There are a lot of emotions that go through a player’s head when entering Bryant-Denny Stadium to play Alabama. These days, confidence is not one of them.
Ole Miss freshman Trae Elston thinks differently. The defensive back from Oxford, Ala., thinks the Rebels do indeed stand a chance against the Crimson Tide.
“They’re not really tricky,” Elston said. “They are pretty basic. Like I said, if we do our assignments and keys, we’ll be pretty good.”
The freshman may be unaware that the last time the Rebels won in Tuscaloosa was 1988, years before he and most of his teammates were even born.
Elston’s teammates, however, have a slightly more objective view of the Rebels’ SEC opener.
Freshman linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche said no matter the stadium, the key is having confidence in your teammates – even if the opponent is Alabama.
“We try to approach each game the same way, but it’s tough when you know down your schedule you have Alabama’s, LSU’s, Georgia’s,” Nkemdiche said. “It’s hard, but games like this, these are the games we live for, that we are really looking forward to, that we come to Ole Miss to play for.”
Up until this point, the only opponent Ole Miss (3-1) has faced that is comparable to an SEC team is No. 14 Texas.
Considering Big 12 power Texas is undoubtedly the most comparable to an SEC team, the 61-33 Rebel loss leaves the glass half-empty for Ole Miss.
In his first year as head coach of the Rebels, Hugh Freeze has made it a point to look at the team’s mistakes and make certain to grow from them.
In a press conference Monday, Freeze said a contributing factor in the Texas loss was game day preparation, explaining that the 8:21 p.m. kickoff was something the team had not yet experienced.
“We’re going to break that day up a little bit, and hopefully our kids will be calm and go out and execute early to the best of their ability in a difficult environment,” he said.
Freeze acknowledged the trip to Tuscaloosa will be a challenging one – he even referenced David and Goliath in the press conference – but the fact of the matter is that Ole Miss has nothing to lose in playing Alabama.
“Why not go and have fun with it?” he said.
Despite these feelings, Freeze does have certain expectations for his team.
“Our defense is going to play better than it did against Texas,” Freeze said. “I don’t think we played our best football that night on the defensive side. I hope we come out and play more inspired, maybe be a little more disciplined with our eyes and tackle a little better.”
Ole Miss hopes switching from its regular 4-2-5 defense to a 4-3 will help against the Tide’s offense.
Freeze said defensive coordinator Dave Wommack has readied the new defensive formation, but it still lacks mass.
The only thing left in question is quarterback Bo Wallace.
Wallace injured his right shoulder in Ole Miss’ last game against Tulane. Due to his injury and a lack of preparation during Friday and Saturday walk-throughs, the quarterback did not play his best, and he knows that, Freeze said.
In order for Ole Miss to stand a chance – as Elston believes it does – it needs strength in every position, starting with the quarterback.
Something else Freeze said will be a problem is depth. Though he believes the Rebels do have depth in the running back position.
“The challenge we have at that spot is none of them are prepared to do everything we do,” Freeze said.
John Davis, sports editor of The Oxford Eagle and Ole Miss graduate, said the Rebels want to show their improvement in this game, knowing that they did not play well against Texas.
“I think they realize [Alabama] is a great team,” Davis said. “Are they intimidated? Probably not. But at the same time they realize that they’ve got to be focused, and they’ve got to be together as one unit.”
Davis said in order to be successful, Ole Miss will have to use everything at their disposal and force Alabama to make mistakes.
Ole Miss beat writer for the Clarion Ledger in Jackson, Miss., Hugh Kellenberger, said the Rebels do have some qualities that have gone unrecognized.
The Rebels run a no huddle spread offense, something no other SEC team does, giving them an advantage.
Kellenberger said if Ole Miss can get its offense into a rhythm, it may cause the Tide defense to become off-balanced, giving Ole Miss an opportunity.
Though Alabama head coach Nick Saban said he thinks “Ole Miss is really a much improved team” and is impressed by its offensive numbers, Kellenberger said the only real difference is the environment around the program, led by the new coaching staff.
“The Daily Mississippian,” John Davis of the “Oxford Eagle” and Hugh Kellenberger of “The Clarion Ledger” contributed to this story.