Rebel defense improving

Traditionally Ole Miss has been a good enough team on offense, but defensively the Rebels have usually been poor. However this season may be different. <br><br>Under new coordinator Chuck Driesbach, the Rebels are currently a surprising fifth in the SEC in terms of total defense.

Tide Offensive Coordinator Les Koenning commented. "Give Driesbach credit. He's done a nice job getting his guys in the right position. The thing that Ole Miss does is put their guys in a great position to make plays."

Eddie Strong puts pressure on the Florida quarterback.

"Last year you really didn't know where they were going to line up," Koenning continued. "It was a feast or famine deal. They would line up with a bunch of people on one side, and if they guessed right they could stop you."

Ole Miss Head Coach David Cutcliffe hired Driesbach away from Texas Christian, giving him a mandate to improve the Rebel defense. "This year you pretty much know where they're going to line up," Koenning said. "They're very sound in their adjustments.

"They've got a scheme that is a nickel, eight-man front scheme that they're going to stay with. Whatever formation you come out with they're sound at adapting to it. They'll blitz and play zone and man defense behind it. They can give you different variations."

Of course before coming to Alabama last season, Koenning and most of the Tide coaches served under Dennis Franchione at TCU. At the time the Horned Frogs sported the nation's top-rated defense, led by then coordinator (now TCU head coach) Gary Patterson.

"Driesbach worked with Gary last year at TCU, so he's familiar with the formations that we run," Koenning said. "That's a plus and a disadvantage. He doesn't know us quite as well as the other guys at TCU. He was just there the year behind us. But this year's Ole Miss scheme is virtually the same one that Gary (Patterson) ran (at TCU)."

Rebel linemen Yahrek Johnson (98) and Charlie Anderson (85) sack the Commodore QB.

Given the amount of mutual familiarity between staffs, the Tide offense isn't likely to surprise Driesbach Saturday. But Koenning and his staff also have extensive experience working against the Ole Miss defensive scheme. He explained, "We've seen (the defense) a bunch of times at TCU. (Driesbach) will bring some variations to the table. Each coordinator has different tweaks here and there. He brings his personality to the defense."

The Rebels average scoring 35.2 points per game and give up only 21.7.

In terms of yardage at the midway point of their season Ole Miss is yielding 199 yards per game via the pass. But the Rebels have been surprisingly tough against the run, giving up only 110 yards per contest. Their total numbers of 309 yards per game rank them fifth in the SEC. For its part, the Tide is gaining more than 413 yards an outing.

Alabama's offensive numbers have been earned against some of the toughest defenses in the nation, while Ole Miss is only now entering the hardest part of its schedule. But Koenning is taking nothing for granted. "In this league any day, any time, anywhere it can happen to anybody," he said.

Ole Miss safety Matt Grier

Led by Eddie Strong and L.P. Spence, the Rebels sport a strong linebacking corps. "Their linebackers are really good players," Koenning said. "They run to the ball well. They're very active and do a really nice job. They make a lot of plays for Ole Miss."

The Ole Miss scheme calls for the defensive line to occupy blockers, freeing up the linebackers to run to the football. Koenning explained, "They do a lot of movement up front, slanting and stunting, which ties up your offensive linemen and lets the linebackers make plays. We'll have to bring our combination blocks up to the second level."

Though Ole Miss has been relatively effective against the run, once again they lack size along the defensive line. "Inside they're probably not as big as what we saw against Georgia," Koenning related, "but they're very active. What they lose in size, they gain in strength and speed. You'll see them run to the football well. Their defensive ends really move around extremely well."

Linebacker L.P. Spence

Earlier in the year Ole Miss gave up 42 and 38 points in consecutive games to Texas Tech and Vanderbilt, with the two teams doing most of their damage via the pass. But Driesbach has adjusted his starting lineup, injecting new life into the Rebel pass defense.

"Those guys have stepped in and done a really nice job," Koenning said. "They changed their starting lineup after (losing to Texas Tech). The new guys have played well the last couple of games.

In its upset defeat of Florida, the Rebel defense gave up only 154 yards through the air. "When you can line up against Florida and hold them down, that's pretty doggoned good," Koenning said.


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