Numbers Don't Lie

The Rebels are 7-0 heading into Baton Rouge for their annual showdown with LSU. They are ranked third in the nation, as subjective as rankings are. The Reb defense leads the nation in scoring defense. Those numbers are facts. Numbers don't lie.

Writers, talking heads, bloggers, Facebook addicts and message board warriors have spent hours and hours and more hours bloviating, pontificating, opining, dissecting, praising, doubting, arguing and discussing why the 2014 Ole Miss football team is where it is through seven games this season.

Every avenue has been exhausted, several times over, but the bottom line, the nitty gritty, where the rubber meets the road is simple - the numbers don't lie and the fact of the matter is that the Rebels are a darn good football team.

Still, we aren't satisfied. We want to know why.

In the realm of why, all the topics have been tossed around and beaten to death - team unity, experience, depth, discipline, less mistakes, good talent, good coaching, a mature approach, confidence, the new normal, buying in, unselfishness, a team first mentality and on and on. You can find an essay, many in fact, encapsulating all those theories and suggestions.

Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack, whose side of the ball, in this day and age of big offense, is leading the nation in scoring defense while allowing, so far, less than 11 points a game, believes it is all of the above.

"All the variables you mentioned, plus having great pride in what they do, are the ingredients to a good team and a good defense," Wommack began. "The goal is to continue to get better each week, like we have the first seven weeks.

"I've been in coaching for over three decades and have been involved with some really good defenses, but I have to say this one is my favorite. I really like coaching these guys because of the way they approach things."

And while every factor is important to have this much success, Wommack keeps going back to the depth as one of the major reasons for the success to this point.

"It's huge to have the kind of depth we have, for a lot of reasons," he continued. "It keeps us fresh in games, it keeps the competition at practice at a high level and I think depth, and a great training room, has helped keep us healthy. Fresh players don't get hurt as much as tired ones.

"I have to be honest - I was concerned back when spring training started that some guys would be selfish and not want to rotate, but we have had none of that, zero."

As the old saying goes, it all starts up front. . .

"The ability to play as many defensive linemen as we have played has been huge. A fresh Issac Gross or Bryon Bennett or C.J. Johnson or whoever in the fourth quarter against a tired offensive lineman is a definite advantage," he added. "Two-and-a-half years ago, we were almost starting over. There was a big separation between the first team and second team and we really didn't even have 11 quality SEC guys.

"The recruiting and Coach Freeze's program has started paying huge dividends for us."

Wommack does look at statistics and he is proud of what the defense has done up to now, but there's only one "stat" that matters to him - 7-0.

"It's about winning, and so far we have won them all," he said. "I'm also proud of what these guys have done off the field. Coach Freeze has a policy - miss a class, miss a quarter of the next game. We have not had one quarter missed because of that. That tells you a lot about their growth, maturity, dedication and caring. Those things are totally related to how you play on Saturday."

It's all anchored by DT Robert Nkemdiche, a sophomore and a holy terror on opposing offenses.

"Robert is a much better technician now. (DL Coach) Chris (Kiffin) has done a tremendous job of teaching him how to play the game on this level and Robert has accepted the coaching and run with it," Wommack praised. "He's so explosive and athletic. I have said this before - he may not have the numbers in terms of tackles and sacks and so forth, but what he does for us is so important. He creates double teams and he's still in the backfield all the time.

"The thing I like too, is that Robert has never said a word about his stats. The only stat that matters to him is 7-0. He understands that when he takes two defenders out of the picture, it helps everyone. He totally understands the scheme and his importance in it. He also knows what his future is."

Nkemdiche came to Ole Miss as the number one recruit in America and as a defensive end. A couple of games into his career, Robert was moved inside to DT and didn't protest at all.

"He took the move a lot easier than I thought he would, which tells me something about his character. I think it was explained properly to him and he knew it was best for the team," Dave stated. "He was totally with the program. I think he realizes that it helps him in his future career too, in that he has shown he can play inside or outside on the next level."

Now, it's LSU, a rival of the Rebels, in a contest where records don't seem to matter a whole lot.

"They are a lot like Alabama. Their lines are similar, their backs are similar, their receivers are similar and the QBs are similar," he said.

The Tiger offense, Dave believes, has gone back to its roots.

"The last two weeks they have turned back into what they want to be and hve gotten an identity," he said. "They run the ball downhill with big backs who always falls forward and then they play-action off that. Their quarterbacks appear to have gotten more comfortable as well."

The Tigers boast of one of the most highly recruited players in the nation in freshman Running Back Leonard Fournette, a 6-1, 230-pounder who is starting to get the hang of things on the collegiate level.

"He's going to be a great player and is already real good," Dave noted. "I can't remember the last time LSU didn't have a great running back, but Fournette is not a one-man show. They have two or three more who can hurt you, as usual. I know anybody would like to have any of them."

Wommack's goal, the same as every week, is to stop the run first and foremost, but his "worry" is the play-action.

"All our guys know what's coming - they come at you and come at you and come at you. You want to stick you nose in there and mix it up and then they pull the ball and go over the top<' Dave closed. "We have to do a good job with recognizing that and that is a big emphasis in practice this week."

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