'Defense won it, we lost it'

OXFORD, Miss. -- Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator David Lee did not pull any punches after the 14-13 loss to the BYU Cougars to open the 2011 football season. Read what the coordinators thought inside.

"Houston (Nutt) was being kind in his postgame comments," said Rebel Offensive Coordinator David Lee after listening to Nutt's press conference after the Rebs had dropped a 14-13 decision to BYU to open the 2011 season. "The defense won the game for us and the offense lost it.

"We were in control of the ballgame and gave up a critical sack and subsequent TD on the play. I couldn't be prouder of the defense and I don't think we can do anything but get better on offense."

Lee was referring, of course, to the fumble from a blindside hit by QB Zack Stoudt and scoop-and-score by BYU on a 3rd-and-27 call.

"We had taken care of the ball and not made many mistakes, but on that series, we had two holding calls and the fumble," Lee continued. "That play turned the game around.

"We had max protection on, seven-man protection, and someone whiffed a block. All we had to do was protect, take a shot downfield and if it didn't work out, punt. Handing it off sounds like a good idea right now, but at the time, I thought we had made a safe call with max protect on."

Lee was disappointed with what was considered by most as the team's strength - running the football.

The Rebs gained a paltry 64 yards on 29 carries, and in the process had two tailbacks, Brandon Bolden, who was lost for the game in the first half with an ankle problem that will be further determined after an MRI Sunday, and Enrique Davis, who also injured his ankle.

"I thought we would run the ball better," said David. "Losing those backs hurt, but give BYU credit. Their front is tough, physical, mature and they simply got off blocks. They had nine returning starters on defense and (BYU Coach) Bronco (Mendenhall) told Houston before the game he thought this was the best defense he's had.

"They have a very good defense, but I was still shocked we couldn't run the ball better and they were able to get off our blocks as well as they did."

Zack Stoudt
File Photo

The offense did get a spark late in the first half with the insertion of Stoudt, who ended up completing 13-25 passes for 140 yards and no picks.

"Barry (Brunetti) missed a couple of reads and I thought we needed a spark. Zack came in and righted the ship for us, he sparked us," Lee noted. "We needed to throw it downfield more and Zack is a little better than Barry doing that. He went in, set his feet, made some good decisions and delivered some really nice passes."

The Rebel offense only mustered six points - two Bryson Rose field goals - and only 208 yards, but Lee said he's not about to give up on his crew.

"I'm not going to throw anyone under the bus or lose any confidence in these guys," he closed. "I believe in them. We will get better.

"We had some positives today. Not enough of them, but we had some, and that's what we will build on."

Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix almost had good reason to celebrate.

The Rebel defense limited a touted Cougar offense to one offensive touchdown and just 316 yards. His crew - in the name of Charles Sawyer on a 96-yard interception return - also scored the only Rebel touchdown in the game.

One big problem.

The Rebels lost, so to Nix, despite the obvious improvement from last year's stoppers, Drew Little consolation from the defensive performance.

"We were much better, but we weren't good enough. Regardless of the score, our job is to hold the opponent to one less point than we score," he said matter-of-factly. "I want our kids to approach it that way. We win and lose as a team, not as an offense or a defense.

"What I drew from this game from the defensive side of the game is that our kids have bought in, they understand the importance of doing the little things right and I think we are going to have a heckuva year."

Nix praised Sawyer, even in the loss, for his interception and return when BYU seemed to be getting into an offensive rhythm and was knocking on the door to score.

Wayne Dorsey
File Photo

"That was a huge play. It swung the momentum and gave our kids more confidence," Nix continued. "I was glad to see him make that play after we moved him halfway through camp to safety from cornerback. That will boost his confidence in that decision and in that position."

Last year's Achilles heel on defense as giving up big plays. The Rebs avoided that against BYU.

"We still missed a few tackles, but our guys played hard, they understood where to be and what to do and they didn't give up the big play," noted Nix. "I thought BYU got things going a little too much in the third quarter - they were having some success on first down, but overall, we stayed together and played a solid game."

The Rebel defensive staff committed to a faster lineup in August camp, which meant they may have to give up some bulk. The strategy worked against the Cougars.

"We were going to put our best 11 players out there and we will continue to do that. It just happens that it made us faster," said Tyrone. "In the past, we had enough linebackers to run a straight 4-3. We are a little short there this year, so we've put in some schemes with a Spur - the hybrid guy who plays LB and drops some.

"I didn't think we got pushed around a whole lot using that set."

The Rebels only allowed 91 yards on 31 carries on the ground.

"Those aren't bad numbers, but we can do better. It's a lot better than we produced last year, but it's still not as good as we expect," he closed. "We have some little things to clean up and I think we will be even better.

"I know we can polish up what we are doing and be a real good defense."

Tyrone was also pleased with the improvement in the Rebel secondary.

"Keith Burns has done a terrific job in getting those guys ready for the season. Jake Heaps is a terrific quarterback - very competitive and very accurate, but our guys did a pretty good job of containing him for most of the night. Again, we didn't give up any big plays," Nix closed. "BYU got into a rhythm, but we were able to come back and adjust and start slowing them down again.

"Coach Burns did a great job of disguising his coverages and giving Heaps a lot of different looks."

The mantra of the night: keep plugging.

"This is a long season. Tonight didn't turn out like we wanted it to, but we liked our team coming into this game and we still like them," added Lee.

OM Spirit Top Stories