By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – A little bit of of a boxing approach might benefit Ole Miss this week as it prepares to face a ranked team on the road for the third time this football season.
Manage the first round, get a feel for the environment, then the second and ensuing rounds become easier.
The Rebels are No. 13 in the AP Top 25, No. 12 in the coaches poll, while Memphis is No. 22 with the coaches.
There will be more Ole Miss fans than at either of the other venues provided they can get their hands on tickets.
“People are going crazy about this game, trying to buy tickets and try to find a way to get in. We hear that and we enjoy that. We like seeing the fans get involved,” Memphis linebacker Wynton McManis said.
Ole Miss forced a turnover on the opening kick at then-No. 2 Alabama and led 3-0 a few plays later.
Florida flipped the script when it had Ole Miss in the swamp. The Gators scored on a 36-yard touchdown pass on their second possession then added a touchdown after an Ole Miss fumble on the Rebels’ end of the field. Florida led 13-0 in a hurry.
Ole Miss center Ben Still, a Memphis native, says it’s less about landing a knock-out blow early and more about staying on your feet and in good position.
“When you’re going to a place like Florida or Memphis where you’re going in as a favorite, they’re going to come out with a chip on their shoulder. They’re going to come out hard, and they’re going to have a bunch of stuff drawn up to try and beat you. You’ve got to absorb their initial push. If you absorb that and get into the flow of the game it all kind of evens out.”
It did more than even out at Alabama. Ole Miss built leads of as many as three touchdowns, and Alabama’s crowd of nearly 102,000 didn’t have much cause to become involved until the Crimson Tide’s late rally.
Everything that went right in Tuscaloosa went wrong in Gainesville.
The Florida experience has Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze giving extra attention to his first handful of play calls on offense.
“Hopefully I do a better job than I did at Florida. We need to make sure we feel really good about those first few calls and that our kids feel confident again.”
At Florida, first and third down runs netted Ole Miss only 5 yards on its first possession.
In between quarterback Chad Kelly was sacked for a 9-yard loss.
The fumble came on the Rebels’ second possession. Ole Miss didn’t get its initial first down until its third possession.
“The main thing is taking care of the ball, and we can’t have negative plays. That really hurt at Florida. Once we take care of the ball we can move the ball and stay on schedule, and we’ll be fine,” running back Jordan Wilkins said.