Ole Miss 'very impressive' under Freeze

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. -- Alabama defensive end Damion Square smiled when he remembered last year's game against Ole Miss.

"It was a good day," he said with a laugh, thinking back on the 52-7 win in Oxford, Miss.

The Crimson Tide dominated from start to finish that day, out gaining Ole Miss 615 yards to 141. The defense racked up five sacks and 14 tackles for loss. Square, then a junior, had three tackles, including one and half that resulted in negative yards.

"The defense got after them pretty well," he said.

But that was then and this is now.

No. 1 Alabama began preparation for a new-look Ole Miss team on Monday afternoon, one guided by new philosophies under first-year coach Hugh Freeze, who has the Rebels at 3-1 heading into their SEC opener.

Alabama coach Nick Saban said the Rebels are a "much, much improved team" with Freeze at the helm. On offense, Ole Miss has gotten better, increasing from 16.1 points per game in 2011 to 36.8 in 2012.

"They have been very, very impressive," Saban said. "The no-huddle style is a little bit like Auburn used to be when Gus Malzahn [was there]. They're playing hard, they're playing with a lot of spirit. They've got a lot of good skill players."

Quarterback Bo Wallace has excelled operating the Rebels' uptempo attack. The 6-foot-5 sophomore has been lethal with his feet, rushing for 179 yards and two touchdowns, in addition to passing for 717 yards and seven touchdowns.

"Wallace has done a good job for them at quarterback," Saban said. "Barry Brunetti comes in sometimes, two quarterback system, no-huddle, fast. They really run the ball effectively with all the zone-read options, quarterback runs. They have some good skill guys that can make plays in the passing game."

Saban said stopping the Rebels' option offense will be a priority, and noted that there are some similarities with what Alabama saw against Michigan in the season opener.

Said Square: "Michigan ran it a little bit. FAU ran it to a certain extent. Everybody has that in their offense. It looks different, but at the end of the day it's a read option. We've seen it more than y'all probably recognized it."

Senior safety Robert Lester said beating the no-huddle, read-option comes down to preparation and communication.

"The preparation needs to be in place," Lester said. "The more familiar you are, the more you can get a little quicker and you'll be ready for it. They can go as fast as they want it, and as long as you've seen it before, you're prepared for it and can adjust to it."

Linebacker C.J. Mosley said the defense even has a name for their style against offenses like Ole Miss.

"As far as defense, we just basically 'muddle huddle,' where everybody kind of get in their position so they won’t be running all over the field once they get ready," he said. "It’s kind of hard to simulate that kind of thing in practice. But the main thing we’ve got to do is just everybody look to the sideline at coach. It’s all about communication."

If there's an area Ole Miss has fallen off, it's the defense, which gave up 66 points to Texas at home two weeks ago. The Rebels rank 12th in the SEC in scoring defense, giving up an average of 25.8 points per game.

Still, Saban had nothing but positive words to describe defensive coordinator Dave Wommack's unit. Wommack came to Ole Miss with Freeze from Arkansas State, where his defense ranked in the top 25 in yards per game and scoring.

"Their defense is very quick and athletic," Saban said. "They move around a lot and create problems sometimes in their ability to run and affect the edges in the passing game. They forced a bunch of turnovers last week."

Alabama will face Ole Miss on Saturday at 8:15 p.m. CT. ESPN will televise the game.