By Parrish Alford
AUSTIN, Texas – Texas quarterback David Ash was close to perfect against Ole Miss last year.
He completed 19-of-23 pass attempts for 326 yards and four touchdowns with no interceptions.
There were several factors that attributed to Ash’s success at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium but one very big one big factor that made him so successful. It was his competition.
“We did,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said.
Ash was also supported by a running game that gained 350 yards, but the Rebels’ pass rush rarely bothered him in Texas’ 66-31 win.
Suffering from head and shoulder injuries, Ash has been rule dout of today’s rematch. Wommack had expected to see him play but was preparing for two other Texas quarterbacks, too.
Ash’s health was not a concern leaving Oxford last year as the Rebels rarely violated his personal space.
Tackles for loss and sacks would become a calling card for the Ole Miss defense in 2012. The Rebels finished second in the SEC, 11th in the nation in sacks with 2.92 per game, fourth nationally and first in the SEC with 7.92 tackles for loss per game.
In two games this season the Rebels have just three sacks, half that of their opponents.
Freshman end Robert Nkemdiche leads the team in tackles for loss with three, but neither he nor junior C.J. Johnson, who is recovering from a broken leg, has recorded a sack.
Part of that has had to do with approach– little blitzing, more dropping into coverage against Vanderbilt and Southeast Missouri State. That may change tonight.
“We’ve got a couple of packages in, and hopefully we’ll be able to create some things with that without saying much,” Wommack said.
Johnson led the Rebels with 6.5 sacks last year but suffered the broken leg in spring drills.
“It hasn’t really bothered me that much,” he said. “It kind of tightened up on me a little the third quarter at Vanderbilt. I didn’t play a lot (last) Saturday. I’m feeling pretty good now,” Johnson said.
‘Not the same’
Wommack sees Johnson’s health differently.
“I think he’s not 100 percent yet. He’s trying to come back. The trainer says he’ll get better and better as we go, but he’s not the same C.J. he was last year – yet,” Wommack said.
Pass rush is important, but in some ways it’s a byproduct of the Rebels’ first priority, which is stopping the run.
Johnson remembers the holes in the Rebels’ defense last year. Ole Miss got better against the run and in this very young season is second among SEC teams with 3.0 yards allowed per rush attempt.
Painful as it played out, Wommack says the Texas game benefitted Ole Miss in the long run.
“Our kids learned so much about reading their keys, attacking and playing physical. I mean, they just totally destroyed us, ran over us. We self-destructed, and they did a good job of coming in here with the eye of the Tiger.”
Now Johnson and his teammates hope for a different outcome.
“It was quite embarrassing. They came in here and beat us like a drum,” he said. “We’ve definitely been looking forward to it. We’re excited that we get to go back and play. We should go in with a little chip on our shoulder.”