OXFORD, Miss. – A difficult month of November has sent Mississippi tumbling down the Southeastern Conference standings and out of the national playoff picture.
Now the 18th-ranked Rebels (8-3, 4-3 SEC), who have lost three straight conference games, return to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday where they'll host No. 4 Mississippi State (10-1, 6-1) in the Egg Bowl.
Ole Miss would like nothing more than to wreck Mississippi State's dream season and reclaim the Egg Bowl trophy. The Bulldogs have won four of the last five in the series, including last year's 17-10 overtime victory.
But Ole Miss will have to play much better than it has over the past month. Linebacker Deterrian Shackelford said the Rebels will be ready.
"I like the way this team is feeling," Shackelford said. "This is a game that doesn't take a lot of motivation to get up for."
The Rebels' most recent loss was arguably the worst of the Freeze era — a 30-0 setback against Arkansas that was marred by six turnovers. Ole Miss struggled to hold onto the ball during a cold and rainy game, falling behind early and never recovering.
Freeze said film analysis after the game didn't reveal any huge surprises.
"I tried to find fault in effort and I didn't see it," Freeze said. "You can't turn the ball over like that and put your backs against the wall in this league."
Generating offense against Mississippi State won't be easy, especially considering several key pieces are either out with injuries or trying to play through them.
The Rebels' most productive receiver, sophomore Laquon Treadwell, is out for the season after breaking his leg and dislocating his ankle against Auburn. Quarterback Bo Wallace — who fumbled twice and threw two interceptions against Arkansas — is struggling with a high ankle sprain. Left tackle Laremy Tunsil has been in and out of the lineup with a partially torn bicep.
Freeze said he believes Wallace and Tunsil will play against Mississippi State. Wallace hurt his right ankle early in the game against Arkansas and returned to the game with it heavily taped.
The senior didn't come to his usual media availability earlier this week, but cornerback Senquez Golson said Wallace will be ready to play.
"We're behind Bo 100 percent," Golson said. "He's our quarterback."
Maybe more so than the physical problems, the Rebels are trying to bounce back emotionally after falling so quickly from the nation's elite.
Freeze believes playing in the Egg Bowl will provide enough motivation.
"They have a clear understanding of how much this game means to so many," Freeze said. "I expect us to have a great week of preparation in getting ready to play this in the Vaught come Saturday."
The Ole Miss defense still ranks among the nation's elite, even after the three-game SEC slide. The Rebels are giving up just 13.5 points per game, which leads the country.
Now they'll try to stop Mississippi State quarterback Dak Prescott, who led the Bulldogs to their come-from-behind win over the Rebels last season.
Freeze had nothing but praise for Prescott, who has thrown for 2,714 yards, run for 891 more and accounted for 35 total touchdowns this season.
"Everyone, even outside of their family, would say that he's a great leader," Freeze said. "It's easy to see that the players that play with him believe in him and want to follow him. Then you put his performance with those leadership qualities and it makes him a pretty special player."
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