PARRISH ALFORD: Sunday talent on display in opener

PARRISH ALFORD

PARRISH ALFORD

OXFORD

It would seem that playing with an NFL running back would be against the rules. It’s only college football, after all.

Boise State will have an NFL guy in the backfield when Ole Miss takes the field at the Georgia Dome on Thursday night. That’s the assessment of Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze.

There’s a lot to like about Broncos tailback Jay Ajayi. He’s an even 6 feet tall and at 216 pounds he’s heavier than every Ole Miss back except junior college transfer Akeem Judd. He’s a fourth-year junior and is averaging almost 6 yards per carry for his career.

The best way to combat that is to have an NFL guy holding up the back end of your defense, an experienced senior keeping things steady amid a mix of veterans and new guys playing new roles, a returning All-American.

The Rebels have all of those things in senior free safety Cody Prewitt.

“With his maturity right now I’d be shocked if he’s not yelling and screaming to get it right because he understands what we’re trying to do very, very well,” Freeze said.

The importance of experience is magnified in season openers when there are a lot of moving parts, younger guys transitioning into the voids left by talented players who have moved on.

If you know what to do, you can play fast. If you can play fast you can set the tone, and on opening night as two teams try to learn about themselves as much as each other the team that can first get out of its own way has a big advantage.

Prewitt’s ability to survey the landscape and set the defense will be immensely helpful.

So will his body-rattling tackling, if Ajayi gets in the open field.

There are nine returning starters on the Ole Miss defense.

“We all know the scheme. We’ve been playing together a long time, and because of that we have been able to teach the young guys and bring them along quickly,” Prewitt said.

Ole Miss should have an advantage with its deep and talented front seven against a transitioning Boise offensive line.

As the season itself transitions talent will become as important as experience. Young players will find their way. They’ll begin to play faster.

Until then guys like Prewitt, important always, are valued even more.

He’s excited by the potential of this defense.

“The coaches have developed a good, solid depth chart. We are not exactly where we want to be, but we are deep than we’ve been in my career,” Prewitt said. “That’s going to allow us to be more aggressive. By the end of the season I think we’ll be where we want to be.”

Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. Read his blog at InsideOleMissSports.com.