No. 15 Ole Miss beats Liberty and former coach Freeze, 27-14

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OXFORD, Miss. – The return of Hugh Freeze to Mississippi was met with little fanfare and a matter-of-fact victory by the Rebels.

Matt Corral threw for 324 yards and a touchdown to lead No. 15 Mississippi past Liberty and the former Rebels coach 27-14 on Saturday.

Corral continued to build a Heisman Trophy resume, completing 20 of 27 passes, including six completions of 20-plus yards.

“Matt (Corral) is gritty and tough and it was obvious today we didn’t try to move him very much,” Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said.

The Rebels (7-2) raced to a 24-0 halftime lead, highlighted by a 70-yard touchdown run by Jerrion Ealy on the game’s second play.

Freeze coached the Rebels from 2012-2016 to considerable success, including two victories against Alabama, before being forced to resign amid scandal. It was discovered during a lawsuit against the related to an NCAA investigation that Freeze made phone calls to a female escort service while on work-related travel.

Ole Miss was also hit with NCAA sanctions for recruiting and academic violations that happened under Freeze.

Freeze downplayed his return leading up to the game and the less-than-capacity crowd didn’t have much reaction to his return to Oxford.

“I loved playing here today. It was fun,” Freeze said. “Wish we’d have gotten one more and made it interesting at the end.

Kiffin avoided controversy throughout the week, too, maintaining his admiration and personal friendship with Freeze.

Dannis Jackson had six receptions for a game-high 126 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown catch. John Rhys Plumlee added seven receptions for 110 yards for an Ole Miss receiver corp that has been banged up.

“We needed Dannis and Plumlee to step today and they were huge,” Kiffin said.

Ealy rushed for 115 yards in 10 carries and added another 4-yard touchdown run as the Rebels built the insurmountable first half advantage.

Liberty (7-3) was led by Malik Willis, who ran for a 3-yard touchdown and finished 16 of 25 for 173 yards, but threw three interceptions.

The Flames had 457 total yards, primarily in the second half, including seven rushes for 101 yards, with a 28-yard touchdown run by Shedro Louis.

“We allowed them to have too many big plays that created scoring opportunities and that was probably the difference in the first half,” Freeze said. “The second half we were better at that. If we had done that in the first half, it might have been a different game. But, if, if, if.”

THE TAKEAWAY

Liberty: Any upset hopes were erased by halftime. Willis threw two interceptions and was sacked seven times in the first half.

The Flames also missed a field goal and had a penalty that eliminated a scoring opportunity. The Flames played better in the second half, but it was too late to really challenge their SEC opponent.

Ole Miss: The Rebels rebounded well from a disappointing road loss at Auburn. Ole Miss provided adequate depth answers to an expanded injury list of top personnel. Jackson had a breakout performance at wide receiver with several players down. The Rebels finished with nine sacks as defensive end Sam Williams and linebacker Chance Campbell recorded 2 1/2 apiece.

“The sacks are good, but we won and that’s all that matters,” Williams said. “It’s `So what? Now what?’ around here and now it’s a lot of work to do before Texas A&M.”

NFL IN ATTENDANCE

Corral and Willis are drawing plenty of NFL interest. There were 21 credentials, representing 17 teams for Saturday’s game. Both junior quarterbacks could declare for the next draft and are potential first-round picks.

POLL IMPLICATIONS

Six teams with two losses apiece are ranked between No. 12 and No. 25. Ole Miss is the third team in that logjam at No. 15 and don’t figure to make a major move in either direction in the upcoming poll.

UP NEXT

Liberty: The Flames have an open date before hosting No. 24 Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 20.

Ole Miss: The Rebels host No. 13 Texas A&M next week.

Florida shakes up secondary after dismal game at Tennessee

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. — Florida coach Billy Napier is shaking up his secondary after the Gators allowed 349 yards passing – including 247 of those on eight plays – in a loss at Tennessee.

Safety Trey Dean, a fifth-year senior who has started 32 games and played in 54, is out with what Florida is calling a “lower leg injury.” But no one would be surprised if Napier was quietly benching Dean after he made two mental errors against the Volunteers that resulted in 70- and 45-yard gains and set up touchdowns.

Freshman Kamari Wilson will replace Dean and make his first college start Sunday against Eastern Washington.

Cornerback Jaydon Hill will join Wilson in the starting lineup. Hill, a third-year sophomore, will make his first start since 2020. He missed the 2021 season with a torn knee ligament. He impressed Napier and his new staff in the spring but sat out preseason camp with another knee injury.

