TUSCALOOSA, Ala. — Ole Miss shifted its base defense from a 4-2-5 to a 4-3 this past Saturday, inserting senior Joel Kight as a third linebacker along with redshirt freshman Denzel Nkemdiche and junior Mike Marry.
After giving up 676 yards and 350 yards on the ground against Texas, Ole Miss held Alabama to 305 total yards and only 125 yards on the ground. The Crimson Tide had been averaging 425 total yards and 204 yards on the ground.
“I think we gang-tackled and have improved our tackling,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said. “We were doing a much better job of seeing things, putting our eyes in the right places and not taking as many false steps, and we need to continue to do that.”
Head coach Hugh Freeze said the defensive staff did a great job other than on third downs, as Alabama converted 11-of-18 third-down plays.
“We’ve got to make improvements on third downs,” Wommack said. “I think we’ve gotten better in the last two weeks, and we’ve got to keep getting better and get ready for the next one.”
Nkemdiche, Prewitt set career highs
As part of the revamped defense, which started in the secondary against Tulane and continued in the front seven against Alabama, Nkemdiche and sophomore safety Cody Prewitt set career highs in tackles.
“Nkemdiche was throwing his body around, so was Cody (Prewitt),” Freeze said. “All of them were. It seemed like they were around the ball a lot.”
After his interception against Tulane the previous week, Nkemdiche recorded a career-high 11 tackles, including three for loss and forced two fumbles.
He said the team’s mindset was to stop the run, and if Alabama was going to get any yards, it was going to have to be in the air.
“That’s the new mindset of our defense,” Nkemdiche said. “We’re going to be physical and hit them in the mouth whenever they run it, whenever they catch it or whatnot.”
Prewitt, who started the first four games this past season, has settled in at safety alongside freshman Trae Elston, who made his second career start against Alabama.
He had nine tackles in the first half and finished with a career-high 13 tackles to lead all players.
“There’s a lot of confidence coming from this game,” Prewitt said. “Playing Bama, that’s the best of the best. We gave them a dogfight to the end.”
Sophomore quarterback Bo Wallace, who sprained his shoulder against Tulane, started and was 15-of-26 passing for 123 yards with two interceptions.
Junior Barry Brunetti and senior Randall Mackey also took snaps at quarterback. Brunetti was 4-of-6 for 15 yards, while Mackey was 0-for-1 with an interception.
“It depends on the game plan,” Freeze said of using three quarterbacks. “We had that planned. We wanted to get into that Mackey stuff a little earlier, and we thought we had some good stuff. There at the end, we did pop a good run with him.
“With Bo’s (Wallace) shoulder the way it was, we wanted to be careful not to do certain things with him and try and get him totally healthy. That was the reason behind playing all of them. Barry (Brunetti) threw some nice balls there at the end.”
Staying on schedule and taking care of the ball
Like with the third-down plan on defense, Freeze talked about doing a better job on offense in the first-down plan and staying on schedule.
“It’s hard to drive the football on that defense that they have,” Freeze said. “They’re so talented and so physical.
“We had two really nice drives and just could not stay away from a negative play, whether it be a turnover or something that put us behind the chains where they could pin their ears back and come get us.”
Wallace said he put his defense in a bad situation with his two second-quarter interceptions.
“It was a third-and-long on the first one,” Wallace said. “We had three receivers to the right. I got flushed. I had to roll out left, and I tried to make a play when I should have just thrown it out of bounds or something like that. I was trying to make a play.
“On the other one, I got greedy. We had the double move with Donte (Moncrief), and I probably should have worked the other side. I got greedy and kind of threw it too far inside.”
Wallace said he feels he’s playing great other than the turnovers, and they are going to be in his mind when he watches film.
“I’ve done that in both big games we’ve played, so it’s something I’ve got to work on and somehow get it into the back of my head that I can’t turn the ball over like that,” Wallace said of the three interceptions against Texas and two interceptions against Alabama.