By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Woodrow Hamilton’s work ethic alone makes him a throwback kind of guy.
Listening to him talk about the impetus for improvement in the Ole Miss defense, it’s not hard to envision the Pittsburgh Pirates of 1979, the striped caps, with “We Are Family” playing in the background.
The family approach is what gives this group the chance to be special, says Hamilton, a third-year sophomore nose tackle. Like his teammates, Hamilton is confident that No. 21 Ole Miss will play well Saturday at No. 1 Alabama.
It wasn’t that way in 2011. It wasn’t anything like a family.
“Two years ago when somebody made a mistake, everybody wanted to holler at their own teammate,” Hamilton recalled.
As a redshirt that year, he witnessed Alabama apply a 52-7 beating long before it was announced that former coach Houston Nutt and his staff would not return.
Teammates trusting one another has helped Ole Miss have success against the run. The Rebels (3-0, 1-0 SEC) are giving up 114.3 yards a game on the ground, third-best in the SEC.
“Basically, we do what a regular family does. If somebody does something wrong in the family I don’t just go out in the world and tell everybody what my family did,” Hamilton said. “We just keep everything in, and let’s handle everything like grown men. We’re just really a part of each other’s lives.”
Stopping the run is the first measure of manhood for any defensive line. It’s what everyone wants, but fort the Rebels, there’s a secondary goal.
They believe if they force Alabama (3-0, 1-0) into third-and-long situations they make the Tide’s two-time national championship quarterback more predictable.
Then the Rebels can rush full steam at A.J. McCarron.
Success some other teams have had in getting close to McCarron has inspired Ole Miss.
“You go watch the film, and it’s pretty blatant that they got to the quarterback, but we just have to continue to play our game and execute,” defensive end C.J. Johnson said. “When we get a chance to rush the quarterback I think we can.”
The Rebels have had only sporadic success at collapsing pockets and getting quarterbacks to the ground. They’re averaging 1.33 sacks a game, ninth in the SEC and down from the 2.92 sacks they averaged in 2012 when they finished second in the league.
Three starters off last year’s Alabama offensive line are now in the NFL. The Tide’s rebuilt line has had mixed results, allowing two sacks a game, 10th in the SEC.
McCarron has completed 64.1 percent of his passes but has thrown it to the other team twice.
Success comes more easily for most quarterbacks when they’re faced with third-and-2 rather than third-and-8.
Johnson says Ole Miss has to do a better job of running stunts more cleanly and making sure not to miss when it has a chance at a sack.
McCarron is “probably one of the best quarterbacks in college football,” Johnson said. “He just knows how to win. If we can stop the run and get them in some third-and-longs I think we’ll be all right.”