Oxford, MS – After notching a pair of easy home wins to start the season, the 14th-ranked Texas Longhorns face their toughest test of the young season on Saturday night as they tangle with the surprising Ole Miss Rebels in Oxford.
Texas took care of business in its season opener by beating Wyoming, 37-17. Last week, it put together an even better all-around performance against New Mexico, blanking the Lobos in a 45-0 final.
The start of Hugh Freeze's tenure as head coach of Ole Miss could not have started out any better. After posting a 49-27 win over Central Arkansas in the opener, the Rebels took down Texas-El Paso last week, 28-10, to move to 2-0 and matching their win total from the entire 2011 campaign. It marks the first time since 2009 they have started 2-0 and they even received votes in the Top-25 poll for the first time since the 2010 preseason.
Texas leads the all-time series with Ole Miss, 5-1, although Saturday's game marks the first meeting between the two teams since 1966.
The Longhorns offense is averaging 41 points per game and in doing so has been very efficient, scoring on all 10 of their trips to the red zone, nine of which have been touchdowns.
David Ash won the starting quarterback competition from Case McCoy in the preseason and so far he has made the coaching staff's decision look like a good one as he has completed better than 73 percent of his passes (36-of-49) for 377 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions.
Ash spreads the ball out, with 13 different receivers having caught at least one pass thus far. Jaxon Shipley (nine catches, 75 yards, TD) and Mike Davis (seven catches, 70 yards, TD), have emerged as his go-to guys.
An effective rushing attack takes a lot of pressure off the passing game. The Longhorns have piled up 426 yards with a 5.5 yards per carry average, led by Joe Bergeron with 159 yards and three touchdowns.
Texas has plenty of playmakers, but head coach Mack Brown feels like his team can create even more fireworks on the field.
"We still need more (big plays), but we're heading in the right direction," Brown said. "We're still working to get more speed on the field and make sure we get speed in space and get some explosive plays. That's our key right now."
The defense for the Longhorns has been spectacular so far, holding opponents to fewer than 300 yards per game and only 8.5 points per contest. Jordan Hicks leads the team with 20 tackles. He also has three of the unit's 21 tackles for loss. The secondary has been active as well, with Kenny Vaccaro, Quandre Diggs and Carrington Byndom all recording interceptions.
The Ole Miss offense has played very well in the early going, as the unit leads the SEC in total offense (551.5 ypg), rushing (282.5), first downs (28.0) and third-down conversion percentage (.565).
A big reason for the unit's success has been the emergence of sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace. He has completed 35-of-46 passes (.761) for 438 yards, tossing five touchdowns to just one interception. He also leads the team in rushing with 135 yards, adding two more scores on the ground.
"(Wallace) playing well is not going to his head," Freeze said of his quarterback. "It really drives him and he wants to do better. I don't have to worry about his ego."
Donte Moncrief has been Wallace's big-play receiver, hauling in 11 balls for 176 yards and two touchdowns. Korvic Neat (10 receptions, 94 yards) and Jamal Mosley (four receptions, 79 yards, TD) are also reliable options in the pass game.
The running attack for the Rebels is well balanced, with seven different players having more than 30 rushing yards in the first two games. Randall Mackey (116 yards) and Jeff Scott (111 yards) have received most of the workload.
The Ole Miss defense has been impressive as well, leading all SEC teams with 20 tackles for a loss and nine sacks.
Dehendret Collins (13 tackles, two TFL), Mike Marry (11 tackles, 0.5 sack), and Denzel Nkemdiche (11 tackles, three TFL, sack) seem to always be around the ball. Cody Prewitt and Frank Crawford each have an interception.