Preview: Ole Miss vs. Memphis; Rebels set for Saturday showdown
Memphis Tigers head football coach Justin Fuente still remembers what happened to his team last season in Oxford, when then 10th-ranked Ole Miss pulled away in the final quarter to defeat Memphis 24-3. Fuente’s returning players from last season still remember, also.
The Tigers are on a 12-game winning streak, the third-longest among FBS schools, with their last loss coming in October, 2014 (24-28 to Houston).
“I know our kids will be excited and there will be a great atmosphere and all those things, but we’ve got to understand we can play with great emotion but we have to play with great intelligence too,” said Fuente about Memphis, which is currently one of three schools (Houston and Temple) in the American Athletic Conference to stand at 5-0 on the season.
The Tigers (5-0, 2-0 AAC) are also No. 22 in the USA Today Amway Coaches Poll, but are unranked in the AP poll.
Rebels with Memphis connections
The adrenaline will be flowing through the veins of both teams as they once again meet on the gridiron for 60 minutes of football on Saturday (11 a.m. CT, ABC).
A total of eleven Memphis-area players are playing for the Rebels (5-1, 2-1 SEC), and they are eager to go back home and play in front of some of the fans that cheered for them during their high school football days.
There’s no shortage of excitement for the showdown inside Liberty Memorial Stadium. Running back Jordan Wilkins is from the Memphis suburb of Cordova and senior tailback Jaylen Walton played prep football at Ridgeway High School.
“This is a dream come true to go back and play in front of thousands of fans who watched me develop from the beginning of my career in middle school,” said Walton, who missed No. 13 Ole Miss’ 52-3 homecoming win against New Mexico State, but is expected to play against the Tigers.
Wilkins has friends on the Memphis team and his girlfriend is a Tigers’ cheerleader. Like a lot of his teammates, Wilkins heard about the “We want Ole Miss” chant that lingered across the metropolitan city after Memphis defeated Cincinnati, 53-46, in a September 24 Thursday night conference game.
The fans’ chant has added a little fuel to the fire for some of the Rebel players, including Wilkins himself, though the Rebels insist they are staying focused on themselves and what they need to do to emerge victorious.
“That fired me up a little bit so I’m excited,” Wilkins said. “I heard it on TV, saw all the tweets, people tagging me and stuff.”
This game is being built up to be a Super Bowl type of event, with both teams having two of the most prolific offenses in the country. Ole Miss leads the Southeastern Conference in total offense (527.83 ypg) and its offense is ranked fifth in the nation. Memphis leads the AAC in scoring offense (47.8 ppg) and is fourth in the nation.
And a lot of both team’s success has to do with the outstanding performances from both quarterbacks, Chad Kelly and Paxton Lynch.
Kelly has completed 64.6 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,862 yards and 14 touchdowns.
Fuente on Kelly: “In my opinion, watching Chad Kelly play he has been pretty efficient and seems to be making good decisions, getting the ball to their guys on the edge,” Fuente said about Kelly, who was named to the Manning Award Watch List on Wednesday and the Maxwell Award Watch List on Thursday, for college football’s top quarterback. “He makes some plays with his feet, running just a little bit. He’s been a pretty good weapon for them.”
Freeze on Lynch: Freeze also shared some words on Memphis’ Lynch, who has completed 70.5 percent of his passes and has thrown for 1,535 yards and 10 touchdowns. Lynch has yet to thrown an interception.
“I thought he was really good last year also,” Freeze said about Lynch, who completed 13 of 31 passes for 81 yards and an interception in last season’s matchup. “We were giving people a lot of problems. Has he improved? Of course he has. I would assume, I don’t know him personally, but he strikes me as the type of player that spends time in preparing that you should to play that position.”
Injuries for Ole Miss
- Evan Engram didn’t practice on Sunday or Tuesday while battling a knee injury and recovering from a kick in the shin, but is expected to be a full go on Saturday.
- Defensive lineman D.J. Jones is in the concussion protocol.
- Guard Justin Bell is expected to play
- Wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow is expected to play
- Running back Jaylen Walton is also expected to play.
- Center Robert Conyers is day to day.
- Tony Conner had surgery on his meniscus and will not play.
- C.J. Johnson is also out following meniscus surgery.
- Issac Gross and Herbert Moore are out for the season with neck and knee injuries, respectively.
Tunsil returns for A&M game
The NCAA has finally concluded its investigation of Laremy Tunsil, who will be suspended for seven games, and the Rebels’ left tackle will suit up for Ole Miss in its Oct. 24 SEC matchup against Texas A&M. The school was notified by the NCAA on Monday afternoon.
“I take full responsibility for the mistakes I made and want to thank everyone for their continued support,” Tunsil said in the school’s news release. “I want to apologize to my teammates, coaches and the entire Ole Miss family for how my choices affected our program.”
Ole Miss record against AAC teams
The Rebels are 109-46-3 all-time against current members of the three-year-old American Athletic Conference. Saturday will mark the 61st meeting between the Mid-South rivals. It is Ole Miss’ most frequent rivalry with any school not currently or formerly from the SEC.
The Rebels hold a 48-10-2 lead against Memphis and have won each of the last six games. Ole Miss has won 15 of the last 19 meetings dating back to 1988. In Memphis, the Rebels are 25-7-2.
Time: 11:00 a.m.
Where: Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Memphis, Tenn.
Satellite Radio: Sirius 83, XM 190
Live Stats: OleMissSports.com
Live Audio: OleMissSports.com
Last Meeting: 24-3, Ole Miss, 2014
All-time series: Ole Miss, 48-10-2
(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)