By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
I’m sure Dennis Johnson’s momma loves him very much. In the family of Arkansas football, however, Dennis Johnson didn’t stand out before last Saturday. He was an average back in an above-average offense.
No doubt Johnson, a 5-foot-9, 213-pound junior from the Arkansas side of Texarkana, had the potential to do more.
Certainly he showed more against Ole Miss, but going into Saturday’s 29-24 Arkansas victory, Johnson averaged just 28.2 rushing yards a game.
In a Bobby Petrino offense that this season showcases the quarterback and receivers more than it might otherwise, Johnson carried the ball 15 times for 160 yards.
Petrino said following the game that Johnson had the “hot hand,” and so he kept getting the ball.
The point to all of this? Good backs have great games against the Rebels.
Five teams this season have rushed for more than 200 yards against the Rebels, FCS foe Southern Illinois among them.
Ole Miss held BYU to 91 rushing yards on opening day. In the six games to follow, the Rebels have given up an average of 249.1 yards on the ground.
Alabama ran for 389 yards.
After Arkansas posted 206 yards – about 80 yards above its average – defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix talked about poor angles and poor tackling.
Players and coaches are working to improve in that area, and maybe that improvement will come. The Rebels will certainly get a chance to show it Saturday night.
Auburn, at 183.2 yards a game, is the SEC’s fourth-best rushing team this week, sophomore Michael Dyer the second-leading individual back at 107.2 yards a game.
As long as there are games to play, players and coaches should seek improvement.
The unfortunate reality, however, is that improvement in the last five games of any given season is marginal at best. Improvement takes place in the off-season.
In 2009 Ole Miss was able to show significant improvement in the running game over the back half of the season, because it was able to hand the ball to Dexter McCluster.
Stopping the run is different. It’s not about one player. It’s form and cohesion and the effort of 11 players working together.
The Rebels did show improvement in the first half against Arkansas, though that frame still included a 52-yard touchdown run by Johnson. In the second half the Razorbacks rushed for 150 yards.
Maybe the first half will be something to build on for the Ole Miss defense. If a 10-game SEC losing streak is going to end, improvement has to have a starting point.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at NEMS360.com.