September 23, 2014

(AP) - Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze is certainly pleased his team is undefeated and has its highest national ranking since 2009.

He's also well aware the 10th-ranked Rebels haven't really accomplished anything yet.

Mississippi (3-0) rolled through the first four weeks of the season unscathed and virtually untested. The Rebels just finished a bye week and Freeze said his team spent that down time trying to fix weaknesses because the SEC gauntlet is approaching in a hurry.

Ole Miss hosts Memphis (2-1) on Saturday night before a difficult October that includes games against Alabama, Texas A&M, Tennessee and LSU.

It's a stretch that will likely determine if the Rebels are a real threat in the Western Division, which has six teams in the Top 25.

''The West is as strong as it's ever been from top to bottom,'' Freeze said. ''We've got a difficult one this week with Memphis before we can turn our attention to that, but certainly that's going to be a great challenge.''

Ole Miss has been very good in most facets during easy victories over Boise State, Vanderbilt and Louisiana-Lafayette. Senior Bo Wallace has completed 75.5 percent of his passes for 1,039 yards and nine touchdowns.

The defense - especially the secondary - has been terrific. The Rebels lead the SEC with eight interceptions, including three by Senquez Golson.

But the Rebels' running game is a big concern.

Ole Miss ranks 13th out of 14 teams in the league with 465 rushing yards and is averaging 3.9 yards per attempt. The Rebels' offensive line has been solid in pass protection, but hasn't been as successful at creating running lanes.

''We made an effort (this week) to continue figuring out a way to run the football and how we're going to do that,'' Freeze said. ''Coming up with good stuff that our kids can be successful at doing.''

Wallace said the bye week also allowed for some time to check out other SEC teams on television. He's been impressed by what he's seen and said it's good motivation.

''It's really crazy watching these games,'' Wallace said. ''People have improved. Arkansas looks good. It's wide open in the West, so we have to take advantage of every day and try to get better.''

But before the Rebels jump back into the SEC, there's Saturday's tricky game against Memphis - a regional rival that appears vastly improved.

The Tigers had a 10-38 record from 2010 to 2013, but have won two of three to start this season. Their only loss was a very competitive 42-35 game against then-No. 11 UCLA.

Freeze is well aware that fans and media are focused on Ole Miss' potential top-10 showdown on Oct. 4 with No. 3 Alabama. But he said the Crimson Tide won't be mentioned around the football facility until the right time comes.

''We play Memphis this week,'' Freeze said. ''I can't, for the life of me, understand why people would jump the gun.''

Ole Miss left tackle Laremy Tunsil said the Rebels are better prepared to handle success this season. He said the team had trouble with that in 2013.

''Last year I feel like we got complacent,'' Tunsil said. ''We felt too confident about ourselves. I think this season we've calmed down a little bit and take things one step at a time.''

The next step is beating a Memphis team that opened eyes with the road defeat to UCLA. Tigers safety Fritz Etienne returned an interception for a tying touchdown with 13:44 to play.

Memphis gave up the winning score less than two minutes later, but it bounced back from the loss by beating Middle Tennessee 36-17 after a bye last week. The Tigers rushed for 261 yards and linebacker Tank Jakes had a sack for a safety, forced a fumble that resulted in a touchdown and added an interception.

Jakes had two of Memphis' four sacks of UCLA's Brett Hundley, and he recorded a career-high four total tackles for loss in that game.

After handling the Blue Raiders, Memphis gets another shot at knocking off a major-conference opponent.

"We have to limit our mistakes and capitalize on their mistakes. We limit our mistakes and I think we'll have a "W" on our hands," junior linebacker Wynton McManis said. "Going to UCLA, it was a big stage. This is another big stage but now we are more prepared for it and we know how to handle it. It's just another game on the schedule that we have to handle."

The Tigers, though, are 0-15 against Top 25 opponents since the start of the 1997 season. Ole Miss has won five consecutive matchups, the most recent a 45-14 victory at Memphis in 2009.

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