Picking Spots

The Rebel offensive coaches knew it would be tough to move the ball consistently against a superb Alabama defense, so the plan was to stay the course, not make critical mistakes and take their shots when they presented themselves. The plan worked in the Rebs' 23-17 win over the Tide.

If ever there was proof that proper gameplanning, and sticking with that plan, was important to winning a football game, that was exhibited in the 23-17 Ole Miss victory over Alabama Saturday night.

"We knew we wouldn't be able to just run up and down the field against a defense the quality of Alabama's," said Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner. "We knew we would have to stay the course and that a few chances would eventually present themselves and, when they did, we had to capitalize."

That is exactly how the game played out.

At halftime, frankly, it didn't look like the plan was working.

The Rebels only had 105 yards and 7 first downs, with most of the yardage coming off three completions. They also had a scant 3 points.

"We knew it would be a heavyweight bout," Werner continued, "so our focus was to just stay balanced and try to figure out what Alabama was going to do next on defense."

Toward the end of the half, the Rebel offensive coaches felt they had some things, that they would not divulge afterwards, they could go to that would work in the second half.

"We started seeing some openings. If we could just stay patient and wait until we got the defensive looks we wanted, we felt we could score if we executed," he continued.

Down 14-3 midway through the third quarter, they got what they wanted and called a seam route to TE Evan Engram, good for 50 yards to the Alabama 18.

"We felt they would give us a certain look against a certain formation and that the seam would be open. It was," Werner said. "Great recognition and throw by Bo (Wallace) and a great route by Evan."

Alabama Coach Nick Saban said postgame that play turned the tide, pardon the pun, intentional as it is.

Two plays later, Wallace found Laquon Treadwell for a TD as he split two defenders and the horse race was on at 14-10.

The Rebel coaches, now in striking distance, remained patient, trusting the Reb defense to hold Bama at bay.

"We were going to keep running the ball, whether it got much yardage or not," said Dan. "That was the only way we could keep them honest. We couldn't allow them to pin their ears back and start pass rushing and blitzing. We had to make them respect the run."

In fact, they were downright stubborn in sticking with their plan and the clock ticked and ticked.

But then, they got another opening and another look they liked - it resulted in a 34- yard touchdown pass from Wallace to Vince Sanders on a post pattern.

"They were cheating in a little and we felt if we could run a couple of guys underneath and get their safeties to take one step in, we could get someone behind them," Werner explained.

At 17-17, the Rebs forced a turnover on the ensuing kickoff and were back in business on the Tide 31.

Facing third-and-11 from the Tide 11, the Rebs called a timeout and debated a call.

"I wanted to throw a dropback pass. Coach Freeze wanted to throw a screen. We finally settled on a fake screen with our running back (Jaylen Walton). We got him matched up with a linebacker, the LB read screen and came up and Jaylen ran right by him," Dan stated.

Again, perfect pass in a small window by Wallace.

Wallace was a workmanlike, effective 18-31 for 251 yards and three TDs, and he had no turnovers.

"The kid is a competitor. He always competes hard. He can make a bad play and come back strong," noted Werner. "He was patient today and took what was given. We talked about it all week - check down, run the ball, take a yard here or there, take care of the ball. He did all those things.

"It was tough at times because we weren't getting a lot done, but Bo stayed patient like we coached him to and when guys came open, he hit them and took advantage."

This year, there has been a "good Bo, bad Bo" narrative going with the media and with fans. Werner doesn't think that's fair.

"Bo is a quality quarterback. He did not play well in the first half of the Boise game, but since then, he has been pretty special. Sure, he's made mistakes, but Peyton Manning makes mistakes," Dan said. "He's just good Bo to me and I think the best is yet to come."

Even more discussed, and questioned, has been the Rebel offensive line.

"You are not going to push around Alabama - nobody is. I thought our OL did a great job tonight giving Bo time to operate and manage the offense. We didn't rack up 500 yards, but we did what we needed to do in a game like this," Werner noted.

Coaches don't often brag about 323 yards of total offense these days, and while Werner didn't either, he was pleased with the output against what the Rebel 'O' was facing.

"They are big, strong, fast and they give you a million looks. Our kids prepared hard, play hard and were opportunistic. I didn't anticipate 500 yards and 40 points. Against Alabama's defense, they give you so many looks, you are guessing a lot of the time," Werner closed. "We guessed right some of the time and wrong some of the time - that's how games like this are.

"But we did find some things we thought could work and the kids - starting up front with protection and with the quarterback having patience and the receivers doing their jobs," Werner ended.

It was a tough night.

The Rebel offense had to pick their spots, but pick them, and capitalize on them, they did.

That's how you win tough games against quality opponents.


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