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Striking The Right Balance Offensively

Ole Miss has been held under 100 yards rushing in each of its last meetings with Alabama, a 33-14 loss in 2012 and a 25-0 loss in 2013. Running the ball effectively and finding a balance is one area, the coaches and players have said, that would go a long way on Saturday.

"Top to bottom, they're a great team, arguably the best team in the country," offensive line coach Matt Luke said. "We have to play really, really well to win. We have to protect the football. When a break comes our way, we have to score. We have to be efficient in the red zone. 

"We have to try to eliminate negative plays, stay on schedule and stay out of third-and-longs. We have to do the little things it takes to win close games and win close games in the fourth quarter."

Behind senior quarterback Bo Wallace, the Rebels rank third in the SEC and 13th nationally in passing offense (335.5 ypg), but they rank 11th in the SEC in rushing offense, averaging 160.8 yards per game. Alabama, meanwhile, leads the league in rush defense, giving up just 62.0 yards per game

Ole Miss has found more consistency on the ground in recent games, rushing for 214 yards on 35 carries against Louisiana-Lafayette and 178 yards on 42 carries against Memphis, but Alabama undoubtedly will provide the toughest test yet.

"They're just pretty good," Luke said. "They're big and fast. They have a lot of good players. They have a very good scheme. They mix it up quite a bit. They're a very, very good team, and we're going to have to play very, very well to run the ball.

"You don't want to be one-dimensional against any team," sophomore offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil said. "You want to run the ball, pass the ball, mix it up."

Replacing Alford on Defense, Special Teams


Without sophomore Anthony Alford, who decided to leave the Ole Miss football program and pursue a professional baseball career, players are thrust into bigger roles on defense and special teams.

Alford, who transferred to Ole Miss in January 2011, played in all four games this season as a backup to junior Trae Elston at Rover safety and punt returner. He registered six tackles and two punt returns for eight years.

"We had a great talk last night and this morning about what was best for him and his wife and his future," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "I hate it for our team and for him because I love having good kids a part of us but he really felt like it was best."

In Alford's place, sophomore David Kamara and freshman C.J. Moore, who have both played primarily on special teams, stepped into the backup Rover safety spot in practice Tuesday. 

Freeze said they didn't have to shuffle a lot, but should they need to shuffle players going forward, senior cornerback Cliff Coleman and junior cornerback Mike Hilton both have previous experience at safety. On a semi-related note, sophomore Derrick Jones, who started the year at cornerback and then moved to wide receiver, practiced at cornerback Tuesday, providing extra depth there

"I know they're both athletic kids," said Freeze of Kamara and Moore. "They haven't been in the battles but really neither had Anthony. This was really his freshman year to be a defensive player. He has more experience than them from being in the early games, but we'll get them ready and I think they will do well."

On special teams, freshman wide receiver Markell Pack has been the primary punt return option, returning seven punts for 38 yards. Freeze also mentioned redshirt freshman Eugene Brazley stepping in as a punt return option.

Building Depth At Corner

In his Media Day press conference, head coach Hugh Freeze said senior Charles Sawyer, along with sophomore defensive tackle Issac Gross, were the furthest off, injury-wise. And junior Senquez Golson was held out of Saturday's practice after suffering a pulled hamstring yesterday. 


Cornerbacks coach Jason Jones said they're trying to find two guys who are going to step up and be more consistent behind Sawyer and Golson on the two-deep, and with their two injuries, it's offered an opportunity to build depth at the position.


"He's out moving around, just trying to get him ready for the game," Jones said of Sawyer. "We know what we can do. He's been playing for a long time and has a lot of experience, so we're not going to rush him. With the [Vanderbilt] game a few weeks away, we can take time and develop these younger guys and develop some depth." 


With Sawyer and Golson sidelined, senior Dehendret Collins and sophomore Quintavius Burdette got the bulk of first-team reps at cornerback. Both players are relatively new to the position, as Collins moved from Huskie during the spring, and Burdette moved from safety during the summer.


"We moved Dehendret, right at the end of spring, and he's done a great job for us," Jones said. "Him and Charles Sawyer, they are going to provide depth in the boundary. He's had two really good days.


"Q Burdette has been a great surprise for us. He worked hard all summer. You can tell. He came out to practice yesterday and today, and he's flying around, making plays for us. We're pleased with those two guys."


Two freshmen also got a lot of reps at cornerback, along with sophomore Anthony Standifer. Freeze said yesterday that Bobby Hill, one of the freshmen, will be a big plus, and Jones also had praise for Hill and the other freshman, David Kamara.


"Bobby Hill has done a great job for us," Jones said. "Right now, we have him working in the boundary. He's had two really good practices and I'm looking forward to him continuing to progress. I'm looking forward to him to contribute this year, so he will be guy that we will depend on.


"David is doing a great job for us also. He's in the field. We're still trying to see and make a decision about him. He's working hard, still learning coverages and things like that. We'll know more once we get pads and continue to practice."


Notable:


With senior Pierce Burton dealing with a lower back strain, senior Emmanuel McCray moved from left tackle to right tackle, and freshman Laremy Tunsil got reps at left tackle on the first-team offense. 


In some of the other offensive line drills, redshirt freshman Robert Conyers also got some first-team reps at right tackle, opposite McCray. Another freshman, Austin Golson, got second-team reps at left tackle.


The first-team defensive line consisted of junior Carlos Thompson and sophomore Channing Ward at defensive end, and junior Bryon Bennett and sophomore Woodrow Hamilton at defensive tackle.


Along with Bobby Hill at corner, freshmen Robert Nkemdiche (defensive end) and Tony Connor (Huskie) got reps on the second-team defense.


Quotable:


Freeze, on junior quarterback Bo Wallace: "His arm is hurting today, not where his shoulder was repaired, but his arm. To come out yesterday and throw a lot of balls, and come out today, it was sore, so we held him out about halfway through to try to get it well."


Freeze, on freshman defensive end Robert Nkemdiche: "He's physically gifted enough to play. It's all about, can he understand what we're trying to accomplish and what his assignments are. If he can get that, there's no question he can physically. They better be trying to get him ready."


Freeze, on freshman offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil: "He's as physically gifted as any freshman that I have seen, athleticism-wise. He's swimming right now with everything being installed. He's going to make mistakes, like any freshman, but he is a gifted player."


Freeze, on freshman tight end Evan Engram: "Evan is going to be a good one. Again, he's a freshman that is undersized at this point in his career, but he has got to play, and he's going to play. We just have got to be sure we ask him to do things that he can do."

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