Generally speaking, teams don’t play well together on Saturday if they don’t play nice together the other six days.

This is so widely understood that I doubt they spend much time on it in Coaching 101.

We often hear players describe their teammates as “brothers.” We hear the word “family” so much at SEC Media Days that sometimes we think we’re covering the Corleones.

Coaches push the team concept for a number of honorable reasons. Somewhere in there is because unity in pursuit of a common goal is, for all practical purposes, mandatory.

Nothing undermines that unity faster than the idea that one individual or group within the team isn’t handling its assigned work load.

That creates a thin line that Ole Miss coaches and players must publicly walk, and right now they’re doing just that.

“Our defense is doing a great job,” offensive lineman Javon Patterson told us Tuesday.

Away from Manning Way it’s difficult to find supporting opinions.

It’s not unusual to find a college football team where one side – offense or defense – is superior to the other and therefore plays the larger role in team success.

I don’t think I’ve ever covered one in which the gap between the two units was as large as it is right now at Ole Miss.

It’s larger than it was last year, because quarterback Jordan Ta’amu is more comfortable in the offense. The Rebels have won five of seven games since Ta’amu took over following the injury to Shea Patterson last season.

Ta’amu will face his greatest challenge Saturday when No. 1 Alabama visits. He was a sideline observer to the Rebels’ 66-3 loss in Tuscaloosa last year.

Recent trends suggest Alabama will put up quite a few points and that Ta’amu will have a difficult time matching Tua Tagovailoa – They both are Hawaii natives – touchdown for touchdown.

In the search for good news for the Ole Miss defense consider this:

It has two games on record now, and while giving up 38 points in a half and 629 yards in a game to an FCS opponent is embarrassing, the Rebels were better against Texas Tech. They were not dominant, but they were pretty good, and they had key fourth-down stops in the second half, one in a red zone situation and one in a quick-change after an Ole Miss turnover near mid-field.

They’ve shown they can be more consistent than they were against Southern Illinois.

Also, teams don’t stay the same from week to week. There’s change within a football season for better or worse.

Young in spots, this won’t become a championship unit overnight, but the Ole Miss defense has a chance to get better, to prove last week was about focus, not scheme, and to show it can force turnovers and get stops on a more consistent basis.

If it plays like it did for three quarters against Southern Illinois the Rebels risk upsetting the delicate balance of unity.

Parrish Alford ( covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at Twitter: @parrishalford


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