Pass defense schemes, personnel and looking ahead to LSU

I heard the calls for Dave Wommack’s resignation start Saturday night.

In the emotional game that is college football I also heard Wommack’s name mentioned for other coordinator jobs last year.

It was just last year that his Ole Miss defense led the nation in fewest points allowed.

It’s hard for me to believe that Dave Wommack has forgotten how to coach in a year.

It’s not hard to believe that much of last year’s success was possible because there was personnel available to run the schemes.

Ole Miss went into this season without two All-Americans in the secondary in free safety Cody Prewitt and cornerback Senquez Golson.

What has happened this year is the staff has missed on some evaluations in replacing those guys.

Ole Miss signed the top junior college cornerback for two years running, and neither have panned out. Tee Shepard, rated No. 1 by 247Sports before signing with Ole Miss in 2014, is no longer on the team.

Tony Bridges, rated No. 1 by ESPN in 2015, has not acclimated quickly.

Hugh Freeze and Dave Wommack were so confident in their corners that they moved Mike Hilton – who had started 20 games at cornerback over the last two years – to rover at the beginning of spring. Not the end of spring but the beginning.

Wommack has also been criticized for dropping into prevent defense on fourth-and-25. This is for a play that actually worked. The play call forced what it wanted from the Arkansas offense when tight end Hunter Henry caught the ball 10 yards short of the first down, and an Ole Miss player was there to make the tackle.

What happened after that was a fluke. Legal and unfortunate but a fluke.

Clearly pass coverage is atrocious for Ole Miss right now. Hilton may be able to help that some, but Hilton’s availability at corner will depend on Tony Conner’s knee.

The training staff will try to manage Conner’s swelling this week. He played 30 snaps against Arkansas. Every snap he doesn’t play is a snap that Hilton’s not available for corner.

Freeze didn’t say there is about to be an all-out move of Hilton to corner, but he was pretty active there in the second half last Saturday.

If indeed that turns out to be a big part of his future at least he’ll have this bye week and next week to get back in the groove.

While the Rebels are struggling in the secondary this season they are improved against the run. The numbers right now show only slight improvement, but good rushing teams gashed the Rebels last year. So far this season Ole Miss has held up better against quality opponents.

That’s why LSU’s visit to Oxford is intriguing.

I’m not calling for an Ole Miss upset of LSU. I like the matchups for the Rebels, but I’m not sure how they’ll respond to the devastating defeat against Arkansas.

Ole Miss did not respond well to adversity last year. Improving that aspect was a primary goal of August camp. Freeze didn’t offer specifics back then but spoke of having an intentional plan during that month geared to helping his team better handle the emotional lows of the season.

Well, they are in one now.

One reason I like the Ole Miss matchups against LSU is the Rebels’ improved run defense from a year ago.

Last year seven opponents rushed for more than 150 yards.

So far this year there have been three. It took Arkansas to overtime to get there. Alex Collins, averaging more than 120 a game this year, didn’t go over a hundred until the lateral play when gained 31 yards.

Auburn gashed Ole Miss for 248 yards last year. Missing Nick Marshall but with still a potent ground game the Tigers gained 125 against Ole Miss this year.

Alabama rushed for 215 yards, much of that in the fourth quarter when Ole Miss starters were gassed.

The Rebels had trouble getting off the field on third downs, and things were dicey when Alabama recovered the on-side kick.

The Tide ended up rushing for 72 yards on 12 carries in the fourth quarter. Derrick Henry carried eight times for 42 yards in the fourth quarter and finished with 127 yards on 23 carries.

You are what your numbers say you are, but Ole Miss did a better than average job against an Alabama run game that averages 195.3 yards a game right now. Henry right now is second in the SEC to LSU’s Leonard Fournette with 139.3 rushing yards a game. That’s sixth in the nation. Henry is second to Fournette and fifth in the nation in total rushing yards with 1,254.

Whether Ole Miss can slow Fournette remains to be seen.

Based on recent events I’d say there’s a fair chance of that but also a fair chance for LSU quarterback Brandon Harris to have a career game.

Denham Springs, La., native, Mississippian since 1989 with a stop in Meridian before arriving in Tupelo. Daily Journal beat writer since 1996, covering Ole Miss since 2002. Proud Northeast Louisiana alum. Follow me on Twitter @parrishalford and listen to John Davis and myself daily with The Ole Miss Beat on Rebel Sports Radio.

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  • Cal Bell

    Suggested reading. Kellenberger’s article in Clarion-Ledger, “Another Moment Lost by Ole Miss”. A provocative look at the past, present and future of this season.

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