsil likely out for Fresno State game

Offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil, a preseason All-SEC First Team member and likely first-round draft pick, will most likely miss another week of football as the NCAA is investigating a situation involving Tunsil. Freeze noted he doesn’t know much of what is going on behind the scenes, but is hopeful the situation will come to an end.

“I don’t know,” is the answer Freeze gave when asked if he would play Tunsil before a ruling from the NCAA. “I would have to feel very comfortable with that and know that our program wasn’t at risk. That would have to come from our administration above me.”

Rebels against the Mountain West

Ole Miss has a 6-3 record all-time against current members of the Mountain West Conference. The Rebels’ last game against an MWC team was a 35-13 win over Boise State in last year’s Chick-Fil-A Kickoff season opener at the Georgia Dome.

Ole Miss records vs. MWC teams are as follows:  vs. Air Force (2-1), vs. Boise State (1-0), vs. Fresno State (2-0), vs. UNLV (1-0), vs. Wyoming (0-2).

Saturday’s game information

Date: Saturday, Sept. 12, 2015
Time: 2:30 p.m. CT
Location: Oxford, Miss.
Venue: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (59,347)
Ole Miss Rankings: 17 (AP), 14 (Coaches)
Fresno St. Rankings: NR (AP), NR (Coaches)
Series: Ole Miss leads 2-0
In Oxford: Ole Miss leads 1-0
Live Stats: OleMissSports.com
Live Audio: OleMissSports.com

About The Author

Courtney Smith

Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor's Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men's basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.

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