The 'Other' Match

ATLANTA, Ga. - The headline grabber for the Peach Bowl is TCU's high-flying offense against the Rebel's powerful defense, but the "other" side of the ball provides intrigue for both teams as well.

Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner doesn't have time to worry or talk about TCU's high scoring offense, which is getting a lot of the ink here this week.

He knows he's got his hands full with the Horned Frogs' defense.

"When you look at their defensive stats, TCU is in a lot of top rankings in a lot of categories," Werner noted. "That's in a conference that throws the ball a lot and scores a bunch of points.

"To see where they are ranked, coming out of that conference, is impressive. In my mind, they are an SEC-type defense. We are used to seeing great defenses every week and these guys are right there with them. On film, they have an SEC look."

The Horned Frogs defense if ranked 2nd in the NCAA in turnover margin and turnovers gained, 3rd in interceptions (23), 3rd in tackles for los (8.4 pg), 5th in third down defense and 16th in scoring defense (20.3 ppg) despite an outing against Baylor that gave up 61 points.

"The good thing is that they do a lot of the things we do. They move a lot up front, they are not huge but they are really quick, and their schemes are similar in coverages," Dan said. "As a QB, you have to be really sharp because you get so many different looks.

"But our defense gives us a lot of looks in practice. In a bowl setting, we get the chance to go against our number one defense more than in the regular season, so we are getting a lot of great looks in bowl preparation that are similar to TCU's. But make no mistake - they are sound and they are good on defense."

The movement up front reminds Werner of Boise State, who the Rebels struggled with for a half before figuring things out.

"The issue then was that Boise had never shown those looks before, so we had to adjust on the run. We've seen those looks then and since and have had time to work on them," Dan stated.

Werner will be matching wits with TCU DC Dick Bumpas, the Horned Frogs defensive coordinator since 2004. In that time, his units have led the NCAA in total defense three times.

Bumpas said Rebel TE Evan Engram is a matchup "nightmare," but Werner will be facing Bumpas a little handicapped without star receivers Laquon Treadwell and Vincent Sanders.

"We were able to get the ball to Evan against Mississippi State, but I know Coach Bumpas saw that and will have a plan to try to take Evan out of the game as much as possible," Dan noted. "We'll try to get him the ball, but if he's getting doubled, Cody Core, Markell Pack and Quincy Adeboyejo will have to step up because we will go their way."

Werner has faith in Quincy and Markell.

"They are excited about it. They have worked hard and they have looked good in practice. They will come through for us in the game, I believe," Dan said.

The sticking point for the Rebels most of the year has been the run game, but they were able to generate over 200 yards on the ground against MSU in the Egg Bowl.

"The passing game opened things up for us. The big reason we haven't been able to run it well this year is because most teams defensed the run and gave us the pass," Werner explained. "Against MSU, they were trying to take away the pass and opened up the run some. When they adjusted, it opened up the pass with the play-action stuff.

"We also schemed some things differently. We felt we had to generate a run some how, some way. We are not the kind of team to line up and smash you in the mouth like LSU does. We had to find some new ways to get the defense off-balance and give them a lot of different looks through formations, motions and such. When some of that worked, we were able to get some good runs with some traditional looks as well."

Bumpas discussed all the movement the Rebel offense does as an issue they will have to be tuned in on.

"We do anything we can to confuse a defense. We run the same play out of a lot of different formations, we move guys around, we run our offense at different speeds - anything to create a little discomfort for a defense," Werner stated. "A half a second or a half a step too late and it can be a big play."

This will be the last game Werner and QB Bo Wallace will be together in tandem.

"There's no doubt I will miss him," said Dan. "We've been together three years and he's won a bunch of games for a program that was down when he got here. He's a great story and a great pleasure to coach."

Dan has a lot of admiration for Wallace.

"Here's a guy who wasn't highly recruited and who had to transfer twice to get here. He's one of the toughest kids I have ever coached and he battles every week. The end result was that he is the total offense leader in the history of this school," Dan assessed.

Werner said he has never bought into the good-Bo-bad-Bo narrative.

"Brett Favre was one of the greatest quarterbacks to ever play the game, and he threw a lot of interceptions because he thought he could make every throw and had the confidence to try it," Werner continued. "In a lot of ways, Bo reminds me of Brett. He's supremely confident and sometimes it got him in trouble, most of the time, though, it worked.

"The good has far outweighed the bad. Every quarterback ever has thrown TDs and thrown interceptions. I can say this without reservation - I wouldn't trade Bo for any quarterback in terms of what he has meant to this program, his toughness and overall end results. Sure there have been moments when I was left scratching my head, but I've never had a QB who didn't have those moments and I have had some great ones."

In the meantime, TCU's defense is all that is on Werner's mind.

"I'm ready for the game. I know this is going to be a tremendous matchup on both sides of the ball for both teams," he closed. "It has the chance to be the best game of all the bowls and I can't wait."

TCU's offense against the Rebel defense has gotten the headlines, but don't think for one instant the other side of the ball won't be just as intriguing.

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