Preview: Ole Miss vs. New Mexico State
The Ole Miss Rebels are ready to get back into the thick of things and once again perform like one of college football’s elite teams. But first things first; they need to beat New Mexico State and bounce back from a tough loss to Florida last Saturday.
Despite the bitter defeat to the Gators, the Rebels lead the Southeastern Conference in total offense (500.4 ypg) and passing offense (327.4 ypg), and their starting quarterback Chad Kelly is confident the offense can have a better outing against the Aggies.
Against the Gators, Kelly threw for 259 yards on 26-of-40 passing for one touchdown and one interception.
After the game, he said he feels it’s his duty to make sure the offense scores points. “I think in the third quarter we had an 11-minute drive, 19-plays and anytime you get on the one-yard line and have four times to score and don’t punch it in, there is something that is not going right, obviously,” said Kelly, who has averaged 295.6 passing yards this season.
“But it starts with me, I’m the quarterback; I’m the leader of this team and I have to make sure that all of our guys are on the same page, including with our coaches.”
Being a leader of the offense you have to communicate with the coaches just as well as they communicate with us. So, you just got to get better. You got to practice even harder, understanding in the red zone, you can’t turn the ball over and you have to punch it in and score. In the SEC, if you don’t get these touchdowns on the one-yard line, it’s going to kill you to get three points.
Chad Kelly, Ole Miss quarterback
Next Up: New Mexico State
Before Ole Miss (4-1, 2-1) plays another powerhouse team in the SEC, it will have to face a New Mexico State team still looking for win number one. Just like the Rebels, the Aggies (0-4) suffered defeat to Florida, 61-13, with their loss coming in the first week of the season.
“Watching the game, I know Florida won the game and all that, but Ole Miss is probably the more talented football team than Florida,” Aggies’ head coach Doug Martin said. “Really great team speed, probably one of the best defensive front seven we have played since I have been here.”
Since its loss to the Gators, New Mexico State lost its next three games by a combined total of 14 points and dropped its two home contests, against Sun Belt Conference foe Georgia State (34-32) and UTEP (50-47) in overtime.
Freeze usually has a close relationship with his opponent’s head coach, but not with Aggies’ coach Martin, who has a career coaching record of 33-77.
“I don’t. I’m sorry to say that,” Freeze said at Monday’s press conference. “I’ve been watching his team, and they play extremely hard for him. I know he is trying to build something there. His schemes are good, but I do not know him personally.”
Scouting the Aggies
New Mexico State averages 30.2 points per outing and allows 45.8. Tailback Larry Rose III is among the nation’s best, statistically, with 579 rushing yards and six touchdowns. He ranks seventh nationally with 144.8 rushing ypg and 163.3 all-purpose ypg.
QB Tyler Rogers has completed 72 of 135 passes for 974 yards with seven TDs and three INTs. His top targets are Tyrain Taylor (17 catches, 308 yards, 3 TDs) and Teldrick Morgan (16 catches, 264 yards, 2 TDs).
The New Mexico State defense has forced and recovered five fumbles on the year.
Rebels’ record against the Sun Belt
Ole Miss is 29-1-2 all-time against current members of the Sun Belt Conference, with winning records against each as follows: Arkansas State (20-1-2), Idaho (1-0), Louisiana-Lafayette (4-0), Louisiana-Monroe (3-0), and Troy (1-0). Saturday will be the first time Ole Miss and New Mexico State have played one another in football.
Injuries and other notes
The following Ole Miss players are out for the New Mexico State game:
- Junior center Robert Conyers
- Senior right guard Justin Bell
- Freshman right guard Javon Patterson
- Senior running back Jaylen Walton
- Redshirt sophomore receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow
- Junior defensive back Kailo Moore
Additionally, senior linebacker C.J. Johnson is expected to miss 4-6 weeks after having surgery on his meniscus earlier this week. Former Northwest Mississippi Community College product Terry Caldwell will get the starting nod at replacing Johnson.
“I love his effort, love the way he runs to the ball,” Freeze said after watching Caldwell for the first time. “You got to be a little more vocal. He’s really a quiet, reserved kid to begin with and he’s got to get us lined up quickly, so that’s his biggest challenge, I think.”
Other Rebels who have been injured and are out for the season include Issac Gross and Herbert Moore. Junior Tony Conner is out following a meniscus injury, as well.
Update on Laremy Tunsil
Preseason All-America offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil has yet to see the football field this season and there’s no timetable for his return, based on what Coach Freeze is saying.
“That is the most difficult part, is to see a young man like this as the weeks go by,” Freeze said.
“He’s handled it as well as anyone could, but at the same time, he’s antsy. He’s just ready for finality to it, as are we. I hope to hear something this week, but I haven’t heard anything to this point. Just hopeful that it can be resolved this week, and we can get him back soon.”
Freeze says he avoids thinking about the possibility of not having Tunsil for the remainder of the season.
“I don’t let my mind go there,” he said. “From what I know, which is limited, I would think he is going to be back with us at some time. It’s frustrating as a coach, when you deal with young men and their futures, and they are part of your family, you know that mistakes are done in people’s lives. If that was done, then let’s just get to the finality to it. I do think that is coming, hopefully this week. I won’t be able to say that until they say, ‘this is what we’ve been waiting on.’ I don’t know all of that.”
Tee Shepard departs the Ole Miss program
Senior cornerback Tee Shepard announced early Wednesday that he’s looking past football and will focus on getting his degree from the University of Mississippi.
“The injuries and challenges I have overcome the last few years have taken away my love for playing the game of football,” read Shepard’s statement from the university. “I want to thank Rebel Nation for the support they have shown me in my time here. I want to especially thank Coach Freeze for showing me what unconditional love is like. I will always love this team and cheer them on as they compete for a championship. I look forward to completing my degree from Ole Miss and beginning the next phase of my life.”
Before his departure, Shepard played in all five games for the Rebels, recording two tackles and one pass breakup. Shepard, who will have only nine hours remaining to take in the spring, will remain on scholarship for the rest of the academic year and is expected to graduate in May.
Feature image credit: Bentley Breland, The Rebel Walk
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.