OPINION: Rebels' Nix gets players focused, puts lasso on Cowboys

By Parrish Alford

ARLINGTON, Texas – I’m not a fan of cliches, but here’s one that works.
“You get what you pay for.”
Ole Miss paid for defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, reportedly in the neighborhood of an extra $50,000 a year, and got a Cotton Bowl victory in return for the investment.
A defense that looked so lost and confused by option football at Mississippi State held firm against Oklahoma State with 259 yards allowed, just 140 on the ground for the Big 12′s top rushing attack.
The Rebels were even stingier in goaline situations, keeping the Cowboys out of the end zone on six rush attempts inside the 5, the lone OSU touchdown coming on a jump pass to the tight end by Keith Toston, first-team All-Big 12 at tailback.
The Rebels were in position on the edge. The option that so befuddled them in Starkville was run sparingly, once for a 46-yard gain by Kendall Hunter. Certainly, the OSU staff didn’t see enough by way of production or in the alignment and discipline of the Rebels to keep hammering with it.
It was a noteworthy turnaround for Nix’s defense, a month the same unit gave up 317 yards on the ground – and less than a month after he turned down the coordinator’s position at Florida, a job that would have paid more than his Oxford raise.
Through a rough outer coating Nix doesn’t go overboard in complimenting his players. That’s OK. There’s more value in the praise when it does come.
So in Saturday’s aftermath, the assessment was team-oriented. Nix said the goaline stand in the third quarter “showed the character of the kids.”
He downplayed the success against the OSU option, saying the Rebels “could have stopped it earlier” had they been focused and had they tackled. Earlier is code for at Mississippi State.
It raises the question as to why the focus wasn’t there with the Capital One Bowl on the line, and the answer probably lies somewhere within a 45-0 score in Oxford in 2008.
Defensively, Ole Miss was focused and successful in 10 out of 12 regular-season games. Lapses at Auburn and Mississippi State, which both amassed 400-plus yards, cost dearly.
The Cotton Bowl showed Nix’s ability to get players’ attention … to re-focus them. There were similar efforts against Tennessee and LSU, both held to fewer than 300 yards, after the Auburn debacle.
It will be an evolving defense for Nix in 2010 as the Rebels will have to replace three of their top four ends in Marcus Tillman, Emmanuel Stephens and Greg Hardy.
Nix faced a the same type of challenge in 2008. He left an uncertain future at South Carolina when he arrived at Ole Miss and coached a Rebels defense that improved throughout the season.
Nix is confident he’ll have the pieces to work with at end next year for continued pass rush and strong play against the run. While depth at end will be unproven, the nucleus of a very good defensive line returns with tackles Jerrell Powe, Lawon Scott and Ted Laurent.
If the last two seasons are an indication, the Rebels will play with speed and aggression and will make the play when they get to the ball.
You get what you pay for.
And sometimes a little more.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@djournal.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.