OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi has already played three nationally ranked teams — Florida State, Alabama and Georgia — during a difficult September that has been a huge test for the Rebels.
This weekend’s matchup against the Memphis Tigers might seem a little boring by comparison.
No. 16 Ole Miss (2-2) hosts Memphis (3-0) on Saturday nearly one year after the Tigers beat the Rebels 37-24 in Memphis. Ole Miss led 14-0 in that game before Memphis responded with 31 straight points in a stunning upset that was arguably the Rebels’ lowest point of the 2015 season.
Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram said the thought of that day brings back a flood of bad memories.
But it was also the start of something good.
“It was just kind of reality hitting and we had to start from scratch, look ourselves in the mirror and address the things we had to address,” Engram said. “That was a turning point for us last year honestly.”
Ole Miss went on to win five of its last six games, including a dominant Sugar Bowl victory over Oklahoma State.
Freeze said the Memphis game “should have our full attention” after last year’s loss, but added that he’s not going to spend the week preaching on payback.
“Any time you talk about revenge or those things, I don’t think that’s very helpful,” Freeze said. “I’m about preparing as good as we can prepare to play a very good Memphis team. I know that the game means a lot to our fan base and their fan base, so some emotion comes with that hopefully for our kids.”
Memphis has changed coaches since last season — Justin Fuente left for the Virginia Tech job during the offseason — but new coach Mike Norvell’s offense has been just as productive.
The Tigers have had some lopsided wins early in the season, including a 77-3 victory over Bowling Green last weekend. Now Memphis gets another chance to knock off an SEC school that’s only about 80 miles up the road.
“We know it’s going to be a physical battle and a game that will have some momentum swings,” Norvell said. “We just have to do our best to prepare for maximizing every one of those opportunities.”
Ole Miss defensive lineman John Youngblood said the defense has plenty of motivation after giving up 37 points and nearly 500 total yards to Memphis last season.
“We went up there and got embarrassed last year,” Youngblood said. “I don’t think we prepared well, and we didn’t have our mindset good enough going into the game. We definitely need to be on top of our stuff this week going into the game because they’re a good football team.”
The Ole Miss defense appears to be trending in the right direction after a dominant 45-14 victory over Georgia last week. The Bulldogs couldn’t score until late in the game when the Rebels were using a lot of backups.
Freeze said he was especially pleased that the defense didn’t give up any big plays against Georgia. The Memphis offense — which is averaging nearly 52 points per game — will provide another test.
“This team is really explosive on offense,” Freeze said. “They are kind of like us and take chances to get a lot of explosive plays.”