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ALL EYES ON TEXAS

Austin McAfee/The Daily Mississippian

 
With thousands of fans flocking to town this weekend, it’s easy to see the excitement that’s swirling in Oxford. Ole Miss welcomes the No. 14 Texas Longhorns for a nonconference clash in Saturday night’s primetime matchup.
 
When Ole Miss announced the addition of Texas to the football schedule in August of 2007, Rebel and Texas fans couldn’t wait for the matchup. Here it is five years later, and the excitement level is at an unprecedented high.
 
The Rebels (2-0) will take on the No. 14 Longhorns (2-0) of the Big 12 in Saturday’s ESPN primetime showcase at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium at 8:15 p.m.
 
Ole Miss hasn’t had a home win over a ranked nonconference opponent from a major conference in the regular season since defeating Notre Dame 20-13 on Sept. 17, 1977. It’s gives the Rebels a huge chance for an eye-popping win. 
 
“We’re very excited about this week,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said in Monday’s press conference. “We have one of the nation’s best teams coming into Oxford. Our kids, fans and coaches are excited about the opportunity that it presents.”
 
Texas head coach Mack Brown is also anxious for the matchup.
 
“I’m amazed our fans are so excited about this game because it’s been a hard ticket,” Brown said. “We’ve got so many people calling and asking, and trying to find extra tickets. Ole Miss people are excited about it. (Former Ole Miss quarterback ) Archie Manning is a great friend of ours. Some of our boosters and Archie got together to make this game happen. So it’s a fun game. Glad that both teams are undefeated. And it will be the toughest test we’ve had to this point.” 
 
Ole Mis and Texas have squared off six previous times with the Longhorns holding a 5-1 advantage in the all-time series. The lone Ole Miss win came in the 1958 Sugar Bowl when the Rebels won 39-7. Saturday’s meeting is the first in Oxford between the two schools.
 
The Longhorns have an abundance of talent around, but the defense in particular is the strength of the team. Texas is ranked 26th in the nation in total defense (293.0 ypg) and is led by defensive ends Jackson Jeffcoat and Alex Okafor.
 
Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace will have to keep tabs on Jeffcoat and Okafor, who have each recorded a sack so far this season. Wallace has thrown for 438 yards and five touchdowns with an interception in two games this season and has led a Rebel offense that ranks sixth in the nation in pass efficiency, ninth in rushing (282.5 ypg) and 10th in total offense (551.5 ypg).
 
Freeze’s offense has done well so far, but it will get its first SEC-like test on Saturday. However, Texas defensive coordinator Manny Diaz, who is familiar with Ole Miss from his coaching days at Mississippi State, knows his defense will have to make multiple adjustments during the contest.
 
“You’re chasing ghosts a little bit,” Diaz said. “It can drive you a little crazy. You don’t know what they saw from that other team. You don’t know what their personnel was like. They have the same issues. Part of playing at this time of year is being able to adjust.”
 
Those adjustments will also be made on the offensive side of the ball. Freeze is familiar with Diaz’s defense having faced him at Middle Tennessee, and he knows his offense will have to be ready to see blitzes.
 
“Probably plays more man now that he’s at Texas than he did when he was at Middle Tennessee,” Freeze said. “It probably has a lot to do with the fact that he has some of the best corners and skill guys in the nation on his football team. He certainly doesn’t mind bringing pressure and bringing it from a lot of different places.”
 
On defense, Ole Miss ranks first in the SEC with 20 tackles for loss and nine sacks. The defense will have their hands full with the Texas offense led by sophomore quarterback David Ash, who is 36-of-49 on the year with 377 yards and three touchdowns. On the ground, Texas sophomore running backs Joe Bergeron and Malcolm Brown are a load, each averaging over six yards per carry.
 
“We just have to be ready when the ball is snapped,” defensive line coach Chris Kiffin said. “They’re going to do a lot of stuff pre-snap to mess with the (defensive backs’) and linebackers’ eyes. It’s just getting our cleats in the ground and getting ready for that ball to be snapped.
 
“Once it’s snapped, that offensive line isn’t giving us anything we haven’t seen. It’s the same blocking scheme we see week in and week out. It’s just the stuff pre-snap that’s going to mess up the back end guys. We’ve showed them everything they’ve got, and hopefully, they respond well.” 
 
Kiffin said there’s a different feeling around the football facilities this week with the talk of Saturday’s game looming around campus. It’s obviously a huge opportunity for the Rebels to get a marquee win on a national stage, but the players seem to be excited about the matchup.
 
“It’s a chance to show people that this is a completely different team,” freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said. “And (show them) that Ole Miss football has been brought back to life.” 
 
For continuing coverage of Ole Miss football, follow @thedm_sports and @DavidLCollier on Twitter.