PARRISH ALFORD: Rebels get 2nd chance to show progress

By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal

OXFORD – For those wanting something to cling to that says Hugh Freeze’s restoration project is ahead of schedule, there have been mixed results.
Clearly, this Ole Miss football team has a plan and a chance to succeed on offense.
Through four games, the 3-1 Rebels compete more and are penalized less.
They’ve faced only one elite opponent to date, and the Rebels got half of what they were looking for. Offense and special teams produced 31 points, but the defense gave up 66 and almost 700 yards in a 35-point loss to Texas.
At his weekly press conference on Monday, Freeze, the Rebels’ first-year coach, says he expects his defense to be better against No. 1 Alabama than it was against Texas.
Without the Texas game, the Rebels would be No. 3 in the SEC in total defense at 272.3 yards a game. As it stands, Ole Miss is 10th, giving up 373.2 yards a game.
Alabama represents a second chance to go against a bonafide offense and show real improvement.
Freeze and defensive coordinator Dave Wommack digested the Texas loss and made immediate changes in the secondary. The Rebels were better against Tulane – as they should be – but the Green Wave had a true freshman quarterback making his first start. Hard to get a real read on defensive improvement.
Offensively, the Texas defensive speed caused the Rebels some problems, and Alabama will be a couple of clicks ahead of the Longhorns, who had five sacks against Ole Miss.
The Rebels are a 33-point underdog on Saturday night. They weren’t written off as much before the Florida game in Gainesville in 2008.
Upsets happen. I get it.
Internally, it’s unwise for a coaching staff to approach this game by settling for anything less.
Externally, the Rebels need to get ready to meausure their progress in ways other than winning and losing.
Can this energized Ole Miss offense score more against Alabama than any other team this season? The Crimson Tide was three minutes away from a third-straight shutout before Florida Atlantic reached the end zone in Alabama’s 40-7 win last week.
Michigan put up 14 points in a 41-14 neutral-site loss. Western Kentucky and Arkansas did not score.
Defensively, can the Rebels post better numbers than they did against Texas and give themselves a chance?
It’s these things that will affect the Ole Miss mental state as its moves into a stretch of home games against Texas A&M and Auburn, more realistic targets for the Rebels to end an SEC losing streak that stands at 14 games.
And these things that will give us a better read on where restoration stands.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at InsideOleMissSports.com.