Tide Turn

Though notching its first conference win of the season in Nashville the night before, No. 20 Ole Miss had little time to celebrate, as preparations for No. 3 Alabama began in earnest Sunday.

"We watched the film this morning," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "Our defense continues to play very well. Our front has been very, very consistent for us. They're playing very well. We looked like an offense the first couple of quarters. Everybody executed. Jevan (Snead) had his best night of the year. Brandon Bolden and Cordera Eason ran extremely hard."

After having one of the worst performances of his young Rebel career in a 16-10 loss to South Carolina, Snead regained a bit of his late 2008 form against the Commodores.

The Stephenville, Texas native completed 19 of his career high 34 passing attempts, with three touchdowns. However, Snead did throw three interceptions, something Nutt says the staff will work hard on improving this week.

"We're not going to live with that," said Nutt of the picks. "He knows better. We're going to get that corrected today. We might even work on throwing some balls out of bounds. When everybody's covered, throw the ball out of bounds or dump it. We had a couple of backs that were open. But I thought he did a great job coming back from not one of his best games in Columbia, and really executing and getting us out of some plays. The first half was really good to see. The deep ball to Shay Hodge was right in stride. It changed the ends of the field.

"But we can't force the ball, especially against the team we're about to play. That's what they want you to do. They expect to get turnovers. They do a great job of getting the football. We can't give up gifts to Alabama."

Along with Snead, sophomore left tackle Bradley Sowell came under fire after a less-than-stellar performance in Columbia.

Matched up against USC career sack leader Eric Norwood for much of the night, Sowell couldn't quite hold up. Against Vanderbilt, however, Nutt said Sowell stood out.

"Bradley Sowell was the best offensive lineman on the field last night," he said. "He did an excellent job with protection and graded out over 90 percent. I was really proud of his play. He had a tremendous effort when the ball wasn't coming his way. He took a real big step last night."

Playing with a limited rotation against the Dores, the Rebel linebackers shined, as Patrick Trahan (10) and Jonathan Cornell (8) topped the team in tackles.

Though Nutt is unsure of the availability of freshman MLB D.T. Shackelford Saturday, he was pleased with what he saw in a dominating effort.

"It was a pregame decision," Nutt said of the choice to sit Shackelford. "He couldn't turn. He could run straight ahead OK, but he couldn't stop, turn or cut. I don't know if he'll play Saturday. You never know with high ankle sprains. We really need him this week.

"What we're a little nervous about is we're getting thin at linebacker with D.T. still not there. And we're also using Patrick Trahan and Allen Walker on special teams. Patrick had 10 tackles, a tackle for loss and some tackles on the kickoff team. He's playing outstanding for us. Jonathan Cornell and Walker – those three guys are veterans. (Lamar) Brumfield played about 16 snaps coming off an injury, but D.T. still isn't there yet."

For the second time in his career, senior wide receiver Shay Hodge topped 100 yards receiving. Better yet, he did it all in the first half, totaling eight catches and two touchdowns to pace the team in receiving.

"Shay Hodge had a big night. He was very consistent," Nutt said. "He ran some good routes against man coverage and created some separation. He's physical with the football."

With a handful of top receivers in the SEC, including Alabama wideout Julio Jones, Hodge is often overlooked by outside pundits.

But according to his head coach, Hodge ranks at the top of the list when considering the best the conference has to offer.

"There are some good ones in this league. LSU has a good one in Brandon LaFell, A.J. Green from Georgia, Julio. But I put Shay right up there with them. He's a physical receiver who will go up and get it. He creates separation. He's done a good job for us."

However, the reports weren't all perfect for Ole Miss offensively. Along with the turnovers by Snead, Nutt felt like a few big play opportunities were left on the field.

"We did have a spurt in there where Jevan forced a couple of throws. He'll learn from that and be much better this week. We have to be," he said. "We can still improve on the offensive line. There are still some things we have to block better. Daverin Geralds has been injured a little bit and he played like it. He has to get better. Gerald Harris was a big lift for us. Even though he dropped the ball in the end zone, he's still rusty. It helped having him back.

"I thought we got (Jevan) some throws early. We threw a lot on first down in those throws. Shay Hodge and Lionel Breaux ran some good routes. We got some plays in that gave him some confidence early. He played within himself and executed. He just did a good job last night."

Though he finished with nine touches and 55 all-purpose yards, senior wide receiver/running back Dexter McCluster was far from an impact player against the Commodores.

As opponents have done before and will continue to do, McCluster demanded extra attention on every snap, forcing other members of the Rebel roster to make plays offensively.

Nutt said a concerted effort was made to get the ball in the hands of McCluster, but the task is getting more difficult with each passing game.

"We made a conscious effort to get him the ball at running back, receiver and on reverses. The thing about Dexter is that every team knows where he's located," he said. "They try and keep a handle on him. That's going to help us with other players, but we'll always make a conscious effort to get him the ball."

Now 3-1 (1-1) on the season, the Rebels look to a meeting with Alabama to get back in the conversation for an SEC West crown.

But as the early stages of 2009 have already proven, the task of stemming the Tide will certainly not be easy. Alabama ranks third in the conference in total offense and second in total defense.

"It's just one at a time. It's too long of a season. It's very hard for any team to go undefeated in our league. It's really difficult to do that. So, it's just one game at a time and it starts this week," said Nutt. "But this win really helped us. The momentum, the confidence – there's nothing like a win. You learn better. This will help us this week.

"Alabama is playing at a very high level and have real athletes. They're very deep. It seems like their special teams has a whole new crop of fresh bodies when they're out there. Javier Arenas is a big time player. On offense, they don't make mistakes. They execute, take care of the ball and wear you down. Those backs, (Mark) Ingram, Richardson and Upchurch, are excellent. They'll beat you up or outrun you. But defensively is where they've been manhandling everybody. No team has gotten very many points on them. They get turnovers, which is something you just can't have. Kentucky was right there with them, 7-6, but the floodgates opened up when they turned the ball over."

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