September 26, 2014

Mississippi has an October packed with crucial Southeastern Conference games in its near future.

One more nonconference matchup remains before the Rebels can concentrate on that stretch.

No. 10 Ole Miss (3-0) can start its season with four straight victories for the first time since 1970 when it hosts Memphis (2-1) on Saturday. The Rebels have won five straight in the series dating back to 2004.

But Memphis has beaten good Ole Miss teams in the past. The Tigers topped the Eli Manning-led Rebels 44-34 in 2003 before Ole Miss went on to a 10-win season.

Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze is only concerned with the 2014 version of Memphis, which appears capable of pulling a similar upset. The Tigers hung close with No. 11 UCLA in Pasadena, California, before falling 42-35 on Sept. 6.

''They've gone toe-to-toe with one of the nation's best at their place,'' Freeze said. ''If their quarterback keeps playing solid, their defense is good enough to keep them in every game. That's what they've done.''

Ole Miss is coming off a bye week. Quarterback Bo Wallace said the Rebels are eager to get back on the field and aware that Memphis appears much improved after a brutal 10-38 stretch from 2010 to 2013.

''They play really hard. They're physical. They do some things that can cause problems,'' Wallace said. ''The great thing is we've had two weeks to prepare for them.''

Memphis coach Justin Fuente said the Rebels pose problems on both sides of the ball. Wallace leads the nation with a 75.5 pass competition percentage and the Ole Miss defense leads the SEC with eight interceptions.

''They force you into mistakes,'' Fuente said. ''When they hit you, it's usually hard. You have to hold onto the football, and you can't let some pressure force you into poor decisions. The other thing is that those kids for Ole Miss in the back-end have great ball skills. They do a great job of going and getting the ball out of the air.''

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Things to watch in Ole Miss' non-conference game against Memphis:

KEEP FOCUS: There's a potential marquee matchup coming to Ole Miss on Oct. 4 when No. 3 Alabama swings through town, but coach Hugh Freeze says it's very important that the Rebels keep their focus on an improved Memphis program. The Tigers are a regional rival - the two campuses are separated by about 70 miles - and have been a difficult foe in past games, beating Ole Miss in both 2003 and 2004.

PASS AND RUN: The Ole Miss passing offense has been dominant so far this season. Senior QB Bo Wallace is completing 75.5 percent of his passes for 1,023 yards, nine touchdowns and four interceptions. But the Rebels have struggled to run the ball, ranking just 13th out of 14 league teams on the ground.

OLE MISS PLAYS DEFENSE: The Rebels' defense is allowing just 10.3 points per game, which ranks third in the NCAA and leads the SEC. Ole Miss has been particularly good in the secondary, leading the league with eight interceptions. Senior CB Senquez Golson has three of them.

REVITALIZED MEMPHIS: It's been a rough stretch of football for Memphis, which had a 10-38 record from 2010 to 2013. But the Tigers have shown signs of life in coach Justin Fuente's third season. Memphis has had two victories this season over Austin Peay and Middle Tennessee. The only loss: A 42-35 setback against No. 11 UCLA in Pasadena, California.

WATCH OUT FOR THE TANK: Memphis has one of the nation's most productive defensive players in LB Tank Jakes. The 5-foot-11, 227-pound senior already has 27 tackles this season, including nine tackles for a loss and four sacks.

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Follow David Brandt on Twitter: www.twitter.com/davidbrandtAP

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