Ole Miss quarterback John Rhys Plumlee gives the students on the south end zone a “thumbs up” as a scores the only touchdown in the first half as the rebels lead Vanderbilt 10-6 at halftime.

COLUMBIA, Mo. – In a matchup of strength against strength Ole Miss hopes to be the strongest today.

Quarterback John Rhys Plumlee and the running backs have the Rebels among the nation’s top rushing teams.

Tonight at 6 on ESPN2 they face a Missouri defense which few rushing teams have been able to solve. 

The Tigers (4-1, 1-0 SEC) are allowing just 88.8 yards a game on the ground.

“They do an outstanding job of not staying in one place,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “They’re constantly moving. They’re powerful and quick. They do a good job of moving around and creating problems for offensive lines.”

Roles continue to evolve on a rebuilding Ole Miss offensive line.

True freshman Nick Broeker continues to alternate series at left tackle with senior Michael Howard. Starting right guard Ben Brown has begun to spell center Eli Johnson at times. Redshirt freshman Jalen Cunningham is becoming more involved at guard.

“We’ve been trying to get Jalen Cunningham to come along. He’s the main guy, and he’s been taking steps, he really has,” offensive line coach Jack Bicknell said.

Pass protection remains spotty, but through the experimentation the Rebels (3-3, 2-1) have been able to run the football, posting 413 rushing yards against Vanderbilt, 279 at Alabama the week before.

Luke sees progress on the offensive line.

“I like the way they’re playing. I like their mindset and taking some pride in running the football.”

Missouri gave up only 61 rushing yards against Troy last week and has held three other opponents – West Virginia, South Carolina and Southeast Missouri State – to fewer than 50 rushing yards.

Missouri held Troy 30 points below its scoring average and 311 yards below its total offense average.

There has been a blueprint for success, however, and it closely resembles what the Rebels accomplished against Vanderbilt.

Wyoming earned a 37-31 season-opening win over Missouri in Laramie by rushing for 297 yards and scoring on big plays.

The Cowboys had an 80-yard drive that ended with a 1-yard touchdown run. Their three other touchdowns came on a 30-yard fumble return, a 61-yard run by running back Xazavian Valladay and a 75-yard run by redshirt freshman quarterback Sean Chambers.

Missouri leads the nation in defensive touchdowns with five and is one of only four FBS teams to rank in the NCAA top 12 in rushing defense, passing defense, total defense and scoring defense.

The Tigers will be without their leading tackler middle linebacker Cale Garrett.

Luke believes the Rebels’ linemen have gotten better at handling the shifting and movement of opponent defensive lines.

“No question they can handle it better. They are going to have very good people doing it (today), so it will be a challenge.”

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