By Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Three important buzz words that pierced the air at Ole Miss practice this week: execute, finish and passion.
Players believe if they tie together all three they’ll earn their first win of the season and distance themselves from a shocking loss to Jacksonville State and the national attention it’s generated.
“We need to play the way we played for the first three quarters, and hopefully we’ll learn how to finish,” defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said.
Deep into the third quarter Jacksonville State had amassed roughly 130 yards. The Gamecocks were on a pace to finish around 200 yards – and far fewer points – before the wheels fell off, and Jacksonville State went on to a 49-48 two-overtime win.
The drive that really sent the Gamecocks on their way began at their own 41 after an interception thrown by Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.
Twice the Rebels hit JSU quarterback Coty Blanchard, a true freshman, for losses, but Blanchard hit back by going 3-for-3 for 43 yards on the drive and added a 19-yard scramble for good measure.
The Ole Miss secondary has come under the microscope, particularly after junior college transfer Damien Jackson tried to take responsibility for the loss in his first college start. Jackson, the free safety, was out of position in zone coverage when Blanchard threw the touchdown pass on fourth-and-15 in the second overtime.
Junior college transfer defensive end Wayne Dorsey was also making his first college start.
“Yeah, we had some new guys, but that really wasn’t a problem for the first three quarters,” said senior cornerback Jeremy McGee, himself a first-year starter. “For me, I’ll say that being a senior leader, I should have tried to calm everything down and let people know we had to finish like we started. We overcame a similar situation against LSU last year. I’ll take the blame for that. That was my fault.”
There was plenty of blame to go around, and now the Rebels are eager to get back on a game-day field.
They will be more experienced in the secondary this week at Tulane. Senior free safety Fon Ingram is back after having arthroscopic knee surgery to repair a torn meniscus near the end of camp.
When the injury occurred in the second scrimmage, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt gave Ingram a four-game window to return but thought at the time Ingram could come back a little sooner.
He returned to practice Tuesday with a bang, picking off two passes. Ingram had two interceptions last year. His pick and touchdown against Memphis really turned momentum in the season opener.
“I just want to get back and do what I need to do for the team,” said Ingram, who added that tests currently show strength levels in his knee at 94 percent.
Blanchard led a scoring that made it 31-26, and after Ole Miss added a field goal, JSU quarterback Marques Ivory took the Gamecocks 71 yards in 2 minutes, 31 seconds, capping the march with a 19-yard completion in the middle then throwing the two-point conversion pass to tie.
The Jacksonville State quarterbacks were a combined 22-for-36 for 252 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. The Rebels were 15th in the nation in pass efficiency defense last year, the stats compiled for Division I teams, not I-AA.
“We know we did not play up to our standards,” Nix said.
But there is hope those standards will be met against the Green Wave, especially as the buzz words are taken to heart.
“We lost focus, and that came back to bite us,” McGee said. “Whoever is out there, we have to compete and not let go of the rope. The plays the coaches set up for us are fine, but we have to do our assignments.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org.