Each week at TideNation we will speak with a writer who covers one of Alabama's 2012 opponents. Today we spoke with Parrish Alford, who covers all things Ole Miss for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal.
Question: What has been your impression of Hugh Freeze in his first year at Ole Miss? How are players reacting to him personally, as well as his change in coaching philosophy?
Alford: My impression of Hugh has been one of a tireless worker with an incredibly difficult task. He's a high-energy guy who relates well with players. There seems to be more accountability for the players and therefore more effort from the players. He seems to have gotten off to a good start in recruiting. If he can keep it up, that will serve the Rebels well in the long term.
Q: The Rebs have a ton returning on offense this season. What are the expectations for this group?
Alford: There is a lot returning on offense, but it's returning from a team that was 0-8 in the league. You can see a path to success at most positions. There are enough players at each position that can be really good -- Jeff Scott at running back, Donte Moncrief at wide receiver, Randall Mackey as a utility guy. But there's very little quality depth, and quarterback is a different position altogether. There will be little or no game experience for the starter, either Barry Brunetti or Bo Wallace.
Q: There are a lot of questions surrounding the defense, especially at tackle and the secondary. How has the defense looked in the early going and what do you expect from them when the season begins?
Alford: They actually like their interior linemen. Guys like Bryon Bennett, Carlton Martin and Uriah Grant got some things done last year. They are young and improving. The bigger question for the linemen will be the ends. They really need a pass rusher to emerge. The secondary was one of the bright spots of the spring. Cornerback Wesley Pendleton was named spring's outstanding defensive player. Dehendret Collins, another cornerback, showed some nice cover skills. He was beaten a few times but also had some big plays. Senquez Golson is an interesting possibility, but he missed spring to play baseball. The loss of Nick Brassell is a big blow. He made two or three practices in the spring, enough for Hugh to assess him as an "NFL corner." It's a stretch to think D.T. Shackelford will play after a second knee surgery, but they haven't ruled him out. Another big loss. Overall, this group needs to slow down the run with the front seven. They looked good in the spring but were going against a pretty weak running game.
Q: Who are a few players to keep an eye on this season that might be flying under the radar?
Alford: Although Mackey is a well-known player, he's a bit under the radar because he'll do so many different things. He looked really good in the spring as a slot receiver. He'll play some running back too. He was impressive in how physical he ran after the catch, much more so than when he would scramble from the pocket at quarterback. Keep an eye on Collins Moore as a slot receiver, Carlos Thompson as a lanky pass rush specialist.
Q: What's your argument for and against Ole Miss beating Alabama in Week 5?
Alford: In trying to evaluate Ole Miss I think you throw out the last three games when everybody was in "Who Cares?" mode. You could make a case for Ole Miss in some other games given how the Rebels competed against BYU, Arkansas, for a time against Auburn and against Kentucky. I don't think there's a case to be made against Alabama and LSU. For Ole Miss, winning in Tuscaloosa would be more about a complete lack of preparation/motivation by Alabama, and that doesn't typically happen.