Ole Miss coaches and players have to prepare each week the same way, but it's hard to hide the "extra" going into preparations for the game against Alabama Saturday in Tuscaloosa.
"Our guys will be excited, they will be focused and they will be ready," said Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack. "As a coach and player, you try to prepare the same way, but you can't totally block out of your mind who you are playing and this is Alabama, a storied program, a bench mark program."
Wommack realizes the Rebel defense has its hands full trying to combat Lane Kiffin's downhill, and now using tempo more, offense.
"Gap integrity is very important. That will be huge in this game for our guys to maintain their gaps, not only against Derrrick Henry, the big back, but Kenyan Drake, their speed back. They have a great 1-2-3 punch, but what else is new with Alabama? They always have great backs," Dave noted. "We've had some struggles with our alignments and assignments, but most of that has been from our threes and fours. Our ones and twos have been pretty good."
Dave lamented a bit after the Fresno game about the backup linebackers and safeties not getting things done correctly.
"We are working hard this week on correcting those things. Some of those guys are going to have to play and they are going to have to be alignment and assignment sound," he continued. "I am glad we are getting C.J. Hampton this week. We consider him a co-starter, kind of, with Trae Elston at free safety. He will help us a lot. C.J. has really had a good fall camp. I hate he didn't get to play in the first two games, but I know he knows what to do and will play well."
Dave will face another new Tide QB in Jacob Coker this week, but he knows what to expect.
"Their QBs always just manage the game and I think he has been good so far. He's like any new QB - he is evolving and hasn't played perfectly, but neither have we," Dave said. "He is a good talent.
"They still play a lot of 11 personnel - one back, one tight end - but they are using TE O.J. Howard like we use Evan Engram, so they are more versatile in the pictures they present you this year. They are like us - they will show us different stuff than they showed last week."
The bottom line for Wommack?
"We have to play sound, smart football in a hostile environment," he closed. "We are looking forward to it. These kinds of challenges are what life in the SEC is all about."
* Robert Conyers, who started at center the first two games, sat out Tuesday trying to heal from a ligament sprain from the Fresno State game. In his absence, Ben Still and Justin Bell handled all the snapping chores. It is anticipated Conyers will be ready to play against the Tide, but anticipate him playing some at center and some at right tackle, spelling redshirt freshman Sean Rawlings (assuming Laremy Tunsil is not reinstated by Saturday and Fahn Cooper stays at LT).
* Rod Taylor worked at number one right guard Tuesday as his comeback bid continues. A brief observation indicated Rod is ready to rumble. He was using his hands and seemed physical during the brief time the media had to watch.
* With CB Tee Shepard having to sit out a half against Alabama due to a targeting penalty in the Fresno game, who is next up at cornerback? Of course, Kendarius Webster and Tony Bridges will start, but who takes over for Tee, the third CB? Kailo Moore will get the nod, but Carlos Davis is also available and will get a few snaps.
* Who are the coverage stalwarts on special teams? Everyone knows Channing Ward, the human wrecking ball, is one, but next in line with the coaches is Carlos Davis. "He hasn't made a lot of tackles, but he creates a lot of havoc because he gets downfield quickly and disrupts things. He is very valuable," a coach told us.
* Last week, Coach Hugh Freeze indicated freshman DL Austrian Robinson may be thrust into some playing time due to the neck injury to Issac Gross that will cost him the 2015 season. Robinson would be working as the 6th defensive tackle. Apparently, for now anyway, the coaches have changed their minds. Robinson did not play against Fresno and was on the scout team defense in practice Tuesday. Ross Donnelly, the other freshman DT, is in the five-man rotation, sans Gross.
* Speaking of Gross, he will have his neck operation next month. He has vowed to be back in uniform next year.
* Defense is always about gap control/integrity, but maybe more so against downhill teams with a big back like Alabama's Derrick Henry. "You can't let him pop a gap and get up a head of steam," said Wommack. "If you do, he is gone. We saw that a couple of times against Wisconsin - a mistake in gap control and it was six. But Henry is not the only one we are worried about getting full speed - Kenyan Drake has game-changing speed and gap control is just as important in defending him. Give him a seam and let him get full speed, he's lethal."
* In short yardage situations, the Rebs have obviously cultivated two potent options - Jeremy Liggins out of the Wildcat look and Robert Nkemdiche out of a heavy set as one of two up backs. "Both are explosive players who can get the job done. We like both options," said Freeze.
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