'We Can Play Much Better'

The Rebel defense caused three Alabama turnovers that led to points and did enough to win the game 43-37, but the dynamic stoppers were not particularly happy with their overall play.

"We didn't tackle well, we weren't real good on third downs or in the Red Zone and we didn't get lined up correctly too many times. Other than that, we were real good," senior MLB C.J. Johnson said sarcastically about the Rebel defensive performance against Alabama last Saturday night. "We did a lot of good things, but they ran 100-plus plays and I don't think we had a single play where everyone did exactly what they were supposed to do. There was always one guy doing something he wasn't supposed to or lining up incorrectly."

Huh? That sounds alarming. . . not one play?

"It is alarming," said Johnson, always a straight shooter. "The way that we played - to have 22 missed tackles and a lot of missed assignments, and yet we still won. Man, that just tells us how good we can be.

"Fatigue was a big part of our issue, but we were fatigued because we didn't do the things to get ourselves off the field. We'd have them in second or third and longs and we'd let them off the hook because we'd do something wrong. We will work hard on that this week."

Johnson took a big chunk of the blame.

"A lot of the mistakes were in the linebacker room with two seniors - me and Denzel, leading the way. We can't have that. If we can get improvement out of our linebacker room, which we have no reason not to get better, our defense can be special again," he explained.

C.J. was, however, in the right place for his second interception of the season, a pick that led to a critical Rebel touchdown.

"My read took me there. I had their tight end in my peripheral vision and was watching the quarterback's eyes. I saw him look that way and broke that way just as he was throwing it," Johnson noted. "We've got guys who fly to the ball and are ball hawks. I expect a lot of turnovers every game if an offense challenges us.

"We have a great system and scheme. Coach (Dave) Wommack tells us all the time to let the defense work, but Saturday night we weren't patient. We had guys, including me, who were kind of doing our own thing and not letting the system work. We can correct that."

Johnson believes the Rebel defense has what it takes to be great.

"We will stay focused and we will correct as we go. We know we can't have ups and downs like we did last year. We learned that lesson last year and know we have to get better and better each week. We want to stay sharp every week," he added. "This is not about the opponent - it's about us and we can do better, a lot better, than we did against Alabama.

"Last year, we felt we were good, but still had to prove it to ourselves and go out and do some good things, but we still lapsed after we did some quality things. This year, we know we can be really good, but we know, from last year, that we have to stay focused every week. That's why the win Saturday over Bama was not a shock to us. We expected it."

There's always a danger of having a letdown after a big win, but Coach Hugh Freeze said he believes in the leadership of the team to avoid that. Johnson is one of the leaders. . .

"We just have to stay focused and stay sharp. As one of the leaders, I have to get that message across and I will," he closed. "We are competing against perfection and to get anywhere near there you have to go out every day and try to get better, no matter the opponent, not matter your record, no matter what happened last week."

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