OXFORD, Miss. – Mississippi's had such a successful first half of the season that it would seem easy to overlook a relatively pedestrian game against Tennessee this weekend.
Not so for Rebels' quarterback Bo Wallace.
The Pulaski, Tennessee, native has looked forward to this game since he arrived at Ole Miss three years ago. The third-ranked Rebels (6-0, 3-0 Southeastern Conference) host the Volunteers (3-3, 0-2) on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"It's no secret that I grew up loving the Vols," Wallace said. "I had on my orange every Saturday. It's going to be fun getting to play them. But where we're at right now, it's just the next team that we play. We have to go out and perform to end the season the way that we want to."
Wallace is in the midst of arguably the best stretch of his career with quality games against Alabama and Texas A&M over the past two weeks. He's thrown for 1,700 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions this season, though he hasn't turned the ball over in an SEC game.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said that kind of performance will be needed against a rapidly-improving Tennessee program.
"It's one of those scary games that you know they have good enough athletes to beat you," Freeze said. "The job that Coach (Butch) Jones and his staff have done is really admirable. They are quite talented."
Tennessee hasn't won a conference game this year, though both of its losses to Georgia and Florida were very competitive. Jones said preparing for Wallace will be a challenge, especially since he's cut down on the turnovers.
"He's playing winning football for them," Jones said. "He presents a defense so many challenges because of his grittiness, his toughness, his ability to run the football but also his ability to throw the ball as well."
Here are some things to watch when No. 3 Mississippi hosts Tennessee on Saturday:
WALLACE THRIVING: Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace is slowly starting to shed his inconsistent reputation after back-to-back good games against Alabama and Texas A&M. The senior is on pace to break several of the school's single-season passing records — he's thrown for 1,700 yards, 15 touchdowns and six interceptions through six games. He's also completing 68.5 percent of his passes.
TENNESSEE DOMINANCE: Ole Miss is a 16½-point favorite for Saturday's game, which is a rare sight in this series. The Rebels have lost 13 of their past 14 against Tennessee dating back to 1984. Ole Miss beat Tennessee 42-17 in 2009 in Oxford. The Rebels have been brushing aside history all season, though, especially after a 23-17 victory over Alabama on Oct. 4 ended a 10-game losing streak in the series.
NASTY DEFENSES: The Ole Miss defense has been nothing short of spectacular this season, giving up just six touchdowns through six games. The Rebels are giving up just 11.8 points per game, which ranks first in the SEC and second in the nation. Tennessee has also been very good defensively, giving up just 19.2 points per game. The Volunteers are especially good on pass defense, ranking second in the league while giving up just 160.2 yards per game.
WAITING FOR A BREAKTHROUGH: Tennessee has looked much-improved under second-year coach Butch Jones. Despite having to replace its entire offensive and defensive lines from last season, the Volunteers have been very competitive in league games, losing just 10-9 to Florida and 35-32 to Georgia.
MIDDLE OF THE GAUNTLET: Ole Miss is in the midst of their toughest stretch of the season, with five conference games in five weeks. The Rebels have a 2-0 record so far thanks to victories over Alabama and Texas A&M. They have a road game against LSU on Oct. 25 before a home game against Auburn on Nov. 1.
AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee in Knoxville, Tennessee, contributed to this story.
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