On Track

Through three games and an open week, Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack is pleased with where the Rebel defense is at this stage of the season and with a gauntlet of tough games facing the team.

Through the week of September 20, the Rebel defense is third in the nation in scoring defense allowing just 10.3 points per game.

They are also 15th in the land in total defense, allowing an average of 296 yards of total offense by the opposition per outing.

And the Rebel stoppers are tied for first in the country with eight interceptions.

What does all of this mean, besides a good start?

"Our stats could be better, but the last two games we have played our backups for almost a half," said Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack. "We don't worry about that, though, because it was more important to get valuable reps for our backups when we got the chance. As the old saying goes, they are one play away from being a starter and getting them experience is critical."

The theme of "getting the young guys better" continued into and through the open week.

"We got a lot of reps for them in some scrimmage situations in the open week," Dave continued. "That will pay off all year. We also installed some things we are going to use down the road and tried to get those engrained while we had time to work on them."

So where is Wommack's comfort level with the Rebel defense through three games and an open week?

"I've said all along that I think this group's mentality is different and they want to do well. They have worked extremely hard and don't let things slip. They try to get better every day and that makes me proud," he added. "We have had some issues at times stopping the run, but I think that was more scheme than players - my fault.

"I have been trying to get our ends up the field too much and we weren't squeezing when we should have been. That's not on the players - that's on me and I think we have those things ironed out. We'll see."

"Not letting things slip" is an interesting phrase from Dave.

"It's experience, it's depth, it's discipline and challenging yourself to get better. It's leadership too," noted Wommack. "They have done the little things. It relates to off the field as well - who takes care of their classroom and tutoring work? Who manages their time well? Things like that. This group has been good in those areas.

"We have guys who have exerted themselves as leaders too. But as Bear Bryant said he couldn't change in three months what they messed up for 18 years. For us, it's still a process and it's a long process. We are in a good place, but we still have work to do, no doubt. It's all about the maturing of a program and the maturing of players and the way they approach things."

Case in point of the maturing of a player - Rebel CB Senquez Golson.

"Early in his career, he was kind of lazy in practice. At times, we felt like we were held hostage by him. Starting last spring, I think he realized this was his last shot and he grew up, on and off the field," Dave added. "He's more disciplined and it shows in his play. In his own way, he's become a leader."

When asked which players have made substantial jumps in their level of performance to this point, Wommack had a blanket answer.

"Most all of them have. The younger guys have come a long way, but they had further to go, so improvement from them would be more noticeable," he stated. "Cody Prewitt, C.J. Johnson, Mike Hilton, Robert Nkemdiche, all those guys, have tried to get better and have done so."

With due respect to the first three opponents, things get tougher from this point on, including Saturday's opponent, Memphis, who is scoring 44.7 points a game, albeit the 63 points in the opener against Austin Peay skews the stats and the perception.

"Their attack starts with the quarterback. He's more of a field general and more comfortable with his checks and reads than he was last year. He's an experienced guy," noted Wommack. "They have good backs and receivers too. They do a nice job with their scheme and are well-coached.

"They don't give up sacks because they get the ball out quickly and they have a sprint-out game that works effectively to negate a sack opportunity. In this day and time, most offenses are going to get the ball out - they are not going to take many minus-yardage plays."

That scenario can be frustrating to defensive linemen chomping at the bit for QB sacks, but there is a silver lining.

"We've had a lot of pressures and hurries and a lot of those have created interception opportunities," Dave explained. "It can be discouraging for the DL, they all want sacks, but I think we do a good job of explaining to them how important those pressures and hurries are and what the end result can be for the defense and team as a whole."

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