KNOXVILLE -- Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is typically cautious when discussing Ed Orgeron, but he's never hesitated to heap praise on the predecessor who left him one of college football's best front fours.
"When I walked in, I was very impressed with the defensive linemen," Nutt said earlier this week. "That's where my hat goes off. When you see Jerrell Powe, Kentrell Lockett, Greg Hardy, Ted Laurent, Marcus Tillman and Lawon Scott, it was awesome."
There were holes in the roster when Nutt took the Ole Miss job -- specifically at linebacker and in the secondary -- and the program lost a few scholarships for NCAA APR shortcomings.
But the front four foundation was rock solid, and Nutt was also taken aback at the demeanor of his inherited pupils.
"You heard a lot of things when there were four previous losing seasons," Nutt said. "But the thing that was impressive was when you walk in and see how excited they were; class guys. They were all hungry and wanting to win. They are just super guys with character.
"That is where my hat goes off to those guys. It's just an impressive group."
Ole Miss's defensive success -- and there's been plenty of it -- starts up front.
The Rebels are second in the Southeastern Conference with seven tackles for loss and 2.8 sacks per game. They are 12th nationally in scoring defense, and opponents have averaged a mere 14.3 points in the past 13 games.
Four Ole Miss opponents this season -- including SEC foes Arkansas, Vanderbilt and South Carolina -- have fallen short of 300 yards of scrimmage.
The Rebels lead the SEC in third down defense at an impressive 26.4 percent clip. They've allowed just six points this season in the fourth quarter, via field goals from Alabama and Auburn.
"Yeah, they're good," Vols senior quarterback Jonathan Crompton said. "Obviously, our O-line's got their hands full this week, but they're up to the challenge. We concentrate on ourselves and just make sure we know what we've got to do, block who we've got to block and all that.
"It's really on us, but they're good, and we know we've got our hands full."
First-year UT coach Lane Kiffin said Ole Miss's defense compared favorably to Alabama's.
"They're so big and physical up front," Kiffin said. "They're so deep. It's just one after another. Imagine this ... Hardy doesn't start. That guy's a first-round pick. I can't even imagine having that much depth like that that they just rotate the D-line in and sometimes you can't even figure out who it is. They're just dominating up there.
"It's like Alabama that week. We're going to go out there for warm-ups, and they're not going to look like we do. We're going to have to play really fundamentally sound and very disciplined to have a chance to win."
UT doesn't have much depth along the offensive line, but the Vols don't lack for talent -- especially at tackle, where coaches consider senior Chris Scott and redshirt freshman Aaron Douglas future NFL players.
But Ole Miss is a tough test for any group, according to Douglas, the SEC's reigning offensive lineman of the week.
"I've watched them play a few times this year, and they definitely have a really good defensive line," Douglas said. "They bring a lot of pressure, but I know we'll be prepared for what they throw at us, and I'm looking forward to preparing this week in practice.
"Definitely, we've gone against some really good defenses this year, and I think it will have us somewhat prepared for Ole Miss."
Knowing the Rebels' tendencies could help, too. Orgeron spent four years teaching Ole Miss's linemen the same pass-rushing tricks he's taught the Vols this season.
And while UT's defensive line doesn't have collective size comparable to the Rebels the Vols practice against Orgeron-coached, future NFL lineman Dan Williams, Chris Walker and others every day in practice.
"I think everybody knows how much Coach O knows about pass-rushing technique, and the little things he teaches guys to help them get to the quarterback," Williams said. "When you watch Ole Miss, and you watch us, you see a lot of the same stuff. And if that helps our O-line get ready for a big game like this, then that's a good thing."
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