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After Years of Dashed Expectations, Ole Miss Looks to Back Up Its Talk on the Field

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After false dawns in recent history when facing heightened expectations, the next few weeks offer an opportunity to flip the script for Ole Miss. After a lackluster performance against Memphis, the Rebels need to let their play on the field take over

Prewitt intercepts an LSU pass in 2013
Prewitt intercepts an LSU pass in 2013
Stacy Revere

We understand that we haven't played a team that's going to be as good as Bama. But we don't really think Bama is as good as they have been. And we're better than we have been. We're looking forward to getting to the game plan and really nailing down all the tweaks and stuff that we're going to have to put into Bama.

Ole Miss' All American safety Cody Prewitt gave the above quote after the Rebels beat Memphis 24-3 to set up next week's showdown in Oxford against Alabama. For Ole Miss, it's been down this road before, and it's time to put up or shut up -- preferably shut up and let the games play out.

Last year, quarterback Bo Wallace gave similar pregame material prior to the Rebels' showdown with Alabama:

"Yeah, I think we can put points on them," Wallace said. "I think we can put points on anybody. We just have to show up and play. It's the same thing every week, let's stay on schedule, control the tempo and don't have any turnovers."

Ole Miss went on to only gain 205 yards in a 25-0 shutout, with Wallace being held to 159 passing yards and Ole Miss never really getting started.

That's not to say this is the same Ole Miss team as 2013, just as it's not the same Alabama team. The 2013 star-studded recruiting class is not facing its biggest road test as true freshmen, and the Hugh Freeze Era is a year further along in its rebuilding of the scorched earth left by Houston Nutt.

This year's Ole Miss defense has stood up to every challenge. On Saturday against Memphis, the Tigers were held to 104 yards, including just 23 rushing yards on 31 attempts. Through four games, the Rebels rank fourth in total defense and third in scoring defense nationally, along with being the eighth-ranked S&P defense entering the Memphis game.

Until the Memphis game, Wallace and the Ole Miss offense had two and a half games of outstanding play since the first half of the Boise State game. On Saturday, Wallace regressed -- throwing two passes that were intercepted in the red zone and ending another possession with a fumble. The Ole Miss offense, as a whole, moved the ball. The Rebels had 426 yards of offense, but that was the season low so far.

In recent years when expectations have reached their peak for Ole Miss, the response has often been a resounding thud. The 2009 season saw Ole Miss get as high as No. 4 in the polls before a complete capitulation on a September Thursday night at South Carolina, then a 22-3 home loss to Alabama that ended all hopes of a division-winning season.

The 2003 season built as the season went along after a 2-2 start with losses to Memphis and Texas Tech and a last second win over Vanderbilt dashed most expectations for Eli Manning's senior season. After that, the team got hot and did not lose another game until November, but a 17-13 loss to LSU in the penultimate regular-season game again ended most hope for winning the West. Other than those, the only above-average season in the last 15 years was 2008, but that season started with no expectations, and the team got better as the year went along in Houston Nutt's first year in Oxford.

Saturday's game is the most anticipated home game for Ole Miss since at least the 2003 LSU game, and arguably the biggest game in Oxford ever (as most of the big games of the fifties and sixties took place in Jackson; the game would have been the first top ten match-up ever in Oxford had Ole Miss not dropped a spot in the AP poll this week).

With the first appearance of ESPN's College GameDay in the Grove and the wide-open nature of the SEC West, optimism might be at an all-time high for a typically pessimistic fan base. And while Saturday alone will not tell the story of the 2014 season, Ole Miss needs to keep the game tighter than previous recent false dawns like the 2009 and 2013 Alabama games.

If Prewitt's words do hold true, however, the remaining SEC home games against Auburn, Tennessee and Mississippi State will continue to be more anticipated and pressure-packed.