When a team is struggling, as the Rebs struggled in the first two games, expectations fall to earth and reality sets in.
The reality for the Ole Miss Rebels, after getting beaten my Memphis and Alabama to open the season, was to get a win - by any means necessary. And that was what was accomplished in the 26-23 overtime victory over Vanderbilt at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
"We didn't play a great game today, but we made the plays we had to make to win and we got what we needed to help turn this team around. We needed this one badly, for everyone's sake. I know this has been said a million times before, but it's a lot easier to go back to work Monday and correct things after a victory than it is to correct things after a loss," Latina noted.
While it wasn't a masterpiece of a performance, it was good enough considering the first two weeks and the disarray the Rebels were in.
"This win means everything to us right now," said Driesbach. "This should lift our spirits and bring back some belief and confidence that got knocked out of us in the first two weeks."
One of the big keys to the victory was getting something going offensively, and in particular at the quarterback slot with sophomore starter Ethan Flatt. Flatt was 21-32 with no interceptions good for 187 yards. Not monster numbers, but effective numbers.
"Ethan did a good job of managing our offense. He managed vanderbilt's secondary blitzes and changed protections when he needed to," Latina noted. "He did the things we hoped he'd do and the things we thought he was capable of doing. He threw the ball soildly and looked comfortable.
"Ethan managed the game kind of like Eli did under center. His intangible right now is that he's calm and collected and I think that helped settle the rest of the offense down as well. He reacted well to the pressure."
The Rebs also had a running back - Vashon Pearson - gain over 100 yards, including a 54-yard TD burst.
"We knew we were close to breaking one and it was good to see," said Lats. "We haven't hit a long run in a couple of years so we were due. I think that helped everyone's psyche.
"We also wanted to get a little more physical in the running game, so we inserted a one-back set with our fullbacks and gave them the ball some with decent results. I thought Rick (Razzano) and L.T. (Townsend) gave Vandy something to think about with their defensive schemes."
John said Vandy didn't do a lot of different things defensively and what they did do his kids picked up very well.
"Vandy rarely beats themselves defensively. They make you drive the ball. We were worried about that as a staff because our execution has not been consistent," he explained. "We were content with the intermediate routes and moving the chains. Vandy doesn't let you go deep - they make you execute and today, thankfully, we executed better. We still have a lot of work to do and a lot of room for improvement, but this was a start to getting where we want to be.
"Vanderbilt brought a little more edge pressure from their outside linebackers than we were anticipating, but I thought we got that adjusted on the fly very well. We were kind of worried they would throw more new things at us, with an open week to preparefor us, but they have a good scheme that they trusted, so they stayed with it, for the most part."
At the end of regulation, to the dismay of a lot of fans in attendance, the Rebs had the ball on teh Vandy 36 with time running out. They ran two plays for a net of three yards leaving Jonathan Nichols with a 50-yard attempt to win the game in regulation. He was asked about that strategy.
"We were hoping for a few more yards, but even at 50 yards, we weren't worried about the distance with Jonathan. He beat them with a 54-yarder last year. Vandy changed up their run defense on that drive and did a nice job with it. They stuffed us pretry good, but in overtime, in basically the same situation, we made an adjustment in our running game and got him closer for the game-winner. We put a receiver in motion to block the edge and it helped counteract what Vandy was doing and had done at the end of regulation. It all worked out in the end," Lats stated.
In the fourth quarter, the Rebs were down 10 points - 23-13, but Latina felt his group had enough offense to pull the game out.
"The difference in today and in the first two games is that we were moving the ball. Certainly, we had to make plays, but I felt pretty good, based on the rist three quarters, that we could pull it out," he said. "We finally finished a drive and put some points up."
Driesbach had his hands full with Vandy's offense. The Commodores reverted back to an option package they hadn't used in two years and the Rebs had not prepared for a lot.
"Considering we were several bodies (Daniel Booth, Michael Bozeman, Corey Mills and Chris Herring) short on our front, and considering Vandy had not run that particular option in nearly two years and we did not prepare for it, I take my hat off to our kids," Driesbach began. "The option they ran this year was not a conventional option. They overloaded the play side and until we got it adjusted, it hurt us. The things we practiced, our kids defended well, very well. If anyone is at fault here, I'll take that bullet, but there are so many hours in a day and only so many things you can properly prepare for.
"Last year, we prepared for that same option, and Vandy came out in a one-back set and threw it all over the field. This week, we worked on the option some, but a more conventional option that they had used last year some. We were damned if we do, damned if we don't today, it seemed. I was pleased with the way our kids were able to play by feel some today. Very pleased. vandy made us look bad at times, but when we got the hang of what they were doing, I thought the game shifted in our favor. In our scheme, we should be fairly option sound, but when they overloaded things on us, we had to gets some adjustments in there in a hurry. It was a smart move by Vanderbilt - that's a very hard play to defend when you haven't spent a lot of time on it, but our kids came through in the end."
Driesbach was also pleased to finally see some pressure put on Vandy QB Jay Cutler, who was sacked - unofficially - four times.
"We got a sack from each of our starting defensive ends (Jayme Mitchell and Cory Robinson). That was good to see. We also got a sack on a safety blitz and I think we got a sack from a linebacker blitz. I'll take it - QB pressure is not something we have been doing a good job of, but we battered a tough cookie in Jay Cutler up pretty good today," Driesbach noted.
The Rebs got "new life" when Vanderbilt broke a fullback dive for a 64-yard TD that was called back in the third quarter. A play that, even though called back, irks Driesbach.
"We had a fairly heavy blitz on, and they made a nice call against our call, but that still should not have popped. Thank goodness they were in an illegal formation," he smiled.
Early on, Chuck was not happy with the pass defense, as a whole, but in the end an interception by CB Trumaine McBride may have been the play that saved the day, or at least turned things around where the Rebs had a chance.
"I thought we got some questionable calls early," said Driesbach, "but I have to tell you - that's the hardest job in the world. If there's contact, interference is pretty much going to get called. But our kids hung in there and redeemed themselves with some nice plays, overall.
"I think Trumaine is one of the grittiest kids out there. He is playing very well and is making big plays at the right times."
Again, the Rebs did not turn in a masterpiece, as Chuck joked.
"We finally help a running back under 100 yards - their guy only got 99 yards," he deadpanned. "And we held them one point under our average for the year. We've been giving up 24 points a game, today it was 23.
"I'm half joking there, but in reality, it was what we needed. And the bottom line is that we did enough to win. Could we have played better? Sure. Should we have played better? Probably. But when you consider how we played in the first two games, I will take this today and run with it. This is finally something we can build on and something we can build on Monday with a smile on our faces."
Coordinators relieved in narrow win
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