Hands Full

The Alabama Crimson Tide is known for a grueling ground game, but they are also second in the SEC in passing efficiency. Needless to say, the Rebs have their hands full Saturday. Read some of DC Tyrone Nix's thoughts inside.

Thus far this year, the 3-2 Rebels have been matched against fair-to-middling football teams.

Even at that, Ole Miss is 12th in the league in scoring defense, giving up 32.6 points a game.

Now, with Alabama in Tuscaloosa next on the slate, things are about to get real interesting.

Houston Nutt

The defending national champs, number one in the land until last week and still in the Top 10, present all kinds of issues for the Rebels.

"They have a lot of weapons - a great offensive line, a true leader under center, two excellent running backs and several outstanding receivers, including Julio Jones," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "They can run the ball with the best of them, but they are also very efficient throwing the ball.

"They are easily the best offense we have faced thus far."

Nutt's understatement adds an exclamation point to the task at hand for the Rebels, especially since things have not gone according to plan for the Reb defenders.

To be blunt, Ole Miss' defense simply hasn't put it all together as expected when the season began.

Whether it's been due to injury, mental lapses or loss of focus is open to debate. What isn't open to argument is the level of play of the defense must go up several notches by Saturday.

The Tide, after their loss to South Carolina, has been criticized roundly for not attempting but 17 rushing attempts with Mark Ingram and Trent Richardson in the backfield during the loss.

One would suspect Alabama will attempt to run the ball down the Rebs' collective throats.

"I'm sure they will do what gives them the best opportunity to win," said defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix. "Ingram and Richardson give them an opportunity to win. We have to be ready for everything.

D.T. Shackelford

"They have smart coaches who have won championships. They will do what they think they can do to produce."

Nix, knows, however, that whether Alabama opts to run, throw or present a balanced package, they will try to be physical.

Consequently, during the open week, Nix has tried to beef things up a bit on the defensive line by inserting DT LaMark Armour at defensive end in certain packages.

"LaMark adds some size, maturity and more of a physical presence to that position. We haven't decided yet exactly what packages we are going to start off in.

"If we were start off in a nickel package, we would start D.T. Shackelford at that end," Nix added. "It all depends on what we call as to how much LaMark will play at defensive end, but he has added some dimensions to that position."

Since the season-ending injury to Kentrell Lockett, sophomore Gerald Rivers has gotten most of the reps at the speed end position.

"I have seen Gerald grow a lot. I would like to see more maturity out of him, but he has taken baby steps," Nix explained. "It excites me Gerald and some of those other defensive ends are making strides, but we need those baby steps to turn into full steps and for them to move a little faster.

"Saturday is going to be here in a hurry and we are going against a very physical team. We need all our guys to step up and have their best game."

Nix did get good news this week from the walking wounded. So far, he's gotten CB Marcus Temple (concussion), CB Charles Sawyer (concussion), S Brishen Mathews (concussion) and SS Johnny Brown (knee/hamstring) back in action in practice.

Early in the year, the coaches talked about the secondary, mainly, getting their eyes in the right places.

"Looking at our last performance, I think we are doing a better job in that area. Our safeties have become more aggressive. Our corners have too," Tyrone stated. "It's a matter of focus, not only in our secondary, but at all positions.

"In the secondary, though, if your eyes are in the wrong place, big things seem to happen against you. I believe we have improved in that area though."

Having those top-tier players available again has made Nix breath a little easier.

"I assumed last week we would have them back after the open week, but you can't take that for granted," he noted. "It's good to actually see them back out there. It puts a smile on my face.

"Having them back certainly gives us a better chance of competing in the game."

Is this the week the Rebel defense will put it all together and play as most felt they would prior to the season?

Considering who the opponent is, the setting and what's at stake, it definitely needs to be.

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