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Ole Miss injuries make Memphis matchup more intriguing

<p>The Tigers will hope that Ole Miss’ injury situation can help lead them to their first victory against the Rebels since 2004.&nbsp;</p>
The Tigers will hope that Ole Miss’ injury situation can help lead them to their first victory against the Rebels since 2004. 

The Memphis-Ole Miss game has been marked on fans’ calendars since the release of the 2015 season schedule.

This highly anticipated matchup has gained more and more hype as the season has gone on. Memphis (5-0) will try to continue its 12-game winning streak and prove it can hang with anyone in the country. While no. 13 ranked Ole Miss (5-1) hopes to improve on its impressive season and show college football they are one of the nation’s top dogs.

Tigers’ coach Justin Fuente understands the task in front of his team and said they are excited for the challenge.

“Obviously we have a tremendous challenge in front of us,” he said. “We are going to play a fantastic football team with great players and a coaching staff that has done a great job of putting them in position to have success. Our kids will be excited to go play in the game. We have a fantastic week of work here to prepare and then we'll kick it off Saturday early in the morning.”

Ole Miss has been impressive to date, with its only loss coming in a 38-10 loss to the then no. 25 ranked Florida Gators.

The Rebels have been excelled on both sides of the football so far this season.

Offensively, the Rebels standout in the passing game. Junior quarterback Chad Kelly has led the Rebels to sixth in the nation in passing yards this season with 2,037 yards—1,862 of which coming from Kelly.

Defensively, Ole Miss has been impressive in multiple areas. The Rebels have racked up nine interceptions, nine sacks, three fumble recoveries and 483 tackles this year—a mark good enough for sixth in the nation.

Though Ole Miss has plenty of weapons on its roster, Fuente said the defensive line is what standouts out the most to him.

“Their team speed is pretty impressive on both sides of the ball,” he said in a press conference. “They have a quarterback playing at a high level. Their defensive line is pretty impressive to say the least, they are incredibly active, physical and well coached. Those are the things that stand out. They can really run on both sides of the ball and special teams. Their defensive line jumps off of the film at you. Then their quarterback seems to be in control of what's going on and pretty good at getting the ball to their various playmakers.”

Although Ole Miss has proved to be among the nation’s best, the injury bug has bitten the Rebels hard this season. The Rebels have lost multiple star defensive players to injury.

Junior safety Tony Conner, one of the Rebels’ best secondary players, went down with a torn meniscus in a 43-37 win over then no. 2 ranked Alabama.

Standout linebacker C.J. Johnson also went down with a torn meniscus, which he suffered in the loss to Florida. The senior is expected to miss at least 4-6 weeks with the injury.

Conner and Johnson aren’t the only injuries on the Rebels’ defense though. Defensive tackle D.J. Jones suffered a concussion, which held him out of the second half last week against New Mexico State, and is now listed day-to-day. Earlier in the year, the Rebels also lost defensive tackles Issac Gross (Neck) and Herbert Moore (knee) to season-ending injuries.

On Offense, Ole Miss may be without starting tight end Evan Engram, who was also held out of the second half against New Mexico State. Engram is currently listed as day-to-day. Starting center Robert Conyers is listed as day-to-day as well.

Multiple players who were held out of last week’s win over New Mexico State because of injury—including running back Jaylen Walton, wide receiver Damore’ea Stringfellow and offensive lineman Justin bell—are expected to return against the Tigers.

It will be interesting to see what type of production these players will have coming off these injuries.

Injury isn’t the only reason the Rebels have lost players this season.

Junior cornerback Tee Shepard, who transferred to Ole Miss last season with huge expectations before being sidelined for the year with a toe injury, decided to retire from football last week, to focus on earning his degree.

Possibly the biggest loss for the Rebels is the suspension of offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil. The NCAA suspended the highly touted lineman for seven games this season due to alleged improprieties. Tunsil will be able to return to action Oct. 24 against Texas A&M.

The absences have caused Ole Miss’s coach Hugh Freeze to make many adjustments defensively. The Rebels have had to completely transform its secondary to make up for the injuries. With junior quarterback Paxton Lynch playing like one of the best quarterbacks in the nation, this could bode well for the Tigers.

Other than injuries, Ole Miss is not a team with very many weaknesses. They are a very sound team both offensively and defensively, averaging 46.8 points and 527.8 yards per game, while only giving up 19.7 points per game.

That being said, Ole Miss has struggled to protect Kelly in the pocket, giving up 10 sacks for a total loss of 80 yards. The offensive line has given up an average of 1.67 sacks per game this season.

Memphis’s defensive line has struggled to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks this season, but with a struggling Ole Miss line and the absence of Tunsil, the Tigers’ d-line could give the Tigers the push they need defensively.

Ole Miss enters this game as the favorite, but with so many injuries and a matchup against a hungry Memphis squad with one of the best offenses in the nation, this game could be a lot closer than some think.

Fuente said he understand the excitement around this game, but explained this is just one game of the season.

“This is the next game for us,” he said in a press conference. “Our kids will be excited to play and it's a tremendous challenge against a great opponent but it counts as one. It counts as one nonconference win or loss. Anything more than that is a little much for us right now. The bottom line is, when the game is over six days later we have to be ready to play at Tulsa regardless of what happens. That does not mean we aren't going to gear up and prepare and do everything we can to be ready Saturday. But it's one game in a 12-game season.”

The Tigers will hope that Ole Miss’ injury situation can help lead them to their first victory against the Rebels since 2004. 

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