AUBURN, Ala. — As we do every Thursday, War Eagle Extra was able to track down a beat writer for Auburn's opponent this weekend. Parrish Alford (@parrishalford), who covers Ole Miss for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Tupelo, Miss., took some time to answer five questions about the Rebels before he heads eastward to cover this weekend's game in Jordan-Hare Stadium.
Ryan Black: Last Saturday's 25-0 loss to Alabama was obviously disappointing for Ole Miss, especially since many believed the Rebels could pose some problems for the nation's top-ranked squad, and possibly, just maybe, pull the upset. And of course, it's one thing to lose. But it's a whole different animal to get shut out. From being around the team this week, does it seem like they've been able to move past that defeat quickly? Or do you think there will be any carryover to this Saturday's contest?
Parrish Alford: Ole Miss had several emotional losses last year and seemed to do a good job of getting prepared to play the next week. One of those was the Texas A&M game, a 30-27 come-from-ahead loss that extended the Rebels' SEC losing streak to 16 games. They were able to snap that streak against Auburn the next week. That being said, the Alabama game was tough. They expected to play well. They certainly didn't expect to get shut out, and I think that was a source of embarrassment.
Black: In the first three games of the season, the Rebels allowed teams to rush for an average of 114.3 yards per contest. Last Saturday, Ole Miss gave up 254 yards on the ground to Alabama. Which number is more reflective of the quality of the Rebels' rush defense? Or, like many things in life, does it lie somewhere in the middle?
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Alford: The first number is a truer statement of the Rebels' run defense. For the sake of argument if you subtract a 68-yard TD run and a 50-yard TD run Ole Miss held Alabama to 3.5 yards per attempt. The 68-yard run was an assignment bust, the second came late when fatigue had set it. You can't subtract those runs, because you have to play for four quarters. While the Rebels' defense has been very good against the run this year and was good for most of the Alabama game, you can also spin that to say they are prone to giving up big plays against quality backs. The larger body of work says they've been good against the run, and I suspect they will be Saturday.
Black: Ole Miss entered last season on a 16-game losing streak in Southeastern Conference play and coming off a two-win campaign in 2011. This year, the Rebels had sky-high expectations placed upon them by fans and media pundits alike. How do you think they've handled dealing with the increased scrutiny (and pressure to win) thus far?
Alford:I don't think they've listened much to the expectations. I think they've done a good job of being focused on the tasks at hand, whatever those tasks might be. Hugh Freeze in the off-season changed his message from "wilderness" to "journey," which I think is appropriate. Personally, I think it will show growth if the Rebels can qualify for a second straight bowl and finish in something higher than the Compass Bowl. The real expectations should be in 2014 when Bo Wallace is a senior, these freshmen are sophomores and another solid class has been added.
Black: Even during the days of Eli Manning in the mid-2000s and the back-to-back nine-win seasons in the early years of Houston Nutt's tenure, it didn't feel like the Rebels were on the national radar. That's not the case now. People know how head coach Hugh Freeze jumped in last season and subsequently engineered a remarkable one-year turnaround. Tack on Ole Miss' noteworthy haul on National Signing Day in February and its 3-1 start this season, and it seems the positive momentum is showing no signs of slowing down. Being around the beat for many years, can you recall a time when the spotlight on the program was this bright?
Alford: The spotlight on the program was this bright going into the 2009 season when the Rebels were ranked No. 8 in the preseason. They reached No. 4 before losing at South Carolina on a Thursday night. That team went on to win nine games but underachieved by going just 4-4 in the SEC. The bottom fell out quickly after that.
Black: As a follow-up to the previous question, success breeds jealousy. With the Southern California job already open and Texas likely to follow at the end of the season, is there any worry that Freeze might jump to so-called "greener pastures?" Or do his roots in Mississippi — and his comments about wanting to "retire" at Ole Miss — make that possibility unlikely?
Alford: Freeze's roots in Mississippi make that less likely than with other coaches. You never rule out his leaving if someone comes along and offers to double his salary. That being said, Ole Miss is in a position to get into a bidding war to some degree but would bow out quicker than schools with many more resources. The administration is working to support Freeze in ways other than straight salary, such as massive renovations to the football building and extra money for assistant coaches.