Hill will replace sophomore Avery Helm, who also struggled against the Vols.

“You talk about what he’s been through from an injury perspective,” Napier said following practice Wednesday. “Jaydon was one of the better players that we had on our team in spring practice. I was very impressed . It’s no surprise to me. He showed pretty quickly here that he’s very capable. I’m excited to watch him play.”

Georgia transfer Jalen Kimber, a former five-star recruit, is now listed as a third-team cornerback. Kimber played just 11 snaps in Knoxville a week after he returned an interception for a touchdown in a 31-28 win against South Florida.

“I like to say we try to eliminate the bad football,” Napier said. “Talking about mental errors, misalignments, poor communication, bad fundamentals and techniques, bad decision-making within the play. … We have a laundry list of things that we need to eliminate each week.

“Last week’s game, I thought we were really close, but there’s 12 or 15 plays in the game where Florida is beating Florida. We’ve got a smart group here. I think they’re very aware of what the issues are, and I think they’re working hard to address those issues.”

Pac-12 looking stronger at top after early-season losses

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When Oregon got throttled by top-ranked Georgia and Utah lost at Florida, it appeared as though the Pac-12 was headed toward another College Football Playoff miss.

One week into the season and two of the conference’s top teams had already failed big early tests.

Flash forward three weeks and it seems the Pac-12 might be in good shape after all.

The Ducks and Utes bounced back with big wins and the top of the conference looks strong, with four teams in the top 15 for the first time since 2016.

It’s still early, but the Pac-12 is putting itself in position to get a team through to the CFP for the first time since Washington in 2016-17.

A look at how the top of the Pac-12 is stacking up headed into the first weekend of October:

SOUTHERN CALIFORNIA

The No. 6 Trojans (4-0, 2-0 Pac-12) seem to have quickly returned to glory in their first season under Lincoln Riley. The former Oklahoma coach brought quarterback Caleb Williams with him to Southern California and they have thrived through the first four games.

Williams has thrown for 1,054 yards and nine touchdowns, adding 100 yards and two more scores rushing. USC’s defense has been opportunistic, leading the nation with 11 interceptions while tied for the lead with 14 takeaways.

The Trojans survived a scare against scrappy Oregon State over the weekend to start 4-0 for the first time since 2012. USC has to play at Utah on Oct. 15, but avoids Washington and Oregon this season.

UTAH

The 12th-ranked Utes opened the season with a tough road loss at The Swamp in Florida, but have won three straight lopsided games.

Outside of a costly interception late against the Gators, quarterback Cam Rising has been sharp, throwing for 954 yards and 10 TDs. Utah (3-1, 1-0) has a physical defense and is third in the FBS, allowing 132.8 yards passing per game.

The Utes also have a veteran team that won the Pac-12 championship last season. The bad news: tight end Brant Kuithe, their leading receiver, is out for the season with a knee injury.

Utah plays Oregon State this weekend and has tough games against USC and Oregon still on the schedule.

OREGON

The Ducks’ playoff chances took an immediate hit with a 49-3 loss to reigning national champion Georgia in their opener.

No. 13 Oregon (3-1, 1-0) bounced back with a decisive win over a good BYU team and outlasted previously undefeated Washington State 44-41 last week.

The Ducks were no match for the Bulldogs in any aspect – few teams are – but have averaged 51.6 points the past three games. Oregon’s biggest weakness is its pass defense. The Ducks are allowing 72.5% of passes to be completed, third worst in the country.

Oregon’s biggest tests left in the season will come in back to back games against Washington and Utah.

WASHINGTON

The Huskies have made a quick turnaround in their first season under coach Kalen DeBoer.

Quarterback Michael Penix Jr. has been superb now that he’s healthy, throwing for an FBS-best 1,388 yards and 12 TDs with one interception. No. 15 Washington (4-0, 1-0) picked up a solid home win against Michigan State and has 15 sacks this season, including eight against Stanford last week.

The Huskies play their first road game at undefeated UCLA on Saturday and have to face Oregon on Nov. 12.

UCLA

After winning at Colorado for the first time since 2014 last Saturday, the Bruins (4-0, 1-0 Pac-12) have their longest winning streak since winning the first eight games in 2005.

UCLA had a hard time getting past South Alabama and opened its Pac-12 schedule with a win against the struggling Buffaloes.

The Bruins will find out how good they are over the next three weeks, a brutal stretch that includes home games against Washington and Utah before heading to Eugene to play the Ducks on Oct. 22.