ATHENS - This week we check in with Parrish Alford, who besides being a knowledgeable Ole Miss beat writer, is also one of the nicest people you will ever meet.
Parrish covers the Rebels for the Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal in Mississippi. You can follow him on Twitter at @ParrishAlford, and read his blog right here.
I also answered his questions about this game for his blog, and you can read that that exchange right here
Thanks to Parrish, and as always I hope all of you find this helpful:
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1. The assumption was Hugh Freeze was going to be in for a rough first year, so how surprising has this been, and how much credit does he deserve?
PA: He deserves a great deal of credit. Before the season began many Ole Miss fans would have taken five wins after an off-season message of lack of depth and wilderness. It's not uncommon for a new coach to come in with energy, organization and spark a team to quick success. Houston Nutt did it, but Nutt had more talent. This isn't a situation of the old coach winning and moving on. Freeze had to rebuild confidence and get the players believing in each other and in the new staff. Expectations sometimes change at mid-stream, and many fans -- and players -- will be disappointed if Ole Miss doesn't get that sixth win for bowl-eligibility.
2. Ole Miss is much better on offense this year, ranking sixth in the SEC in total offense and scoring. And the Rebels are balanced. What's the main difference from last year?
PA: Quarterback play. They started three different players at quarterback last year. For various reasons, none held the job. The offensive line is much better. Not that it's a great line. It's an improving line, but it just wasn't very good last year. There was decent talent, but they didn't pick up things well in a new system under a new offensive coordinator. Also, running back Jeff Scott is a good fit for what he's asked to do in Freeze's offense. Bo Wallace, at quarterback, has made effective reads in the run game to help Scott get free.
3. Quarterback Bo Wallace has been very effective: When he's at his best what is he doing well, and when he's struggled, what has been his undoing?
PA: When Wallace is at his best, he's making those good reads in the run game. That creates space for Scott and for Wallace as well. Wallace is not a burner, so his gains typically aren't big ones, but they're effective. He does a good job concealing the ball and his intentions. He's an accurate passer with a good arm. He'll stay in the pocket to try and make a play rather than running early. His undoing has been poor decisions. Those have resulted in his nine interceptions.
4. Defensively, Georgia offensive coordinator Mike Bobo termed Ole Miss as being "younger and faster" than last year. That about sum it up? And how does that make the Rebels better?
PA: They are younger in the secondary and faster in some of those spots. Along the front seven, Ole Miss does a good job of fitting and being assignment sound. They can bunch-up the middle, but when a good back takes the play outside they don't always have the speed to get there and make plays. Starting linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche (Loganville, GA) gives the Rebels some speed in the 4-2-5. They can go bigger in a 4-3 look. Freshmen Trae Elston, Mike Hilton (Fayetteville, GA) and Quintavius Burdette have played well in the secondary. They are a better tackling team than last year and in general terms are playing with more confidence.
5. What's the perception about this game among players and fans? Do they agree with being a two-touchdown underdog, or is the winning creating a belief that they can come in and play spoiler in Athens?
PA: The players believe they can win. The fans hope the players can win. We haven't really asked the point-spread question, so I don't have a good feel on that.
6. Finally, in your mind what will be the two or three main things that have to happen for Ole Miss to pull off the upset?
PA: Ole Miss is quite capable of pulling the upset. It's November, and this is still the team that's played Alabama closer than anyone else, though I suspect that changes in Baton Rouge this weekend. For Ole Miss to win, Wallace needs to make good decisions, and the offense needs to play turnover free. The Rebels need Georgia to slip into one of its unfocused moments, like against South Carolina and Kentucky, and not spend most of its time focused, as the Bulldogs' defense clearly was against Florida.