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Rebels turn deaf ear to recent praise

By By Will Bardwell / staff writer
Oct. 31, 2003
All Lou Holtz wants to talk about is how well Ole Miss is playing. All the Rebels want to do is turn a deaf ear.
The Rebels are 4-0 in Southeastern Conference play for the first time since 1970, leading them to sole possession of first place in the SEC West. With Ole Miss at 6-2 overall and having won four straight, Holtz said the Rebels are as tough an opponent as there is in the league.
Indeed, the win in Gainesville signaled a turnaround for Ole Miss. The Rebels entered the game at 2-2 after a 49-45 loss to Texas Tech but pulled an upset over the then-No. 24 Gators.
It was the first of four straight wins for Ole Miss, including last week's 19-7 win over then-No. 20 Arkansas. The Rebels themselves are now receiving increased attention, entering the Associated Press rankings at No. 20 after the win over the Razorbacks.
Manning, the SEC's leading passer at 2,272 yards, said on Monday he did not realize Ole Miss had garnered a ranking. And where past Ole Miss squads have faltered down the stretch, Manning said the Rebels must not become distracted during the season's final month.
Holtz's praise is an example of the kind of laud that the Rebels must ignore, according to the senior quarterback.
Manning's resolve did not stop Holtz from raving about the Rebels, though and Manning in particular.
Manning, who lost a fumble and threw an interception against Arkansas, will have to continue protecting the ball against South Carolina. The Gamecocks are second in the SEC in turnover margin tied with Ole Miss having come away with 15 turnovers in eight games.
South Carolina's defense is one of the best in the SEC. The Gamecocks have given up an average of just 19 points per game and held three of their first four opponents to 10 or fewer points.
The defense has been slightly looser in recent weeks, giving up 33 points in a loss to LSU and 24 points in a win over Vanderbilt.
Holtz said he too has been impressed by a rapidly improving Ole Miss defense, which has held three straight opponents to less than 100 rushing yards.