Heaps of Praise

Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix and his defense have faced a number of talented quarterbacks over his three years in Oxford.

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None, at least to Nix, are more impressive than BYU starter Jake Heaps.

Heaps started 10 games last season for the Cougars, passing for 2,316 yards and 15 touchdowns in 383 passing attempts. He threw just nine interceptions, and was the New Mexico Bowl Offensive MVP, the final of five-straight wins to end the year.

Heaps is the only freshman in school history to start a bowl game.

So move over Tim Tebow. And Ryan Mallett. And Cam Newton, the national-title winning quarterback for Auburn last season.

"Really talented kid that's probably underrated as a runner, but has outstanding mobility and has an outstanding arm," Nix said of Heaps. "I've seen him throw it from one hash to the opposite sideline two or three times like it was nothing. Supposedly he's one of the best quarterbacks in the country. I think he'll be the best quarterback that we face since I've been here at Ole Miss."

Nix said a key factor could be pressure against Heaps. BYU allowed but 21 sacks last season.

Jake Heaps
File Photo

"You know, he hasn't been sacked a whole lot. If you check the statistics, he hasn't been sacked hardly at all," he said. "The offensive line's so huge, they do a great job of protecting and he gets the ball out.

"When protection possibly does break down from time to time, he has outstanding mobility. He's a guy, like I said, that's underrated as a runner but has outstanding mobility."

BYU and Ole Miss will square off for the first time in history Saturday at 3:45 p.m. The game will be broadcast nationally on ESPN. Heaps is sure to be the headline attraction, and rightfully so.

The Cougars averaged 26.2 points per game in 2010, their passing offense accounting for 198.4 yards per game. But the BYU rushing attack is decorated as well, led by senior J.J. Di Luigi, who Nix said stood out when studying film.

"I see some explosive guys," Nix said of BYU. "They have some big receivers that find a way to get open, especially in zone. They got a lot of spacing routes, and they find a weakness in each coverage. But they have a couple of running backs.

"(J.J. Di Luigi), they get him the ball in all different directions. He was actually the leading receiver (last season), the leading rusher and he's a do-it-all guy. They'll line him up in multiple positions. He's a guy that you better understand where he's at on every snap."

Saturday is a tough opening opponent for Nix's defense, which struggled mightily last season. Ole Miss finished near the bottom in the Southeastern Conference in most statistical categories.

However, Nix is pleased with the progress made over a physical month of preseason practices. Ole Miss held a light, shorts-and-shoulder pads practice Wednesday afternoon.

"I feel very good. I feel very confident. The only thing that we can do is go out there and play. But the attitude and work ethic's been great," he said. "It's been a very physical camp. That's what we expect on Saturday, a very physical ball game.

"I think we're an improving defense. We haven't proved anything, actually, until you play a ballgame. We want to be a fast, physical defense that plays very smart and understands each coverage and knows how to play them well."

Ole Miss released an updated depth chart Wednesday. The SPUR position, billed as a hybrid linebacker/safety, has been removed in favor of a traditional 4-3 alignment with three linebackers: middle linebacker Mike Marry, strongside linebacker Ralph Williams and, now, weakside linebacker Joel Kight.

Kight replaced Aaron Garbutt, once the starting SPUR.

"Yeah, we're just trying to do what our guys do best," head coach Houston Nutt said. "Trying to get the best guys on the field. Ralph's been injured a while. We're fighting through that deal. We expect Ralph to play. We're just trying to get the best 11 on the field, what they know best, what they do best."

"Right now we're going to get Ralph Williams, Mike Marry and Joel Kight on the field together. They're the most experienced guys, and we feel like those guys give us the best chance to stop the run," Nix said.

Wayne Dorsey
Chuck Rounsaville

Ole Miss will hold a walk-through type practice Thursday, working primarily on two-minute situations. Nutt said the team is "anxious" and "excited," but not showing any nervousness as game day approaches.

"One day closer," he said. "One day closer."

Dorsey honored by captain status:

Senior defensive end Wayne Dorsey is as excited as anyone for Saturday. He's been waiting on this moment for almost a year now.

Dorsey struggled in his debut season, after transferring to Ole Miss from Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College. He lost his starting job midway through the year, and finished with just 12 total tackles.

"It's a better feel of everything," he said. "A better feel going into the game, me personally playing a year of SEC and knowing somewhat to expect. The atmosphere and everything. Confidence in my coaches and the system. I'm just excited about the opportunity and ready to go."

As for the rest of the defense, well, Dorsey said simply he and his teammates are excited.

"Just taking every day and trying to get better every day. Everybody's on the same page. Everybody's excited to get it going. We're excited for Saturday," he said.

Dorsey was named one of six team captains Sunday. The Baltimore, Md., native was obviously appreciative three days later.

"It was a big honor," Dorsey said. "My teammates voted me as one of the leaders of this team. I just come out every day and try to lead by example. Get my voice in there in between where the coaches are talking. Try to bring the young guys up. I had older guys at Gulf Coast and even last year here that brought me along. It's only right that I do the same."

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