Missouri tangles with Ole Miss in clash of ranked SEC foes

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Updated: 11/20/2013 11:04 am

Oxford, MS (SportsNetwork.com) - The eighth-ranked Missouri Tigers will try to continue on their trek toward the SEC Championship Game, as they take on the 24th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday night.

Missouri had a bye last week coming off back-to-back wins over Tennessee (31-3) and Kentucky (48-17) to improve to 9-1 overall. At 5-1 in conference, the Tigers are a game up on South Carolina in the loss column in the SEC's Eastern Division with this matchup and a home bout versus nationally-ranked Texas A&M on Nov. 30 still left on the schedule.

"I'm glad we (had) the bye week because it was much needed for our team, mentally and emotionally," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "There are a lot of good things and things I was very proud of our team (in the win at Kentucky), so it's a good situation to be in right now."

Ole Miss made a brief appearance in the Top-25 earlier this season after a 3-0 start, but promptly fell from the ranks following a three-game losing streak. The Rebels have gotten their season back on track, however, as they have won four straight to get reintroduced to the poll at No. 24. They most recently downed Troy in a non-conference tilt last weekend, 51-21.

"It's an exciting week for us," Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. "You get in this game as a coach and as a player at this level to play in exciting atmospheres, and also against great competition. All of those ingredients are in play for this week."

Missouri has a 5-1 advantage over Ole Miss in the all-time series, with its latest win coming in Oxford in 2007, 38-25.

Missouri has one of the most dynamic offenses in the country -- posting averages of 41.3 points and 492.6 yards per game -- and the unit will be back at full strength for the first time in more than a month with the return of its star quarterback.

The offense played well under freshman Maty Mauk (951 yards, 10 TD, two INTs), who went 3-1 as the starter, but senior signal caller James Franklin is expected to start after missing four games with a shoulder injury. In just seven games, Franklin has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes for 1,577 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions, and he is also a much better runner than Mauk (290 yards, three TDs).

"He looks just like he left off before the injury," Pinkel said of his quarterback. "He looks really good. He's excited about being back, and the team is excited about getting him back too. He had some adversity and battled through it."

A trio of outstanding receivers eagerly await Franklin's return. Dorial Green- Beckham (40 receptions, 579 yards) and L'Damian Washington (36 receptions, 680 yards) are both tied for second in the SEC with nine receiving touchdowns, while Marcus Lucas (531 yards, two TDs) leads the team with 46 catches.

The Tigers' ground game (235.8 ypg) is just as potent as their aerial attack. Henry Josey (760 yards, 10 TDs) is the primary back, but Russell Hansbrough (544 yards, four TDs) and Marcus Murphy (485 yards, seven touchdowns) get plenty of work as well.

As potent as the offense has been, the biggest reason for Missouri rising to elite levels this season has been the outstanding play of the defense, which ranks third in the SEC in allowing just 20.2 points per game, while its 25 takeaways are tied for ninth-most in the nation.

Michael Sam is one of the best defensive ends in the country, as he has racked up 16.0 TFL and 10 sacks. E.J. Gaines (four INTs) and Kentrell Brothers (three INTs) have been active in the turnover battle, Kony Ealy has 6.5 sacks, and Andrew Wilson's 74 tackles lead the team.

While the Ole Miss offense may not be as high-powered as Missouri's, it is still one of the best in the SEC (34.5 ppg, 498.0 ypg), and it is fresh off a school-record 751 yards generated against Troy last Saturday.

Bo Wallace is the offensive catalyst, completing nearly 65 percent of his passes for 2,664 yards with 21 touchdowns (four rushing) paired with just five interceptions. Barry Brunetti also gets mixed in near the goal line, and he has made the most of his limited work with six passing touchdowns and four more rushing.

Similarly to the Tigers, the Rebels have three very good pass-catchers. Laquon Treadwell (477 yards, five TDs) is the SEC's fifth-leading receiver with 53 receptions, while Donte Moncrief (44 receptions, 686 yards, five TDs) and Ja- Mes Logan (497 yards, three TDs) are both a big play waiting to happen.

Even though he missed four games with a thigh injury, Jeff Scott is still the team's leading rusher with 488 yards and two scores. He is expected to return this week, although I'Tavius Mathers (429 yards, two TDs) and Jaylen Walton (391 yards, six TDs) are still in the mix.

Defensively, Ole Miss has played much better than expected, as it holds foes to just 25.0 points per game.

Although Serderius Bryant (62 tackles, 9.0 TFL), Denzel Nkemdiche (30 tackles, FF) and Robert Nkemdiche (23 tackles, 7.0 TFL) have all missed multiple games, all three are free from the injury report and have made the Rebels' front seven a dynamic unit. Cody Prewitt leads the charge in the secondary with 54 tackles, four interceptions and two forced fumbles.

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