By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Ole Miss defense, strong through much of August practice, was taken to task by Central Arkansas on Saturday night, but the Rebels responded by holding the Bears in check in the second half.
Ole Miss pitched a shutout over the final two quarters until UCA scored against a group of reserves with 1 minutes, 29 seconds remaining.
The Bears, playing against a BCS-level foe for the first time, amassed 237 yards and 20 points in the first half. Quarterback Wynrick Smothers found open receivers in the secondary, and UCA rushers found creases in the Rebels’ defensive front.
But UCA was held to 110 yards in the second half, 347 for the game.
Co-defensive coordinator Dave Wommack prefers the 4-2-5 scheme in an effort to get more speed on the field with an extra defensive back.
Wommack showed his commitment to speed – at least quickness – by starting 270-pound freshman Issac Gross at defensive tackle.
Before the first quarter was finished the Rebels had used six defensive tackles. Gross eventually left the game with a strained calf.
While Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said it “didn’t look like” his front was physical enough in the first half, Wommack said the Rebels were actually too physical for their own good and were running themselves out of position.
“We were getting up-field so far with our linemen, because we were really dominating the line of scrimmage,” Wommack said. “It didn’t look like it, because they were gashing us.”
The Rebels did a better job of gap responsibility in the second half.
“We were fitting off their hips better, and we were keeping gap integrity, so our linebackers wouldn’t get hung up on their offensive linemen,” Wommack said.
Everything clicked better in the second half. The Rebels, who had just 13 sacks all of last year, had four in the second half.
Sophomore linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche led the way with eight tackles, a sack and three tackles for loss.
At halftime, safety Dehendret Collins said, there was no hanging of heads and Wommack was calm.
“He just told us to let the scheme work and everybody play their own positions,” Collins said.