Oxford, Miss.--Chuck Rounsaville of the Ole Miss Spirit answers five questions about the Rebels as they prepare to take on the Auburn Tigers in an SEC West football showdown on Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
1. What has made the Ole Miss defense so dominant this season compared to last year?
“It’s not a complicated formula--more experienced players, more trusted depth and better athletes. Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack and his staff have had some of these players for three years now and they are engrained into his system. Some of them, namely All-American Free Safety Cody Prewitt, know it like the proverbial back of their hand. Prewitt is a big key because not only is he a talented player, he is like a coach on the field.
Playing 10-11 guys on the front four has also been productive because in the fourth quarter of tight SEC games they are fresh and usually the opposing offensive line is worn down. Advantage defense.
It is also important that the Rebels have two experienced cornerbacks in Senquez Golson, who has eight interceptions through as many games, and Mike Hilton, who has three picks. Wommack is not afraid to put them on an island in man coverage if he wants to use more bodies for pressure or for run support.
2. How much does the threat of Bo Wallace running the football help the overall offensive production?
Bo is certainly not as dynamic as a runner as Nick Marshall, but he has been effective in helping the Rebels move the chains via his feet. As Tiger fans know, when an opposing defense has to account for a quarterback who is capable of running versus not having to account for that dimension of an offense, it's a whole new ball game.
Bo Wallace runs the football in a victory over Alabama.
Defensive coordinators are slow to admit it, having to account for six potential ball carriers versus five is definitely more difficult.
3. If Saturday’s game is close it could be decided by special teams play. What is your assessment of the Rebels in this phase of the game?
The punting game has been outstanding, which will make for an intriguing matchup since Auburn return ace Quan Bray leads the nation in punt returns. Freshman Will Gleason, who was tutored in Australian Rules Football, has been a weapon because of his ability to place punts away from return men and his ability to delay his kicks a second or two via the rugby style, allowing coverage to get farther downfield.
The placements have been shaky, but now the Rebels have settled on freshman Gary Wunderlich, who kicks off, handled FG/PAT and occasionally punts because of his strong leg. He has not been tested in a make-it-or-else scenario yet, but he is getting more comfortable each week.
The Rebels lost their top punt return man, Carlos Davis, in the preseason to a knee injury so the duty has fallen on the shoulders of freshman WR Markell Pack. He has been steady in catching and securing the ball, but at times he has been shaky on his decision making and, to this point, he has not had many opportunities to do much damage in the return game.
The kickoff return team has been steady and the kickoff coverage team has been very good.
4. Other than the quarterback, which players on offense will the Rebels need to step up and have strong performances on Saturday night?
The offensive line. When the Ole Miss offensive line is neutralizing the opposing defensive front, which it did against Alabama, the Rebel offense is dangerous. When it does not hold up, which was problematic against LSU last weekend, the Rebel offense doesn't get much opportunity to operate fluidly.
Evan Engram is a sophomore who has 19 catches for 292 yards and one touchdown.
Individually, tight end Evan Engram needs to get more involved in the passing game than he has been lately. He is a matchup problem for most teams because he has the speed of a wide receiver and is difficult for linebackers and safeties to hang with.
5. Do you anticipate any hangover this week from a disappointing loss at LSU?
There was certainly concern about that externally in the fan base until the first playoff polls came out and still had Ole Miss in the Top four with Mississippi State, Florida State and Auburn. Internally, this team has had a very mature, even-keeled approach to whatever they have faced. With home field advantage, no hangover is anticipated. The factor of more concern is whether or not some key players who were injured against LSU in a brutally physical game will be 100 percent against the Tigers.
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