What strange territory we Ole Miss fans find ourselves in. The football season is halfway over, and the Rebels have yet to lose, marching up the polls to the No. 3 spot in the country and earning praise as a legitimate contender for the first ever College Football Playoff. Hugh Freeze's team is fortunate enough to have it's two toughest remaining opponents -- Auburn and Mississippi State -- traveling to Oxford, just as they're fortunate to catch Arkansas on the road in a rebuild and LSU in Baton Rouge in a "uh... Les?" type of year.
The Tennesse Volunteers, their opponents this week, are also in a rebuilding stage under second year head coach Butch Jones. While just 3-3 on the year with no SEC wins, Jones has recruited and coached well enough to have a defense that performs at a very high level. They're bound to give the somewhat consistent Ole Miss offense fits and could, with some fortunate play, play well enough to pull off a tremendous upset.
While I'm not one to opine that this team is "looking ahead" to another team, nor is it "hungover" from the prior weeks' successes, I have watched enough football to know that, sometimes, underdogs win. Ole Miss wasn't favored to beat Florida in 2008, Texas Tech in 2009, LSU in 2013 or Alabama in 2014, but we all saw that happen. Mississippi State wasn't favored in much of anything this season, and preseason SEC West favorites Auburn and Alabama are behind the eight ball (but still very much on the table) in the division race.
Tennessee could win. Chaos could continue to reign supreme in 2014. And Ole Miss could, like the SEC's Yellowhammer State institutions, find itself in a tough-but-not-impossible situation with regards to making their first ever trip to the SEC Championship Game.
Okay, I can't keep up the charade. C'mon, the Rebels are going to beat the Vols, and it probably won't be close. We're fans of a top-5 team, and it's time we as fans start thinking like it. There are plenty of tests remaining on the schedule, and while Tennessee will certainly bring their best game to Oxford, we should have no doubt that the Ole Miss Rebels are going to do the same.
Photo by Scott Halleran/Getty Images
How to watch
When: Saturday, 6 p.m. CT
Online streaming: WatchESPN.com
Radio: Ole Miss Football Radio Network
Tennessee's season so far
Record: 3-3 (0-2 SEC)
- Utah State - W 38-7
- Arkansas State - W 34-19
- at No. 4 Oklahoma - L 34-10
- at No. 12 Georgia - L 35-32
- Florida - L 10-9
- Chattanooga - W 45-10
3 things to watch
It's not good. Having replaced every starting member of the front five (including standouts JuWuan James and Tiny Richardson), the unit is allowing sacks at a rate of 3.83 per game, 121st worst in the nation. The Ole Miss defensive line is one of the conferences's best units and they could have a field day against the Vols' inexperienced front. If the Rebels can build an early lead or shut down the Tennessee rushing attack, quarterback Justin Worley is going to have a long day.
Worley vs. turnovers
When that pressure comes, and it will, how Worley responds will be one of the biggest keys to the game. So far, he's shown an ability to take care of the football -- considering the offensive line in front of him, Worley's five interceptions through six games this season are pretty good. But he's going against a ball-hawking secondary that ranks third in the country in interceptions. The closest Worley has seen to a unit like this is Florida, who he threw two picks against (including one in the final three minutes that cost Tennessee the game).
Hugh Freeze's play calling
Against both Alabama and Texas A&M, Freeze went with a largely conservative offensive game plan focused on protecting the ball and taking well-timed shots downfield. The strategy worked: the Rebs picked up big wins and Bo Wallace didn't turn the ball over for eight quarters. Does Freeze stick with that plan against a surprisingly strong Tennessee defense or does he open it up and try to get up big early at home?
The Vols own the fourth best pass defense in the SEC but have been susceptible on the ground. Because of that, I'd expect to see an attack similar to last week against A&M: establish the read-option early, then start picking up chunk yardage with play action once the linebackers begin cheating in.
What to drink
There's this soft drink sold in eastern Tennessee called Dr. Enuf that tastes a bit like a combination between Sprite and Lemon-Lime Gatorade. It's marketed as a health drink because it has, I dunno, vitamins or something in it, and can usually be found on the shelves at Cracker Barrel. What you need to do is crack open a can of Dr. Enuf, pour it halfway up a clean red [BRAND REDACTED] cup, and top the rest off with Jack Daniel's. This drink will be awful, made with authentic Tennessee ingredients and will surely disappoint you all Saturday afternoon, a lot like the Vols' offensive line.
It's nowhere close in drinkability to the the classic Southern "liquor + soft drink" concoctions it's related to, but because it does resemble them well enough to fool those with less discerning palates, we're calling this drink the "Derek Dooley." Once you've given it a shot, slide on back into your usual bourbon of choice, and openly regret our little Dooley experiment.