“It’s a little bit of everything. It’s a missed tackle, it might be a wrong assignment, it might be messed up leverage or lost containment, a little of everything sprinkled all on top of it,” he said.
All those ingredients have added up to a recipe for disaster, as the Rebels prepare for Saturday night’s annual rival game against Mississippi State in Starkville.
It is the final game at Ole Miss for outgoing Rebels coach Houston Nutt.
Ole Miss goes into the season finale giving up 222.9 yards a game,last in the SEC and 112th out of 120 major-college football teams.
Redshirt freshman Bryon Bennett believes inexperience is a factor.
“Because we’ve got a lot of young players, we’re bound to miss gaps, slant wrong, not know the play or something little like that, and it’ll just break it. It’s just the consistency on the D-line and the defense,” he said.
There’s no Cliff Notes answer to why run defense has been such a problem.
“I really couldn’t tell you,” senior defensive tackle Justin Smith said.
“We practice hard, we work hard, and we have great schemes going into the game. For whatever reason it just doesn’t work out.”
That’s a disturbing note since Nutt’s analysis is that winning and losing his final game will come down to “who can run and who can stop the run.”
MSU (5-6, 1-6 SEC) has to win if it wants to reach a bowl game for a second-straight season. Ole Miss wouldjust like some relief, and the right to brag in Mississippi for a calendar year. The Rebels (2-9, 0-7) have lo13-straight SEC games and have lost twice in a row in the series. The Rebels haven’t lost three straight to MSU since losing four straight before the Normandy invasion.
The Bulldogs have been held to fewer than 100 rushing yards in each of the last two weeks, a first under Dan Mullen.
“They’ve run the ball on some people. They didn’t run it so well last week. Some weeks better than others. I don’t think they ran it good on Bama, but some of it’s due to the personnel they’re running against,” Nix said.
MSU senior Vick Ballard has rushed for 1,833 yards in almost two complete seasons, 865 with 11 touchdowns this year.
The Bulldogs rushed for just 12 yards two weeks ago against Alabama, which leads the nation in run defense, but just 84 yards last week against Arkansas, which ranks eighth in the SEC, giving up 166 yards a game on the ground.
The Rebels rushed for 151 yards against Arkansas in a 29-24 loss on Oct. 22.
Ole Miss, however, has given up 100 or more rushing yards in 10 straight games and has allowed more than 200 yards seven times, more than 300 yards twice. Alabama came within 11 yards of reaching the 400 mark in its 52-7 win on Oct. 15.
Nix has prepared for any one of three MSU quarterbacks, two of which – Chris Relf and Dylan Favre – pose real threats in the run game.
LaDarius Perkins had 98 yards, Relf 66 and Ballard 43 as the Bulldogs rushed for 210 yards in a 31-23 win against Ole Miss in Oxford last year.
One ingredient Lockett left out of his disappointing mix that Nix added is effort.
“The biggest thing has been consistency, playing with fundamentals, a relentless effort. We’ve shown flashes,” he said,
“but for the most part we haven’t had 11 guys who’ve had a burning desire play in and play out to get it done, and hopefully we’ll have that on Saturday night.”