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Four Downs: Alabama

In this week's edition of Four Downs, The Daily Mississippian football beat writers Bennett Hipp and Matt Sigler, sports editor David Collier and managing editor Austin Miller answer four questions regarding the week's matchup.

1. How much does Bo Wallace play?
 
Bennett Hipp (@bennetthipp): To me, it depends on how the game goes. If Alabama jumps out to a big lead early, and the Crimson Tide defense is teeing off on Wallace, it would make sense to limit his playing time to make sure he’s healthy for potentially winnable games coming up on the schedule.
 
Matt Sigler (@SigNewton_2): I believe Bo will play as long as the game is close. If things get out of hand early, I expect him to sit and try to stay healthy for future games. If Ole Miss keeps things close, I think Bo will go as long as there is a chance for Ole Miss.
 
David Collier (@DavidLCollier): If Wallace starts as scheduled, I think he plays a good portion of the game, but I still think Barry Brunetti gets the majority of the playing time simply because the game will be out of reach early. There’s no reason to risk injury with Wallace before two winnable home games against Texas A&M and Auburn in the coming weeks.
 
Austin Miller (@austinkmiller): If he’s healthy enough to get the start on Saturday, I think he plays as long as the game is close. If the game gets away from Ole Miss or the Alabama defense sets up camp in the Ole Miss backfield, I expect to see a lot of Barry Brunetti at quarterback because of his mobility. Also, the Rebels want to keep Wallace healthy for a winnable stretch that includes Texas A&M, Auburn and Arkansas.
 
2. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said Alabama doesn’t give up 200 yards very often. Does Ole Miss eclipse 200 yards of total offense?
 
Hipp: I think they come close, but may fall just short. Michigan and Western Kentucky were able to put up 200 yards of total offense, but Arkansas and Florida Atlanta were not able to against the Crimson Tide. Ole Miss has the ability to break a big play or two, but lack of sustained offense will keep them from passing that barrier.
 
Sigler: I think they do. I believe Freeze will have a scheme that will be enough to throw off the Alabama defense to the point where they will eclipse the mark. The high-tempo offense against a team like Alabama who substitutes often could cause some trouble.
 
Collier: I think they do. Freeze will get his first Southeastern Conference test to see how his offense works. Sure, it’s not where it should or will be, but it will be a good measuring stick to see exactly where they are against the most talented defense they’ll play this season. With that being said, I do think the Rebel offense will get at least 200 yards of total offense because of the number of plays they will run with their up-tempo style. Also, I think it’s possible that Ole Miss can connect on a couple of big plays throughout the game.
 
Miller: Ole Miss may break a big play or two with Jaylen Walton or Jeff Scott in the running game or Donte Moncrief getting behind the Alabama secondary in the passing game, but I expect a lot of three-and-outs. The key will be staying ahead of the chains, but I think negative plays and the lack of sustained offense keeps Ole Miss from passing the 200-yard mark.
 
3. Does the defense show improvement from the 66-31 loss to Texas?
 
Hipp: The pass defense should be improved, but the run defense will likely struggle again. A retooled secondary with Sawyer at corner and Trae Elston at safety gives Ole Miss a better chance to show progress in pass defense. Ole Miss’ small, quicker defense will have problems getting past Alabama’s massive offensive line, and also tackling the Crimson Tide’s seemingly endless rotation of quality backs
 
Sigler: Yes. Despite the lack of size on the defensive side of the ball, I think defensive coordinator Dave Wommack will have his guys in the right places at the right times to where they will be able to make some plays. I don’t think Alabama will top 50 points.
 
Collier: I am going to say yes because it can’t get much worse. I think you’ll see more emphasis on wrapping up on attempted tackles to bring the big Alabama running backs to the ground. I also don’t think you’ll see Nick Saban stick to the run as exclusively as Texas. He’s shown in his first four games that he is trying to have a balanced offensive attack, and he should be able to do that against Ole Miss.
 
Miller: Trae Elston makes a difference in the pass defense, but I think the improvement in coverage is negated by the lack of a proven pass rush, and even with more 4-3 looks on defense, Ole Miss remains undersized in the front seven. However, I think the experience from the Texas game and the confidence from this past week’s shutout against Tulane makes a difference, and the defense shows some marked improvement.
 
4. How do you measure success in a game in which Ole Miss is 30-plus point underdogs?
 
Hipp: It’s all about perspective. This is nothing more than measuring stick game that will show Ole Miss how far it still has to go to get toward the top of the division. If Ole Miss can show an improved pass defense, break a couple of big plays offensively and come out of the game relatively healthy, that has to be considered a success whether they cover the spread or not.
 
Sigler: I think success will be measured by the effort Ole Miss puts out this week. If they get in a deep hole, will they be able to respond and keep playing? Or will they fold and put their heads down? Personally, I believe this team will fight it out with the nation’s top team for 60 minutes and give them a run for it. 
 
Collier: The only way to measure success at this point for the Rebels is to look at effort and execution. There’s no reason Ole Miss can’t excel at both of those things. The effort was there against Texas, but I think you’ll see more execution on both sides of the ball. I think it will be an ugly outcome, but Ole Miss will have a better showing than they did against the Longhorns.
 
Miller: It’s all about effort, getting out of the game healthy and showing improvement from the Texas loss on the defensive side of the ball. The longer Ole Miss can play with Alabama, the more confidence it will bring into winnable games later in the season. For the offense, finding the end zone will be another boost to its confidence. It’s easy to say covering the spread is another measure of success, but I care more about the eye test and how Ole Miss plays for four quarters.