Jordan Watkins thinks this Mississippi team is much better equipped to handle a quick holiday turnaround and finish strong.
The 13th-ranked Rebels (8-2) start things off Saturday against Louisiana-Monroe (2-8) trying to rebound from a 52-17 loss to No. 1 Georgia and avoid a repeat of last year.
Ole Miss is favored by more than five touchdowns in this game, so it would take a stunning upset to repeat last season's four-game closing skid. But next up is the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State on Thanksgiving Day, a game the Rebels lost 24-22 last season when a two-point conversion attempt failed.
“I don't really like to compare but just looking at it we are a way, way more mature team,” said Watkins, a Rebels receiver. “And I think we'll be able to handle it very well."
The Rebels' only losses have come to SEC division champions Georgia and No. 8 Alabama. They'll face a Warhawks team that has lost eight straight games, perhaps affording a chance to let some starters minimize their plays before the hectic holiday week.
Linebacker Ashanti Cistrunk doesn't mind the quick turnaround.
“It's honestly fun, because we're always excited to play Mississippi State,” Cistrunk said. “We love playing them. You just love it. Thanksgiving game, you've gotta love it.”
First things first. Ole Miss will face a team that has scant pressure.
“As I told our players, you’ve got nothing to lose. Nobody expects you (to win)," ULM coach Terry Bowden said. “Go out there and play personal.”
Both Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin and Bowden grew up with coaching fathers and got off to rocket starts as young coaches. Kiffin, whose father Monte was a highly regarded defensive coordinator, was an NFL head coach at 31. The son of Florida State legend Bobby Bowden, Terry Bowden led Auburn to 20 straight wins to start his major college career off in his 30s.
“I think growing up around it was awesome,” he said. “I’m very appreciative of that opportunity, because you start learning so much at an early age. You’re kind of going to football college already when you’re growing up.
“I’m very appreciative of that and well aware that that had a lot to do with getting opportunities early on.”
OLE MISS TIE
ULM running back Isaiah Woullard spent five seasons at Ole Miss, rushing for 428 yards and four touchdowns as a freshman in 2018. Woullard has run for 418 yards this season, including 311 after contact.
Not for the first time, Kiffin issued a challenge to Ole Miss fans ahead of a game that is hardly a hot ticket.
“This is kind of a test game for fans, do you show up when it’s not a conference game?” Kiffin said. “I would like to think so. You get really mad when the players don’t show up so have that same expectation for yourself.”
FACING THE SEC
The Warhawks are 4-51-1 against current Southeastern Conference teams, including a 47-3 loss to Texas A&M on Sept. 16. They did pull off an upset of Alabama in 2007 during coach NIck Saban's first season. Ole Miss has won the first four meetings, racking up a school-record 826 yards in a 70-21 win in 2018.
CHASING HOME PERFECTION
Ole Miss is trying to complete a 7-0 record in games played on campus for the second time in program history, having also done it in 2021.
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