Candidly Speaking

You'd think after a one-sided win over Louisiana-Lafayette, the Ole Miss football players would be, at the very least, satisfied. That's not the case with junior Defensive End C.J. Johnson. If anything, he was appalled with the play of the Rebel defense, and he didn't mind saying it.

C.J. Johnson is known for a lot of things.

Being a team leader. . . being a force in the Rebel pass rush. . . being a hard worker. . .being a player who keeps everyone's spirits up during a tough practice. . . being a mentor to younger players.

He's also known for being brutally honest in his assessment of his play and of his defensive teammates.

Reflecting on the first three games, C.J. was in character.

"Against Boise, we did pretty good pressuring the quarterback. Vanderbilt, we did pretty good too. Saturday (against ULL) was awful," C.J. said bluntly. "Ten guys on the field, 12 guys on the field, missed assignments, you name it.

"It was very uncharacteristic of us as a defensive unit. We changed a defense once and half were doing one thing and half of us doing another."

In short, what transpired, despite holding the Ragin' Cajuns to 13 points while emptying the bench midway through the third quarter, was, to Johnson, unacceptable.

"We have to get a whole lot better before we get into SEC play. We have to correct a lot of things this week during the open week."

The key, in C.J.'s mind, is gaining a higher level of consistency.

"We have to become more consistent. On any given Saturday, you can get beaten if you aren't on your game every play," he explained. "Even teams not in our conference are dangerous if you are not on your game because we are in the SEC and there's a lot of chatter about the SEC.

"Teams not in our conference always put a target on our backs. They want to knock off an SEC team. They are always motivated. If you play consistently at a high level, then those threats are minimized."

Johnson missed all of last year with foot issues, but he did return for spring training and had a very good August camp.

Where is he in his comeback bid?

"I'm still rusty. I have been watching film of the last three games and some of the things I have been doing have not been characteristic of my game," Johnson stated. "I think I am pressing a little bit too much. I have to get back to being myself and doing what I know I can do.

"The more game reps I get, the better I will get."

C.J. said, even though expected, the three-step drops and quick throws opposing quarterbacks are employing have been a little frustrating for a defensive line expected to rack up a ton of QB sacks.

"Nobody is going to sit in the pocket and just let us feast on their quarterback, we knew that, but we can get more pressure. We are 88th in the nation in sacks, but we lead the nation in interceptions," he stated. "That says something about the way we are rushing the quarterback, but we definitely want to get him on the ground more often.

"It bothers us that we are not playing to our standards in run defense and in sack presence. We have really talked about that a lot as a group this week. We have to get that fixed. Giving up that many yards last Saturday to ULL rushing the ball is not what we are about."

What's caused the lapse? Lack of technique, said C.J.

"There are times we fit things perfectly and look really good. But there are times we don't play with technique and look terrible," he noted. "I had a bad read on a zone read and gave up a run in the first quarter. Little things like that can cost your team. Again, we just have to be more consistent."

In Johnson's opinion, the "it" factor just was not there at times for the Rebels.

"We were pumped up against Boise because it was the first game of the year. We were pumped up at Vandy because we knew how close they had played us in the past," he said. "Against ULL, it just wasn't there. It should have been because it was our first home game, but it just wasn't for some of the game."

Johnson has studied Memphis' offense and has respect for the Tiger attack.

"They do a good job with what they do. They have a lot of skill players who make plays all over the field. It will be a tough game. We know they are going to come in here and give us their best shot so we have to be ready," he noted. "We know the SEC gauntlet is coming and it's sometimes hard to not focus on that, but our coaches constantly remind us to stay in the moment and take things one day at a time.

"As one of the leaders of our unit, the older guys sometimes have to remind the younger guys to stay in the moment, but for the most part they have done a great job of doing that."

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