Petre Thomas

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack believes confidence will go a long way in fixing secondary woes

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Dave Wommack gets a sense of déjà vu whenever he watches film of Alabama running back Bo Scarborough.

“He looks like (Derrick Henry),” he said. “I was like, dang, even his shoes and socks are the same way.”

Granted, there are striking similarities between Henry and Scarborough, including an almost-identical, upright running style, but so far Scarborough hasn’t come close to matching the former Heisman winner’s production despite being the perceived leader of the Crimson Tide backfield.

Through two games — both wins — sophomore Damien Harris leads Alabama with 183 yards on 20 carries, good for a 9.1 yards-per-carry average. B.J. Emmons is second with 59 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown. Scarborough is tied with true freshman quarterback Jalen Hurts with a team-high two rushing touchdowns.

So while he may look the part, Scarborough isn’t the one-man running show that Henry was. But Alabama is still the same dominating run outfit it’s been in previous years, only with a more running-back-by-committee approach.

“They are physical guys,” Wommack said. “I’ve never played Alabama when they didn’t have great backs. Some people might speculate that they haven’t done this or that, but they will. The’ve always had great backs.”

Dave Wommack

Alabama is 81-4 since the start of the 2008 season when rushing for at least 140 yards. The Crimson Tide’s only losses were at Auburn in 2013, at Ole Miss and vs. Ohio State in 2014 and against Ole Miss in 2015. Suffice to say, the Rebels (1-1) have history on their side.

And they’ll counter with a defensive front that has certainly met expectations through eight quarters in 2016. All-SEC defensive end Marquis Haynes and company have applied consistent pressure on opposing quarterbacks, including a near 32-percent clip against Florida State quarterback Deondre Francois.

However, that pressure hasn’t resulted in turnovers, chiefly due to the up-and-down play of the the Rebel linebackers and defensive backs. The overall numbers aren’t pretty, either.

Ole Miss is ranked No. 103 in the nation in rushing defense, No. 101 in total defense, No. 94 in red zone defense and No. 88 in pass yards allowed. Wommack believes the Rebels, first and foremost, have to be more competitive.

“That’s a big deal for us,” he said. “I thought in the (FSU) game a week ago Monday we were way off and way soft, and we don’t teach playing nine yards off. Sometimes that’s what I’ve talked about with it early in the season. Sometimes you talk to the young guys about doing those things. The lights come on and they are going against these big time SEC and ACC receivers and you have to learn that being off of them is just as bad as being close to them. I think that’s obvious and you see that on film. We have to fix that, and if they don’t do it our way we’ll play someone else.”

Ole Miss, of course, has already been decimated by injury, including the loss of junior cornerback Ken Webster to multiple torn ligaments in his knee early on in the 45-34 loss to Florida State.

The Rebels will line up against Alabama with a secondary of redshirt freshman Jalen Julius and walk-on senior Carlos Davis at cornerback; true sophomore Zedrick Woods and true freshman Myles Hartsfield at safety; and senior Tony Conner at husky.

“You can’t replace (Webster),” Wommack said. “You just can’t do that overnight. We’ve tried to play some different techniques with them and get them better these last two weeks, but he won’t be there, and the next guys have an opportunity to step up. It’s against a great football team. I hope we’ve gotten better. 

“I think both the freshmen are coming. I think Jalen and Jaylon (Jones) are both coming. I’ve seen a lot of improvement. Kailo (Moore) tried to do some things. We’re helping him with his technique. He has the speed but hasn’t been a good technician. He can execute some of the things, so he has to help us. (Cam) Ordway has to help us. It’s going to be a committee to get players out there.”

Petre Thomas

Conner is 17th on the team in tackles with four. He totaled two in the Rebels’ most-recent action, a 38-13 win over Wofford last Saturday. Conner was a preseason All-SEC selection, having racked up 156 tackles and 18.5 tackles for loss in 33 career games.

“Not as well as I expected,” Wommack said of Conner’s performance. “I thought especially in the first game he should have done some things well. He is feeling his way through it a little bit. I have confidence in him. I think he’s practiced better. He just needed to go through some of the things he went through the other night, and we’ll move forward. 

“You have to have confidence when you’re out there playing against those people. We have to put him in the right situation at the right time. It’s concentration and focus. I still believe you win games with great effort and eliminating mistakes. The team that plays the hardest and makes the fewest mistakes, and that includes a lot of things and is very general, and plays the technique best is going to win the game.”

Wommack Extras:

On creating turnovers: “It has a lot to do with putting the eyes in the right place and getting lots of people to the football. If you told me we had one turnover after two games I don’t think I’ve ever had that happen and the guy that got the turnover if you told me Hebert was the first one and the only turnover, I’d have said, ‘oh, my.’ It’s a huge part of the game and we’re not doing very well. It’s been a big deal.”

On linebacker play: “We’ve had injuries and my game plan against the option was I wanted DeMarquis Gates on the outside. He’ll play both inside and outside this week.”

On Willie Hibbler: “I like Hibbler in the game. He did some really good things (against Wofford). I keep wanting to bring him along without throwing him to the wolves. There’s no preseason game, and the Wofford game wasn’t a preseason game from the standpoint of getting ready for the option. That didn’t help us at all in preparing for Alabama and other teams on our schedule. But I did want to get him in there and see what he looks like. “

On the Alabama OL: “They have three new guys and anytime you have that early in the year you’re not going to function as well as veteran lines. It’s going to take them time, but they seem to always get it fixed. I’m sure they will this year, too.”

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