“Definitely,” said the junior from Jackson. “That’s what our jobs are, to protect the quarterback and run the ball. So it means a lot, especially in this league, regardless of who we play.”
Ole Miss remains the only SEC team in 2012 not to play a conference game so far. That’s right. The only one. Florida has already played three and won them all. McCray said it’s time for the Rebels to play an SEC game, and he believes the positives can continue.
“That will carry over,” said McCray of the Rebels’ ground game success, who along with his Rebel teammates are getting ready to open SEC play Saturday night at Alabama. “Whoever you play, if you can put that many yards up, it doesn’t matter who you go against, we’re executing.”
Ole Miss is averaging 260 yards a game on the ground. Alabama is one of the league’s best defenses and is second in rushing defense, limiting opponents to an average of 62 yards per game. It will be a meeting of two of the league’s best at what they do in those departments.
Alabama is equally as strong against the pass as it is against the run. The Crimson Tide is actually tops in the conference in that department, yielding only 123 yards per contest. Ole Miss, meanwhile, is middle of the pack in passing at 228 yards per game, good for seventh place currently.
But, again, for the 3-1 Rebels, that’s all against non-conference competition, with only one of those teams being anywhere close to as strong as the Tide, and that’s Texas. Alabama’s 4-0 mark includes a 1-0 SEC record with a league win at Arkansas and a neutral site win against Michigan among its victims.
Running backs coach Derrick Nix said the Rebels must be better than they’ve been at taking care of the football this weekend and the rest of the way in SEC play.
“I think the No. 1 thing is we can’t help the defenses out,” he said. “Probably the only negative we’ve had this year so far is with turnovers. We’ve got to take care of the ball and make great decisions. Not just carrying the ball and running it but protecting the quarterback as well. Making sure we get the right hats on guys in blitz protection and things like that.”
Ole Miss is in the bottom three league teams as far as turnovers so far through four games. The Rebels have lost the ball 10 times, including six fumbles. Nix said they have to improve in that department.
“We’re not quite at the midpoint of the season, but we’re at a point where things have to start clicking,” he said. “We can’t have the same things happen to us that happened during camp. We have to improve on those. The No. 1 thing that sticks out again is turnovers.”
Nix said he isn’t surprised the team leads the league in rushing through four games, keeping in mind the Rebels haven’t played a conference game yet.
“The plan we’ve put together and the style of offense we run is built for us to be able to run the football and to make plays for our quarterbacks and our running backs, and for our offensive line to get hats on the guys and have running lanes,” Nix said. “So it’s not been a shock so far, and we expect it every time we go out on the field.”
McCray said he isn’t surprised either that the Rebels have been able to do some positive things offensively in the running department. He attributes it to players who are capable and also accepting the coaching they’ve been presented to make it a better situation.
“The guys we have at running back are talented, and the coaches did a good job (all the way back) in the spring,” he said. “And our scheme helps us. We’re high tempo and we spread the defense out. So that helps us a lot, too.”
McCray said he knows the environment they’ll face this weekend will be different than anything they’ve played in so far. The home environment for the Texas game was extraordinary. The atmosphere at Tulane last Saturday was pro-Ole Miss but lacked any type of intensity of an SEC road situation as far as the number of fans in the stands.
There will be 100,000 in Tuscaloosa Saturday night, and McCray said the Rebels look forward to it.
“Coach gives us the worst possible scenarios out here in practice with these blaring speakers,” McCray said. “We’ve got our own little system on the O-Line to recognize when the ball is going to be snapped. So I think we’re going to be fine.”