COLUMN: NEW ORLEANS — After a 3-1 start to the 2012 season, and non-conference play out of the way, the big question asked to the Ole Miss Rebels and coach Hugh Freeze was “are you ready for SEC play?”
It was a simple question that actually produced several different answers. Sophomore defensive end C.J. Johnson, who had just helped the Rebels earn their first shutout since 2008, believes the team could play with anybody, even if the next opponent is No. 1 Alabama.
“Anytime you get a win with the state that we’ve been the past two years it’s big. We got to put our hard hats on and prepare for Alabama,” Johnson said. “We feel pretty confident (as a defense). We feel like we can play with anybody in the country. The only thing is, when you’re playing college football, you can’t beat yourself and expect to win. That’s just the bottom line. If we do our assignments and we play assignment football and play like our coaches teach us to do, we’ll beat anybody in the country.”
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack had a different idea about where his unit really is after the first four weeks.
“I think we have a long way to go. I’m not under false pretenses of who we played (on Saturday) and I don’t mean that to disrespect but we all know the difference in playing Alabama and Tulane who we played and it’s a huge difference,” Wommack said. “We can play with eliminated mistakes and we can play hard (against Alabama). I think we got to lock in and we’ve got to put in a great plan. When you do eliminate mistakes and you do play hard, there’s no reason we should play like we did against Texas. We brought a lot of that on ourselves. We need to be consistent in what we’re doing.
“We’re four games into the season and we’ve got three wins and that’s what I expected if I was being totally honest with myself. We’ve got to find a way to win three or four more. We’ll take them one game at a time. We’re in the SEC now and we have a heck of a challenge ahead of us.”
Freeze had a similar take to Wommack because the team has yet to play a complete game in all three phases working together.
“I wish we would have played four great quarters of offensive football today,” Freeze said. “We didn’t and we’ve struggled to do that some. When SEC play comes around, we’re going to have to be competitive.”
Quarterback Barry Brunetti said the season really starts Saturday at Alabama.
“Going off last year, the season starts now. This team needs an SEC win. We’re halfway to a bowl but it’s most important for this team to get an SEC win so we can break that (losing) streak,” Brunetti said. “I think the offense is ready but SEC defenses are different. They’re all good, the first, second and third team. It’s good that we’re getting a taste against the No. 1 team in the country. You got to treat it like another game but it’s the No. 1 team in the country, so we got to play hard.
“We got to learn how to accelerate and not put our foot on the break. We had an excellent first quarter (against Tulane) and scored on every drive. I thought we were going to score 50 but as coach says, we got to play for 60 minutes, four quarters.”
Time will tell just how successful the Rebels can be against other teams in the SEC. Playing at Alabama is a tough way to start things off, but the Rebels will learn from the experience no matter what happens this coming Saturday. It’s become evident that Ole Miss has improved, the plan is better as a whole and that some of the better teams in the conference the past three, four years are not nearly as good.
There’s reason to feel optimistic about the Rebels not only ending their SEC losing streak, but push to make a bowl game. A lot will depend on the Rebels winning three games in the next eight, but they have a much better chance this year than they’ve had the past two and that’s something to build in the short term. (September 24, 2012, Page 1B)