It should be a happy homecoming at Ole Miss

Updated: October 10, 2003, 1:59 AM ET

OXFORD, Miss. -- Mississippi fans are still basking in the Rebels' victory over Florida at 'The Swamp.'

Next up is homecoming and Arkansas State, Ole Miss' favorite patsy.

After that slumping Alabama comes to Oxford.

Yes, things certainly are looking up for Ole Miss these days -- amazing considering many were ready to write off the Rebels after an uninspiring 2-2 start.

The Rebels (3-2) have lost just once in 21 meetings with Arkansas State (3-3), outscoring the Indians 122-44 the last three years.

Last season, a week after beating Florida, Ole Miss reached a season high for points in a 52-17 homecoming victory over Arkansas State.

The Indians appear to be the perfect transition between an emotional win and the rest of a pivotal homestand.

"I'm glad to be playing them (Arkansas State)," center Justin Sawyer said. "I think it will be a good break from SEC play. Hopefully, we can get some people back healthy and play a lot of players going into SEC play the rest of the year."

After Arkansas State, Ole Miss plays Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina in consecutive weeks at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

The Rebels, of course, say that the Indians have received their full attention.

"We have to be prepared and get the mind-set that we have a game this week and it is just as important as any other game on our schedule," Ole Miss quarterback Eli Manning said.

Manning moved into the top 10 in career passing yards for the Southeastern Conference last week in the 20-17 win over Florida. The senior has thrown for 8,110 yards and needs 336 yards to pass former Kentucky quarterback Tim Couch for ninth on the SEC list.

Manning, who leads the conference with 318.2 yards passing per game, might not play long enough to catch Couch this week.

In a little more than three quarters of work, Manning went 14-for-19 for 290 yards and three touchdowns against the Indians last year.

Arkansas State plays the same 4-2-5 defense that Ole Miss employs, so the Indians probably can't rely on tricking Manning, who is astute at reading defenses.

"The thing you have to do -- and it's hard to fool him -- but you have to try to show something and play something else that he's not expecting," Arkansas State co-defensive coordinator Jack Curtis said. "If he knows what you're in, there's hardly any beating him. He's that good at just picking apart a defense. In my mind he's the best in the country."

The Indians better not spend too much time worrying about Manning. The Rebels' running game is starting to click after a sluggish start.

Ole Miss ran for a season-high 229 yards last week against the Gators and is averaging 206 on the ground over the last three games.

Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe plans to stick with his four-man committee at tailback.

"It hasn't been easy, but we've all tried to get things done," said Ronald McClendon, who ran for 107 yards and a touchdown against Florida. "I think everybody realizes that playing some is better than not playing at all. If we continue to win, it won't really matter because everybody wants to help the team get better."

One sobering thought for Rebel Nation as they prepare to party in the Grove: After beating Arkansas State last year, Ole Miss lost five straight.

This story is from's automated news wire. Wire index