Cowboys hope their offense hits Rebels’ weakness

Marcus Tillman knows the basics of option football and how to defend against it.
He hadn’t seen much of it, though, until it became the bread-and-butter play for Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs used it to bury Ole Miss 41-27 in the Battle for the Golden Egg.
Attention to detail in following those basics was absent, players say, and that’s why the Bulldogs, led by quarterback Chris Relf and tailback Anthony Dixon, rushed for 317 yards.
It wasn’t only about missed responsibilities. Missed tackles played a big role too.
“They took advantage of us,” said Tillman, a Rebels senior defensive end. “They found a play that just kept them going and gave them energy and hope.”
They say everything’s bigger in Texas, and now Tillman is getting ready for a second helping of the option when the Rebels kick off in Dallas Jan. 2 against Oklahoma State in the Cotton Bowl.
“If they are watching film, that’s probably one of the main runs we’ll see … because of what happened,” Tillman said.
Yes, they have watched film in Stillwater, Okla., and the hope that Tillman says carried the day for Mississippi State has extended beyond Starkville.
While the Rebels were being beaten by their in-state rival, Oklahoma State was being trounced in similar fashion by 7-6 Oklahoma. The Cowboys lost 27-0. They were held to just 62 rushing yards, well below their Big 12-leading average of 191.75 rushing yards per game.
The Cowboys (9-3) were aiming for a 10th win and had their sights set on a BCS bowl.
After the bus ride back from Norman, most of their offensive coaches hunkered down in the football building and started breaking down video Ole Miss, a video that must have resembled a Relf-Dixon promotional campaign.
“With as much success as Mississippi State had with it, it gives us a breath of fresh air and a little bit of hope,” said Gunter Brewer, the Cowboys’ co-offensive coordinator and wide receivers coach. “Other than that, Ole Miss had been stingy with everything they’d done in the run game, and they do a great job of getting to the football.”
The MSU game dropped the Rebels’ rush defense average to 140.33 yards a game, sixth in the SEC.
Led by All-Big 12 tailback Keith Toston with 1,177 yards, Oklahoma State has four players who have rushed for at least 280 yards. Among them is quarterback Zac Robinson, the team’s third-leading rusher with 296 yards.
Battling shoulder and ankle injuries at the end of the regular season, Robinson wasn’t able to contribute much in the run game at Oklahoma.
He’s healthier now, and Brewer, son of former Ole Miss coach Billy Brewer, expects to have his full package at his disposal.
“In our package we have quite a bit of option,” Brewer said. “How much we use in one game is determined by what the defense allows you to run. The option gives us the opportunity to get the ball on the edge and make people play assignment football. It’s an equalizer.”
Players playing assignments and being where they were supposed to be on the field is where the Rebels came up short against Mississippi State.
“We weren’t doing what we were supposed to do. All we have to do is execute, play what we’re supposed to play and be where we’re supposed to be, and we’ll be all right,” Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett said.

A question of coverage
Basic assignments call for the quarterback and the tailback to both be covered in some capacity. The matchup of a defender against one of those players varies. It’s determined by the type of option presented by the offense and the type of play call from the defense.
There’s no magic play call to stop the option, Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said.
“We’re going to have to tackle. We’re going to have to play with fundamentals. We’re going to have to attack the line of scrimmage and play our defense,” Nix said. “It will boil down to our players. The biggest thing is you have to play your responsibility.
“If we’ll focus, if we’ll attack, and if we’ll play our responsibility it really doesn’t make a difference what type of offensive play we’re facing. It’s a matter of our guys doing what they’re supposed to do.”

Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal.com

Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal