Up Front

Football, they say, is won in the trenches. That willb e a big part of the Ole Miss-Texas game Saturday, so we roped DL Coach Chris Kiffin and OL Coach Matt Luke into some comments as the big game approaches quickly.

Ole Miss Coach Hugh Freeze has said all week that Texas has a talented, multiple defensive front that has been more difficult for the Rebel offensive line to prepare for and the Longhorns' OL is big, strong and fast.

How do the Rebels combat the work in the trenches the Longhorns are expected to bring?

That's the charge of Ole Miss Defensive Line Coach Chris Kiffin and Offensive Line Coach Matt Luke.

"We have to be ready when the ball is snapped. They will do a lot of stuff pre-snap to mess with the DBs and linebackers' eyes," said Kiffin. "For us, it's just a matter of getting our cleats in the ground and getting ready for the snap.

"After it's snapped, the O-line is not giving us anything we haven't seen before. It's the same we will play every week - zone, power and all that good stuff. It's just the pre-snap stuff that messes with the back end guys that worries you. We've shown them everything they've got. Now it's time to get after it."

Kiffin said the UT line is "very skilled."

"They are the University of Texas and they will have skilled, athletic, big linemen. We won't see anything we haven't seen up front, we'll just be playing against better people. We have to dominate the line of scrimmage," he continued. "That's the challenge I have put to my guys. They are going to have athletes, they are going to make a couple of big plays, but we just have to limit the big plays and not allow anything over our heads in the back end and we will be fine."

UT has the best offensive line, it goes without saying, the Rebel box players have seen.

"Sure they are the best we've seen so far, but this is mor about us than them. If we play with technique and great pad level and read our keys, we will be fine inside, especially since we rotate 11 guys."

Does Kiffin continue to use that many players against Texas, or will he "go big" to combat the extra pound per hoof the Longhorns will have?

"I will continue to rotate. I have no problem with going with Issac Gross, even though he missed Tuesday and Wednesday at practice and is only 250-255 pounds. He will be the first guy off the ball every time and that will create a problem for them," Chris noted. "Then we bring in Gilbert (Pena) at 330 and that gives them a completely different look that they will have to adjust to, not us."

Kiffen said you can cut the excitement with a knife in the Indoor Practice Facility this week.

"Our guys are really excited. You can feel it throughout the building," he closed. "It is obviously a different week. On Monday, we had more guys come in for extra film work than we have had.

"They know what is at stake and what it means for this program to go out and get a win."

Luke's issues with the Texas D-line are a little more complex.

The Longhorns will not only mix fronts, they have different blitz packages out of each front.

The bottom line? More to prepare for this week.

"Most teams are traditionally a four-down or three-down team, but Texas does both and they have packages where they interchange people. They have a lot of good players and they use them in different packages," Luke explained. "We will see a variety of looks, instead of preparing for one basic look.


Matt Luke
File Photo

"Plus, they have multiple blitzes out of each look, which is even more to prepare for."

One main message this week is to get the right calls at the line of scrimmage to combat the different looks and stunts Texas likes to use.

"As you go and get a feel in the game, there will be certain things we will look for that we have studied on tape," Luke continued. "We won't be 100%, but a high percentage of the time we need to be correct on how we slide our protections."

Luke said the Rebels have seen a lot of the stuff Texas uses, but they may be more multiple and, the big "and," there are better players executing it.

"They'll be faster, they'll be better. They have a great front. We will have our work cut out for us, but we have to do what we do. We have to dictate and play offense, not get on our heels," he stated. "We can't allow them to slow down what we do."

Luke saw good progress from week one to week two. The Rebels have to keep moving up the ladder of improvement to be successful in the challenge Saturday.

"You always want more progress than you get," he smiled, "but we made good progress from week on to week two. UTEP was more stationary, which helps, but we did show a lot of improvement.

"We played harder. Guys had a better understanding of what we wanted to get done. They were downfield blocking better. From an effort and knowledge standpoint, we were a lot better. We have to take it to another level this week. We can't stay stationary. You are either getting better or getting worse."

The Rebels' OL depth is still a concern for Luke and that is not likely to change.

"The depth is an issue and probably will be all year. Patrick Junen and Justin Bell have to continue to get better," Luke stated. "The first five have played the majority of reps and I have played Bell and Junen sparingly. As the season wears on, they will have to play more."

Luke believes the tempo game the Rebels prefer to use has advanced at a reasonable rate.

"We have had a little success and that has bred confidence. We understand what to do better and that allows us to play faster," he closed. "I think as long as that keeps going, we will be fine.

"They also have to understand that it's a four-quarter game and it may take some time to break things open. Keep pushing."

Random Notes:

* OT Terrell Brown (sprained knee) did not dress out again Thursday, which means he will probably not dress out for the game against Texas.

* Gross did dress out for Thursday's practice and split time with Pena at the number one DT slot alongside Uriah Grant. Gross is expected to play against the Longhorns, despite his bruised calf muscle not being 100% as of Thursday.

* WR Coach Grant Heard said earlier in the week that he has to "bite the bullet" and start using freshman WR Cody Core more. "He's going to make some mistakes, but I have to get him more game reps," said Heard. "He can be a weapon and we need him to play more. So far, the opportunities have just not been there, but it could come at any time." Against the Longhorns? Maybe.

* In Thursday's practice, Cliff Coleman was lined up at number one cornerback in front of Senquez Golson, who started the first two games. We're not sure if Cliff is getting the nod or not, but both are expected to play extensively.

* With Rover Trae Elston suspended, Rebel fans have been asking all week, who will take up the slack behind Charles Sawyer? In Thursday's workout, it looked as if it would be Frank Crawford, a journeyman who has quite a bit of experience and has an interception this season. Chief Brown, who also backs up FS Cody Prewitt, could also slide to Rover if necessary.

* OT Patrick Junen missed practice Wednesday with a minor illness. He returned to practice Thursday.


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