Who's The QB?

When asked to evaluate Mississippi State's offense, Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack responded with a query of his own. "Who is the QB?" That's his dilemma as the annual Egg Bowl approaches.

"They do different things with different quarterbacks," Wommack said. "We don't really know which one is going to play the most because both Tyler (Russell) and (Dak) Prescott have been hurt lately.

"They may even have to go with their freshman, Damian Williams. They all present different challenges and the bottom line is we have to prepare for all three, which is a little difficult in a short week."

Wommack "likes" their play-action schemes.

"They do a good job of hiding and overselling their play-action stuff and have slipped a lot of guys behind people," he said. "If you aren't locked in to your keys and are sharp reading your keys, they will get behind you in a hurry."

As usual, Wommack has watched every play of every game the Bulldogs have played this year, and that thorough examination of the MSU offense has left him with one thought: respect.

"They have a lot of yards on the year and do some really good things on offense. They are sitting at 5-6 right now and could have easily won a couple of more games," he noted. "They are a lot like our offense. They want to run the football and play-action out of that.

"It's a little advantage for both defenses getting ready for this game from the standpoint because we get to practice against similar offenses all the time, but we have to prepare for different things from different QBs. Tyler throws the ball well and Dak runs it hard with the read option stuff."

Gabe Jackson is the stalwart up front for the Bulldogs and he has Wommack's attention as well.

"This league is loaded with NFL type players and he will be one of them," said Wommack. "In their run game, the guy who comes to mind is No. 34 (Josh Robinson). He's short, but he will stick it up in there and will run it hard. Ladarius Perkins is their do-it-all guy. He's very dangerous out of the backfield in the passing game."

The Bulldogs, who are averaging 27.2 points an outing, also have weapons in the passing game who concern Wommack, most notably TE Malcolm Johnson and leading receiver Jameon Lewis.

"Lewis has caught nearly 50 (49) balls and has scored eight TDs. He's a threat. They use Johnson very effectively as well. He brings an element to their offense that you have to be on top of and honed in on," Wommack said. "They run a lot of one-back, one-TE formations and they are effective with them.

Denzel Nkemdiche
File Photo

"Like I said earlier, if we didn't see a million formations every day from our offense, this MSU offense, with multiple, multiple formations, would really be hard to get ready for in a short week. I'm sure their defensive coordinator feels the same way about our offense."

The challenges of the short week are more mental than anything, according to Wommack.

"I don't think there will be any problem for either team to get up physically, but you have to be careful with this quick a turnaround to make sure they are mentally alert," he explained.

After the Missouri game, Wommack bemoaned the tackling by the Rebel defenders, but after further evaluation and breaking down, it was the fits at the root of the problem.

"We didn't hit the gaps exactly like we needed to," he said. "After analyzing it, it's fundamental football. The biggest part of tackling is being in the right place to be able to make the play. We were not in the right spots enough and it made our tackling look poor."

The Rebels made their bones, so to speak, in last year's Egg Bowl by being able to get consistent pressure on Russell, particularly in the second half.

The main component of that success is out for the year - DE C.J. Johnson, and edge pressure has been lacking in the Rebel attack since he and Carlos Thompson, another edge rusher, went down for the season.

"We had to adjust a lot of things without them," Wommack said. "It hurt us a bunch to lose them. They were our speed rushers. C.J. was arguably our best player on defense last year and Carlos was making huge strides.

"Their loss has stunted our growth as a defensive front, and we've had to move people around to try to compensate and call some things differently than if they were available. But we'll keep chipping away and have some things ready for Thursday night."

Heading into the last game of the regular season, despite the injuries, Wommack is pleased with what the defense has been able to accomplish, all things considered.

"Guys like Denzel Nkemdiche and some others, who have been hurt and nicked up but keep pushing and coming back, make you proud. To think we had five starters out against LSU and have been missing starters in just about every game is a testament to their willpower," Wommack closed. "I love these kids and the effort they have given this year.

"I'm sure we will get the best they have to give Thursday as well. Everybody is hurt this time of year, so it's just what it is. This a no-excuses game and we will be ready."

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