OXFORD, Miss. – It's never been a secret that Mississippi coach Hugh Freeze likes to push the pace on offense.
But when the No. 24 Rebels (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) host No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1) on Saturday, that strategy might be slightly altered.
Freeze said the Ole Miss offense can't be impatient against Missouri, which has a knack for making the big play.
"Most teams don't like to be patient. We want to score," Freeze said. "They get you to make mistakes and force something. Their guys are in the right spot and make the play."
Missouri leads the SEC with 34 sacks and 17 interceptions this season. Defensive end Michael Sam is usually in the middle of those disruptive plays — he leads the league with 16 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks.
But if Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace can avoid turnovers, the Rebels could have success. Missouri's pass defense ranks last in the SEC, giving up 274.9 yards per game.
Wallace might not be mentioned with the SEC's elite quarterbacks like Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel, LSU's Zach Mettenberger and Alabama's A.J. McCarron, but the 6-foot-4 junior has quietly had a very productive season.
He ranks fourth in the SEC with 2,664 passing yards and has thrown 17 touchdown passes, compared to just five interceptions.
"Wallace — I think he is really playing well," Missouri coach Gary Pinkel said. "They have good receivers, and really good running backs. They have a stable full of athletes at those positions. The numbers they are putting up and the stress they put on defenses is real and they do a really good job."
Missouri should also be productive on offense, especially since senior James Franklin is expected to start at quarterback.
Franklin has missed most of the past four games with a shoulder injury, but Pinkel said he's looked good in practice over the past two weeks. The Tigers haven't played since a 48-17 win over Kentucky on Nov. 9
Franklin has been fantastic when healthy. He's thrown for 1,577 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions. Pinkel said he also expects freshman Maty Mauk, who played well in place of Franklin, to see time against the Rebels.
Freeze said both are capable of producing big plays.
"They know who they are," Freeze said. "They've done the exact same things with their second guy that they do with their first one. It's not like you're preparing for two different schemes. They have confidence in both of them and have good reason to."
The stakes on Saturday are high, especially for Missouri. The Tigers have a clear path to the SEC Eastern Division title, but must win their final two games against Ole Miss and Texas A&M to go to Atlanta.
Here are five things to watch as No. 8 Missouri travels to face No. 24 Mississippi:
HIGH STAKES: Missouri is on top of the SEC's Eastern Division and the title is theirs to lose. But the Tigers must win their final two games of the season — a road game against Ole Miss and a home matchup vs. Texas A&M. Neither game will be easy.
BIG-PLAY DEFENSE: Missouri's defense might give up a few yards, but often makes the big play when needed. The Tigers lead the SEC with 34 sacks and 17 interceptions. Defensive end Michael Sam has been one of the league's most disruptive players, with 16 tackles for a loss and 10 sacks.
ROLLING REBELS: Ole Miss has won four straight games and the offense is putting up big numbers during that stretch. The Rebels have at least 500 total yards in all four victories, including a school record 751 total yards in last week's 51-21 victory over Troy.
STOPPING GREEN-BECKHAM: Missouri WR Dorial Green-Beckham was one of the nation's top recruits last season, but struggled last season as a freshman. The 6-foot-6 sophomore is figuring things out in a hurry this fall, and hauled in four touchdown passes in a win over Kentucky on Nov. 9. His size is something Ole Miss can't match.
HEALTHY FRANKLIN: Missouri expects to have a healthy QB James Franklin for the first time in more than a month. The senior was one of the SEC's best quarterbacks before a shoulder injury, throwing for 1,577 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions.
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