By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt has a reputation for rallying his players to play above their heads in big games, but he downplayed the idea of using the “us against the world” motivation method when preparing his players to face No. 2 Alabama this week.
“I just try to be as honest as I can. Last week we got better as a football team. From Fresno on, we’ve gotten better. That’s what’s important,” Nutt said. “We put our emphasis on getting better, eliminating mistakes, having a tremendous attitude … and what an opportunity.”
Nutt last led Ole Miss to a win against a top 10 opponent in November of 2009. LSU was ranked No. 8 when the Rebels won 27-25 in Oxford.
In September of 2008, Nutt’s first season at Ole Miss, the Rebels defeated No. 4 Florida 31-30 in Gainesville, the only loss for the Gators who went on to defeat Oklahoma for the national championship.
Competition on the OL
The offensive line has been a big topic of discussion during the Rebels’ 2-3 start, and while he stopped short of saying there would be wholesale changes up front, he did indicate there could be changes at two positions.
Nutt said Patrick Junen is “back in the mix” at left guard. Junen, a walk-on last year when he started a handful of games as a true freshman, began the season as the starter and held the position for three games.
Since that time, freshman Aaron Morris and senior Alex Washington have also started. Junen has also spent practice time at left tackle.
Nutt indicated there could also be a change at center. Junior A.J. Hawkins drew 10 starts at the position in 2010 and has started all five games this season. Hawkins was named to the watch list for the Rimington Award in the summer. It honors the nation’s best center.
Hawkins, though, is being pushed by sophomore Evan Swindall.
“He’s been working hard, and just the intensity of his work, his practice habits. It’s easy to get on the side and go through the motions when you think you’re not going to play, but he’s been the exact opposite,” Nutt said.
Nutt said he would see how the week goes before making decisions about his O-line.
playing through pain
The Rebels followed the Fresno State game with an open week, a fact that probably meant more to Mike Marry than anyone else.
The sophomore middle linebacker has been bothered by a foot injury most of this season. It’s bad enough to keep him out of practice until the latter stages of the week. Then he suits up and makes plays.
“He has tremendous heart and attitude,” Nutt said. “The guy has to wear a boot the first part of each week. Then he’s able to get out there Wednesday or Thursday and go again. We’d like to see what he’d be like at full speed.”
So would Marry.
“It’s slowed me down. There are certain tackles that I’ve missed or made down the field that I could have made in the backfield and helped us out even more,” he said.
Marry says the pain he feels now is from straight-ahead running, less so with lateral movement. He can tell in games that he’s missed practice time during the week.
“You lose some of your conditioning,” he said. “There are certain times in the game when you shouldn’t be tired, but because I missed a couple of weeks of practice, I get tired in the games sometimes.”
Even with the fatigue, Marry has posted 51 tackles, a figure that ranks third in the SEC and ties for 13th nationally.
He also has 3.5 tackles for loss and two sacks.