Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner was asked after the Rebel victory over MSU what it was like to play the underdog role and to come out on top.
"We didn't think we were the underdog," Dan said, looking surprised with the question. "We thought all week we were going to win the game if we played with an edge, and we did."
The Rebels rolled up 532 yards against what has proven to be a very solid Bulldog defense, and they got back their big-play ability that was missing just seven days prior against Arkansas.
"This was a testament to Coach (Hugh) Freeze, our staff and our players that none of us ever blink. We have been struggling a little offensively with losing Laquon (Treadwell) and then we lost Vincent (Sanders) in the first half, but everyone just stepped up and dug down deeper," Werner noted. "We had a bunch of packages for Vincent - we thought we had some mismatches with him, but when he went out, we had to rely on Cody Core to move out to his slot and Evan (Engram) to take up some slack.
"They did everything we asked of them and more. Cody had never run that halfback pass he scored on - that was Vincent's play, but Cody sold the route beautifully and scored."
The Rebels have not been a good running team for the most part this season. Against the Bulldogs, they gained 205 yards on 31 carries. Granted, 91 of those were on one Jaylen Walton run, but even with that included, the Rebs were effective enough running he ball to keep the Bulldogs honest defensively.
"Our guys took offense to people talking about our lack of run game. The line stepped it up, the backs ran hard," Dan said. "We felt if we hammered it inside a little and got them cheating in, the wide stuff would be good and it was. (OL Coach) Matt Luke did a tremendous job of scheming the run game and his guys accepted the challenge he threw down to them last Sunday."
Engram didn't score, but he had five catches for 176 yards and set up two short TD runs with outstanding catches-and-runs.
"He stepped up. Bo (Wallace) even grabbed me after the game and said if he had hit Evan every time he was open, he would have had 250 yards," Dan stated. "Bo was off a little due to his ankle because he couldn't plant and push well, but what a competitor and he found Evan just enough to win the game."
Werner preaches about staying on schedule and taking care of the ball. For the most part, the Rebels stayed ahead of the chains and they only had one turnover, a Wallace pick in the end zone early in the game.
"I was about ready to jump out of the press box on that interception we threw in their end zone early in the game, but other than that, there was nothing even close to being picked off and we were able to stay in good downs-and-distances for the most part," he added. "A lot of credit has to be given to our OL. They gave Bo time to throw and they gave our backs holes to run through. That was huge because Bo was not very mobile tonight, as everyone could see.
"I think that proves, to some extent, how vital it was to have Laremy Tunsil back in the lineup and relatively healthy. We weren't the same without him and he gutted it out tonight and you saw the difference."
On Walton's 91-yard run, Werner laughed.
"Just how it was drawn up," he quipped. "No, Jaylen made a great run and what I was really proud of was Cody Core shielding off the last would-be tackler than let Jaylen get in the end zone. I think that play really hurt them because they had us backed up and were smelling blood a little and we hit them hard with that long score."
On the halfback pass from Wilkins to Core, Werner said he knew Freeze was going to call it the next time the Rebs got in MSU territory and he was encouraging it.
"I told him it would work once we got the ball on the left hash in their territory and we went for it," he said.
While Werner didn't believe the Rebels were underdogs, he did believe they had to fire their guns.
"We felt we could win the game without some of that stuff, but why not use it? It's the last game of the season - shoot the guns," he smiled.
Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack was not surprised the Rebels held MSU to 17 points either.
"We are number one in the nation in scoring defense. I knew if we would play assignment and alignment football, we'd be OK," he said. "The MSU offense stresses you so much with their QB, big receiver, good backs, etc, but I felt we could play with them. We have played real good defense 90% of this year, why should this be different?
"I am really proud of these kids because we mixed things up and moved and shifted and we didn't make too many mistakes with a pretty complex defensive scheme to offset MSU's weapons."
The Bulldogs did gain 445 yards, but the Rebels didn't break much.
"We knew they would make plays. We knew they would drive the ball some. We expected that, but we were able to bottle up their run game. You are not going to beat them if you do not contain Dak Prescott and I thought we did a good job of that," he noted. "We mixed things up and the guys executed."
Wommack was also not surprised the Rebels bounced back after a sub-par showing in Fayetteville.
"These guys have pride. They were ready to play this week. I thought last week we were looking too much to this game. We had the mindset tonight of staying focused every single play," Wommack noted.
The Rebels used mostly their front four to contain Prescot and their RBs, but at the same time, the Rebs did send more pressure than they usually do.
"We thought our front four could handle their run game OK, but we helped them out with corner fires, sending the Husky a few times. It was all about mixing it up and keeping them a little out of rhythm and a little off-balance," Dave noted. "Even the TD they scored on the 32-yard pass, our corner had tremendous coverage and had his hand right in the middle of the guy. It was just a great play by their wideout."
The early pressure on Prescott, Dave thought, got him off his game a little.
"Nobody has been able to get to him much, but I think we rattled him a little early in the game and had him dancing around a little more than he usually does," Dave added. "Look, he's a great player. If you don't do something to take him out of his game, it's going to be a long night."
Wommack said there was some soul-searching going on after last weekend.
"We chewed on them a little, loved on them a lot, but the bottom line is that we all knew we were better than that showing and we got that point across to the guys," he said.
Dave is very proud of the 9-3 regular season record, with an asterisk.
"We are ahead of schedule as a program, no doubt, which is all we can ask for," he closed. "But the other side of me says we could have had a couple of more wins and be playing in the big game.
"We are so close to playing for everything and that is both gratifying and frustrating, but we are definitely ahead of our schedule."
The Rebels defeated MSU 31-17.
Nobody that calls the shots for the Rebel football team was surprised.
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