Alabama, Mississippi look vulnerable in secondary
Alabama's pass defense looks a little vulnerable. Mississippi's isn't much better.
It all could add up to a lot of touchdowns when the top-ranked Crimson Tide and No. 21 Rebels meet on Saturday in Tuscaloosa, Ala. Ole Miss is ranked eighth in the Southeastern Conference in pass defense, Alabama is 11th.
Alabama's secondary has been hit by injuries and suspensions. Coach Nick Saban used two new starting cornerbacks against Colorado State last Saturday.
Still, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said Alabama's secondary problems are a little overblown.
''I don't think Alabama is weak there,'' Freeze said. ''There's been talk that they're weaker at certain positions. They've held quite a few kids out, too, that I think will be ready to go this game. They're not weak anywhere.''
Alabama has already given up five passing touchdowns this season after allowing only eight in all of 2012. But all five of those were by Texas A&M's Johnny Manziel and Alabama certainly isn't the only defense that's had trouble stopping the reigning Heisman Trophy winner.
Nonetheless, there's little doubt it's been a transition for Alabama's secondary this season, which lost experienced stars like Dee Milliner and Robert Lester to the NFL during the offseason.
Freshman Eddie Jackson and sophomore Bradley Sylve made their first career starts at cornerback against Colorado State. Alabama is expecting safety Jarrick Williams (eye infection) and cornerback Deion Belue (toe injury) to return against Mississippi.
Alabama safety HaHa Clinton-Dix said he was glad the young players got some experience against Colorado State.
''They came out and did a very good job,'' Clinton-Dix said. ''They played fast, played physical and I was very happy with them.''
Saban said the young players ''did some good things and some bad things and we're just going to have to continue to work through this week.''
Ole Miss also has issues in the secondary with Freeze often saying cornerback is a very thin spot on the roster. The Rebels have moved a few players to try and create more depth at the position - including sophomore Mike Hilton.
The 5-foot-8, 183-pound Hilton has been productive, ranking third on the team with 16 tackles. The Rebels could also get some help if senior Charles Sawyer returns. The veteran cornerback missed most of the season's first two games because of a shoulder injury and then didn't travel with the team to Texas after being arrested on DUI charges on Sept. 8.
The Ole Miss defense - including the secondary - played much better in the second half against Texas, holding the Longhorns scoreless. Freeze says the Rebels will be tested again by Alabama quarterback A.J. McCarron.
''He's a winner,'' Freeze said. ''He wants the ball in his hands at critical moments and has proven that he can make those plays at critical times, which is a special quality.''
Ole Miss has a little more depth at safety, led by junior Cody Prewitt and freshman Tony Connor. But the Rebels have sometimes been inconsistent, giving up big plays because of blown assignments.
Prewitt, who leads the team with two interceptions, said that can't happen against the Tide.
''We're really going to have to go out there and play 60 minutes if we want to have a chance at this game,'' Prewitt said. ''I think we've accepted that and that's our goal.''
AP Sports Writer John Zenor in Tuscaloosa, Ala., contributed to this story.
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