Coordinators will take the win

The Ole Miss coordinators tried real hard to come up with some positives from the Rebs' 28-21 victory over Arkansas State at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday, but they seemed to always come back to a certain level of frustration over the team's play.

Offensive Coordinator John Latina, as always, analyzed the pluses and minuses of the offense's performance against Arkansas State.

He could live with a lot of it, but there was still a level of not-good-enough in his analysis.

"In the first half, I thought we moved the ball very well. We had some poor field position that we overcame with some long drives," he began, "but, again, we didn't get the touchdowns we needed. We had to settle for two field goals instead of touchdowns and that's something we hae to rectify. Stating the obvious, it will take touchdowns - not field goals - to win in SEC play. And that starts next week.

"We have to find a way to finish drives with TDs and kick less field goals. It was good to see those long drives early in the game, but finishing is just as important."

In the second half, working with a shorter field a couple of times, the Rebs did finish a couple of key drives.

"The defense and special teams came up with some big plays and we were able to punch them in. That's a good sign, but we are still trying to get better," he noted. "We'll have to look at the film and see where we are coming up short and see what we have to do to finish more drives."

The Rebs crashed and burned last week against Wyoming via turnovers and penalties. Against A-State, the Rebs cut their penalties in half - from 14 to 7 - and cut their turnovers from five down to one, an interception on an overthrown long pass.

"Those were our areas of emphasis in practice last week and that improved. That's a plus. This team has to take care of the football and stop the penalties to have success. We aren't good enough to be careless with the ball or to commit a bunch of penalties and be able to overcome them," Lats noted. "We felt Arkansas State would be a test and that we would have to play sound football for us to win. We played sound in most areas, but not spectacular. We did makes strides, however."

Latina gave a thumbs up to QB Ethan Flatt, who cut his turnovers from a week ago and completed 75% of his passes in a 18-24 performance for 179 yards and two TDs.

"I thought Ethan did well. He managed our offense better this week. He changed some run plays from the overload side to the weak side, he changed protections pretty well and he took care of the ball," Latina noted. "He got better this week and that's what you ask of a new starter at QB."

For the third week in a row, the running game produced a 100-yard ground gainer - Vashon Pearson.

"We ran the ball OK, but there as a negative - we had some short yardage situations we were stuffed on that can't happen when we get against bigger, better defenses," he noted. "We were very good at moving the chains in those situations last year and we have to find the formula for that in a hurry now. We are running the ball a little better, but the competition is about to get a lot better and in crunch time we have to be able to gain yardage on the ground.

"Vashon has done a very good job. He's physical and fast and we expect him to gain 100 yards. He's not an elusive back, but he's physical and has good speed. If we feed him the ball enough times, we expect 100-yard performances," Latina added.

Arkansas State played a lot of base defense in the first half, but changed gears some at halftime.

"They were pretty vanilla defensively in the first half, but in the second half they brought safeties and secondary stunts trying to stop our running game," John explained. "We knew they had that in their plan and were ready for it, but I don't think we executed at times very well against their pressure. We had some plays called that should have busted some big plays against their stunts, but we didn't finish the plays like we should have. They went after us aggressively in the second half. We handled it sometimes, sometimes we didn't."

While there are still problem areas, Latina said the bottom line was a win.

"It was extremely important that we win this game. It could have been devastating if we hadn't. At halftime, there was a lot of frustration - players and coaches. We called everybody out to step up. In the first half, it looked like we were going to be able to gain a big lead, but we go in at halftime behind a point," he said. "We did some challenging to one another. I think that's healthy. You've got real problems when your pride is not hurt and you aren't sick to your stomach when you are not doing as well as you are capable. We don't have that problem. I think it's healthy when you are frustrated for not performing well.

"Fortunately, we were able to right the ship enough on both sides of the ball to finish the deal. Hopefully, this will give the kids some confidence going into the meat of our schedule. We'll see. We have work to do, there's no doubt about that, but I think everyone on this team knows we are capable of getting it done. We showed that in spurts today."

Driesbach called last week's performance against Wyoming a "tale of two halves." Against A-State, it was basically the same thing - a poor first half, a solid second half.

"We were miserable, from my seat in the press box, in the first half. It's certainly the way I felt," Chuck began. "We got hit on a couple of trap plays when we were in blitzes in the first half. The trap is a very good play against the blitz, but we were supposed to have that covered. We didn't execute the interior part and that popped things for some big plays.

"We also had some problems with their outside stretch play. We played a lot of man coverage because they were doing a lot of shifting and motioning. When you are in man coverage and they are running the football, those in man have to add to the run stop defense and we were doing a very poor job of that. Our guys were staying in coverage rather than filling when their man was blocking on the play. We talked about that - strongly - at half and got it corrected. When our guys added to the run stop numbers, we were fine. I don't think they had many yards rushing in the second half."

That was the story of the first half, when the Rebs found themselves down 14-13 at half. The second half story was totally different.

"We gave up a fluke play for a TD where we had perfect coverage, but other than that we shut them down pretty good and caused some turnovers," he noted. "The game will never change - you have to be physical and you have to make plays. We had our hands on at least four balls and didn't make the plays. When you have the opportunity to make a play, you have to make it. It's really that simple.

"And we did make some plays. Jayme Mitchell made an excellent read on a screen and picked off a key pass when we needed a spark. We also gave the offense a short field when we recovered a fumble by their quarterback. All of that was in the second half, but we have to start stronger defensively and quit digging ourselves these holes."

Like Latina, Driesbach was pleased to get a win, but he also had an asterisk beside his explanation.

"Look, I'm very happy to get a win - any win - right now," he said, "but it's like being an artist. It's not about selling the painting, it's about putting something good on canvas. Somebody bought our painting today, but right now I don't like what I see on the canvas."

The doctor ordered a win. The Rebs got one. That was priority number one.

But according to the results from Saturday, the patient ain't well yet. The road to total recovery is just beginning.

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