Linebackers coach Tom Allen said the Ole Miss coaches continue to search for combinations to give them the best opportunity to slow the other team down and get the Rebels’ high-octane, up tempo offense the ball back.
“I think the kids have responded really well,” said Allen of some various moves and tweaks to what they are trying to do on that side of the ball. “We’ve challenged them. What we’ve kind of done is divide them up and make sure we play to their strengths, and make sure we’re matching their strengths with our right packages. I think that’s been the biggest change we’ve made this week.”
Then, of course, the player has to come through with what he’s being told to do, either in the way he does things or in the change of position. Allen said as coaches they understand the need for making some changes and evaluating things as the season moves on. But they didn’t expect quite as many problems in some areas as they saw their defenders make against the Longhorns.
“With that all being said, there’s the challenge of getting them to master that portion of it they’re responsible for,” he said. “Just the amount of alignment and mental mistakes that occurred Saturday (against Texas) really frustrated us and in some ways surprised us. We hadn’t seen that in the previous two games.”
Allen said continual progress is obviously the goal, and the defensive coaches felt they were seeing that. Then came Texas.
“That’s where it was frustrating, because we felt we were making progress, and we were, from week one to week two,” Allen said. “You want to make progress from week two to week three, and we resorted back to mistakes you kind of expect in week one.”
The reasons? Not always easy to figure out. But that’s what this week has been about.
“Whether it was the size of the crowd or the bigness of the game, I don’t know," Allen said. "But the bottom line was we didn’t execute at all. It was several different guys. So our objective has been to get them back to where they’re executing their assignments and really somewhat minimize some guys’ responsibilities to help them master those things they’re going to do. So we want to make sure that we do our responsibilities perfectly instead of doing too many things and making all those mistakes.”
Ole Miss travels to New Orleans, La., to play Tulane this weekend. Trae Elston, suspended last week by the Southeastern Conference, should draw a start at safety. C.J. Johnson, at defensive end prior, has spent some time working at linebacker this week. Charles Sawyer, at safety before this week, will be at cornerback Saturday, it appears.
Things could change and there could be other moves. Maybe we’ll see some more of those Saturday. Maybe they’ll come in the weeks ahead. It’s a long season, and the SEC portion of the schedule is up a week from now, starting at Alabama.
“We’re trying to get it zoned in on the personnel with the right guys on the field at the right time,” Allen said, “and we want to maximize our guys’ strengths with that.”
In some situations, the size-speed ratio head coach Hugh Freeze has mentioned isn’t there yet. Compensating for the lack of that to match up with an opponent is one of the coaches’ challenges.
“Speed was the first issue we addressed and that we saw right away,” Allen said. “So we addressed that with some faster guys. That created some size deficiencies with some individuals. So it’s been a little bit of both. Some guys have the size advantage and not the speed, while other guys have the speed and not the size. You just have to take these guys and put them in the best position possible to be successful.
“We’re basically trying to match our players’ strengths to the personnel we’re going to see in situations,” Allen continued. “We’re trying to be situationally sound. That’s been the big focus for us this week. There’s a lot of pride on this football team. You put the film in from Saturday’s game, and there’s a lot of embarrassment by the way they played. Our kids responded to that. They didn’t hang their heads. These guys came by with a great attitude all week.”
Allen said he believes it’s been a good week as the Rebels (2-1) get ready for the Green Wave (0-2) Saturday at 11 a.m.
“I’ve been encouraged by the way they responded,” he said. “We’re going to fight. That’s one thing, they never quit. We’re going to fight for four quarters every single game. There’s a bunch of them that want to. We’ve just got to get them in the best position to be successful.”