By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – There was gang-tackling and general dominance for the Ole Miss defense in a 39-0 win at Tulane on Sept. 22, a result due in large part to the struggling home team.
Dismantling the Green Wave did not fully remove memories of Ole Miss players playing on their heels against Texas as the Longhorns amassed almost 700 yards.
Texas back Malcolm Brown rushed for 128 yards and two scores, and quarterback David Ash, rarely hurried, completed 82.6 percent of his pass attempts with no interceptions and four touchdowns.
Ash passed for 326 yards, and Texas scored 66 to beat Ole Miss by 35 points.
There were different ways to describe the Rebels’ defense that night, but “physical” didn’t come to mind.
That’s what C.J. Johnson believes he and his teammates were, even against the Longhorns.
“I really don’t think physicality was a big point of the game against Texas. I think it was a matter of missed tackles, missed assignments, missed alignments,” said Johnson, the Rebels’ sophomore defensive end.
All those misses led to indecision and ultimately to the most points scored by an opponent in Dave Wommack’s 33-year coaching career.
room for improvement
If the Rebels’ physicality was in question against Texas, it was much less so against Alabama when Ole Miss held the Crimson Tide to season-lows of 304 yards and 33 points.
There’s plenty of room for improvement, but from one nationally ranked opponent to the next, the Rebels were much better against Alabama.
The Tide only scored two offensive touchdowns but was 11 for 18 in third-down conversions. That allowed it to possess the ball and kick four field goals.
Tack on a special teams touchdown, and the deficit adds up.
Alabama averaged 3.7 yards per rush. Quarterback A.J. McCarron completed 73 percent of his attempts, but his longest gain was 17 yards, and he was held to less than 200 for the game.
The Ole Miss defense announced its presence early in the game with a big hit from safety Cody Prewitt that stopped an Alabama runner in his tracks. The Rebels were going to play physical.
“It was just having the mental thought that we were going against the No. 1 team in the nation, and we wanted to come out and be as physical as possible,” defensive tackle Gilbert Pena said. “We practiced like that. We practice physical every week, but last week we might have hit it on the head.”
The Texas game was one-sided not because his players can’t hit but because – as Johnson pointed out – they were out of position.
Wommack had inserted more of his 4-3 package during the week, and players had not yet seen it in games.
“We had some really bad fits, some really bad missed assignments. So we cleaned a lot of those up,” Wommack said. “Any time the guys know where they’re going and know where to fit, that allows them to be physical. If they don’t, then they’re going to be waiting and sitting back like we were against Texas.”
Understanding and confidence in the system opened doors at Alabama. Wommack said the Rebels “made big strides” in physicality.
They hope to duplicate the Alabama performance against Texas A&M, which leads the SEC and ranks seventh in the nation with 48.3 points a game.
“We just want to go full speed every play, don’t blink,” Prewitt said. “Intimidation is not in our vocabulary unless we’re doing the intimidating.”