November 22, 2013 11:01:45 AM
OXFORD -- The Ole Miss football team is nationally ranked again after a four-game winning streak that has included some record-setting offensive numbers.
But the No. 24 Ole Miss' last three victories -- against Idaho, Arkansas, and Troy -- haven't been against the nation's elite. At 6:45 p.m. Saturday (ESPN), Ole Miss (7-3, 3-3 Southeastern Conference) will get a shot at No. 8 Missouri (9-1, 5-1) in a much more difficult test.
"It's a huge week for us," Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace said. "We get to see how good we really are."
The offense shattered the school record last week with 751 total yards in a 51-21 victory against Troy.
It was the exclamation point for Ole Miss during a remarkable month of offense. The Rebels have had at least 525 total yards in all four games and are averaging nearly 43 points.
But Missouri's defense is one of the best in the SEC, especially when it comes to big plays. The Tigers lead the league with 34 sacks and 17 interceptions.
Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said it's vital that his offense is able to run effectively against Missouri because the Tigers' defense is very good when facing obvious passing situations.
"They're a scary team to look at on film, especially when others are trying to run it," Freeze said. "I do think we've progressed and it will be a good test Saturday night to see how much."
The Rebels' running game should be helped by the return of senior Jeff Scott. The 5-foot-8, 162-pound senior was one of the SEC's best during the opening month of the season, but a deep thigh bruise caused him to miss three games and the majority of a fourth.
He returned to action against Troy, carrying the ball 11 times for 54 yards. He'll likely share time with I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, two sophomores who have emerged in Scott's absence.
Ole Miss has also improved along the offensive line. Laremy Tunsil has emerged as the starting left tackle as a true freshman, earning SEC offensive lineman of the week honors after the Rebels beat Arkansas beat Nov. 9.
He's meshed well with a group of veterans like center Evan Swindall, guard Emmanuel McCray and right tackle Pierce Burton.
"As the season has progressed our offensive line has gotten better and better," Burton said.
McCray said Missouri's defense is talented, but it's the effort the Rebels must match.
"They play pretty hard," McCray said. "Their biggest thing is that they all have good motors. It's not just about outstanding athletic ability. There's nobody out there that's like (South Carolina's) Jadaveon Clowney. But they all play as a unit and they play pretty hard."
Ole Miss has played plenty of elite teams this season and only one of the games -- a 25-0 loss to No. 1 Alabama -- was a blowout. It also has had close losses to No. 6 Auburn and No. 10 Texas A&M and beat No. 18 LSU on Oct. 19.
Now it's a chance to face a Missouri, which has been somewhat of a surprise in the Eastern Division after struggling in 2012 during its first season in the SEC.
"We've had our share of tests and this will be another one Saturday night," Freeze said.
Missouri must beat Ole Miss and Texas A&M to clinch the Eastern Division title. The Tigers are coming off a bye week following a 48-17 victory against Kentucky on Nov. 9.
Senior James Franklin is expected to start for the Tigers at quarterback against Ole Miss. He has thrown for 1,577 yards, 14 touchdowns and three interceptions this season, but he has missed most of the past four games with a shoulder injury.