Ole Miss faces stiff challenge
By By Will Bardwell / staff writer
Nov. 4, 2003
OXFORD David Cutcliffe said Auburn presents more than just Ole Miss' biggest game thus far the Tigers are the Rebels' best opponent of the season.
Ole Miss, 7-2 overall and 5-0 in Southeastern Conference games, leads Auburn and LSU by one game in the SEC West division. A win in Auburn on Saturday would set up a potential title-deciding matchup against LSU.
The 5-0 start assures Ole Miss of its first winning record in conference play since 1992, but Cutcliffe said the team feels no new pressure. If anything, he said, the Rebels are having more fun.
Whether Cutcliffe's Rebels enjoy it or ignore it, though, Ole Miss is receiving a great deal of attention. The Rebels are ranked No. 24 in the latest ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and No. 20 in the Associated Press rankings.
Saturday in Auburn, the Rebels will play on CBS before a nationwide broadcast audience for the first time in 2003.
Nevertheless, Manning said the added attention is no distraction.
Mistakes are what hurt Ole Miss a year ago versus Auburn, a 31-24 Tigers win. Manning threw for 284 yards and three touchdown passes, but he also threw three interceptions including a pick in the end zone on a potential game-tying drive in the final moments.
Manning said he has improved since last year, but more importantly, so has the Rebels' offense.
While the Ole Miss passing game highlights an overall resurgence in team play since the Rebels began 2-2, one area has been glaringly inefficient the secondary.
The Rebels' pass defense is ranked last in the SEC, and after small improvements in past weeks, Ole Miss defensive backs were consistently beaten downfield against South Carolina on Saturday.
Cutcliffe said the existing personnel will simply have to play better.