This week’s Pick Six is with Parrish Alford, a proud alumnus of Denham Springs High School (Class of 1984) and Ole Miss beat writer for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal of Tupelo since 2002.
What, in a nutshell, is the magic of Hugh Freeze doing to Ole Miss football? What is working for him that didn’t for Houston Nutt?
I think with any coaching change there is some degree of excitement. A fresh start for players, a new opportunity. Some of that is going on. Also, Freeze has really preached accountability and discipline in helping a number of players with academic issues of some sort stay on the team, though not all of them made it. The offense is up-tempo and fun to play and watch. Skill players respond to that. The offensive line was a concern in spring and camp. It has been functional, but protection remains a problem. Defensively, the group started slowly but made great strides after the Texas game in Week Three and that was in time to help the Rebels be competitive in most SEC games, even for stretches of time against Alabama and Georgia, games that eventually turned into lop-sided scores.
Despite their feel good story, the Rebels have let a couple of wins slip off the hook against Texas A&M and, last Saturday, Vanderbilt. What has hurt the Rebels when it comes to sealing the deal, and how much are they smarting from that Vandy loss?
In both games they were unable to get off the field in the second half in crucial situations. They led by 10 and had A&M backed up to the 1. Almost got a safety out of it, but when they didn’t, the Aggies converted a third-and-almost 20 and went on to drive 99 yards and steal momentum. Vanderbilt was 6-for-10 on third-down conversions in the second half.
What about quarterback Bo Wallace has him playing so well?
Wallace is accurate and mobile. He’s not a runner with the speed of a Johnny Manziel, but he’s not a stiff. He’s begun to evade pressure better. When the run game is working, he’ll make gains of 4 or 5 yards that might be longer for faster players. His interceptions have often been a result of poor decisions, but he’s improved on that of late. His receivers are starting to blossom as well. Early on it was all about Donte Moncrief. Now Vince Sanders and Ja-Mes Logan have emerged.
With LSU’s offense apparently finding its long-sought balance the last two games and Ole Miss’ issues in pass defense, what can the Rebels try to do to slow the Tigers’ down?
Ole Miss really needs to slow down the run game. They’ve been better with that the last two games. Georgia’s Todd Gurley had a 100-yard game, but collectively the Bulldogs averaged about 3.3 yards a carry, Vanderbilt 2.9. Selling out to stop the run may create opportunities for Zach Mettenberger, and the Rebels are young, inexperienced and not altogether healthy on the back end. Still, stopping or slowing the run has to be the first priority. Mettenberger has been really good for two games. There’s a much larger and successful body of work for the LSU run game.
What do you think are the Rebels’ chances of signing Robert Nkemdiche, the nation’s top-rated recruiting prospect?
The recruitniks I talk to believe it will happen. Having his brother, Denzel Nkemdiche, on the team is a big deal made even bigger by the fact that Denzel isn’t just “on the team.” He’s having a great year. The mother likes the idea of the brother’s playing together, and they would really be “playing” together.
After five years, do Ole Miss fans know what the Magnolia Bowl is and do they care?
I hear much more talk about the rivalry and the history of the series than I do the Magnolia Bowl. I think I read something about it in the game notes. I do remember seeing the trophy a few years ago and it didn’t strike me as very impressive.