Rebel Coordinators -

After several weeks of trying to find the right formula, the Ole Miss coordinators felt the right buttons were pushed and the Rebels responded in the 31-28 upset win over South Carolina in Columbia yesterday. Who could argue as the Rebs pulled off a true team victory and moved to 3-3 overall and 2-1 in the SEC, setting up a monster game in Oxford Saturday against Tennessee, fresh off an upset win of their own over Number 3 Georgia in Athens.

The whole week of practice before the Ole MIss-South Carolina game in Columbia, the Rebel coaching staff had stressed a number of fairly normal objectives.

Execution, doing the little things right, a good early start to take the partisan crowd out of the game, unity and a bunch of other catch phrases coaches frequently use.

But what sparked the Rebels more than anything were some moves by the coaches themselves.

On offense, the Rebels pulled a shocker early, using all three quarterbacks - Ethan Flatt, Micheal Spurlock and Robert Lane - on the first series offensive series of downs.

"We talked about that as a staff Wednesday and we practiced them that way all week," said Offensive Coordinator John Latina. "We needed something different and something unique to give us a boost and it was obvious it sparked our kids because they were all more involved in the game. We didn't just call the three quarterback's numbers - we did things like lining Larry Kendrick up at tailback and sending him through on a pass route and we put in some new plays. Everyone had to be alert and I believe it gave them a sense of urgency. I also think it put South Carolina on their heels, which is what we needed early."

Strangely enough, the Rebs didn't get a first down on that first series, where Flatt took the first snap and threw an incomplete pass, Spurlock ran a QB draw for 6 yards and Lane ran an option for a loss of 3 yards, but it energized the entire sidelines. The defense went out and promptly stuffed Carolina's offense on the strength of a Michael Bozeman and Kelvin Robinson quarterback sack and the game was on.

"All our quarterbacks have some great qualities they bring to the table and we wanted to utlize their strengths, let them do what we think they do well and give South Carolina something they hadn't seen," Lats continued. "All three of those quarterbacks contributed to this win in a big way. I liked our gameplan, but I liked our execution, for the most part, better."

Latina said there was no script for the ploy, it was done by feel.

"We told all three of them to stand by Coach (T.D.) Woods and be ready to go in at any time, on any play. They were all ready and eager and they didn't have time to think about a script or worry about when they were going in. It was all spontaneous and all by feel. It kept everyone on their toes, and USC on their heels.

"We gave USC some different looks, some different sets and some different plays they hadn't seen. Each quarterback brought a different style to the field. I've never seen anyone do that with three QBs before, but I guess there's a first time for everything."

You know the rest of the offensive story. The Rebs built a 14-0 cushion, took a 21-14 lead into halftime, fell behind 28-24 early in the fourth quarter and put together a last-minute 73-yard drive capped by a 29-yard fourth down TD pass from Flatt to WR Bill Flowers for the win. In total, they ran up 414 total yards against one of the stingiest defenses in the SEC and came away with potentially a season-turning victory.

On the final drive, the Rebs electred to go exclusively with Flatt. It was nothing against the other two, as Latina explains.

"We knew we were going to have to throw the ball and Ethan does what we needed at that time the best - he understands our protections a little better, he understands who's supposed to be open in different sets a little bit better, and he understood USC's blitz package a little better," noted Latina. "We needed him calling our protections because we knew if he called the right ones that he would have time to throw and would know where to throw the ball. It's not that Micheal and Robert wouldn't, but Ethan's got the most experience now and we went with him in that situation."

On the third-from-last offensive possession, Flatt had been shaken up by a blindside hit on a blitz by South Carolina, but by the time the last possession rolled around he had shaken the cobwebs out and was ready to go.

"I truly believe the other two could have driven us down the field as well, but in that instance we wanted Ethan in the game and he delivered. USC blitzed three times on the last drive and each time he had checked into the right protections for us to pick it up and give him time to throw," Latina explained.

The Rebels also kept USC off balance by establishing an effective running game which tallied 179 yards on the day, including Vashon Pearson's 96 yards on 21 carries and some nifty runs by Spurlock, Alan Abrams, Lane and Brandon Jacobs.

"USC has a stingy defense, no doubt. They were only giving up something like 7 points a game and we scored 31, and we should have scored more. We had some big plays that were inches away from connecting. If we learn to connect on those, along with our running game getting pretty solid, we could be pretty potent before much longer," John noted. "We just felt we could run on them even though nobody else has. We believed that and the kids believed it and that's what made it work."

It was rumored after the game that the players laid down some strong challenges to each other in the locker room prior to the game. Lats did not deny the rumor.

"We're always challenging each other, but maybe there was a little more challenging going on today pregame," he smiled. "These kids knew their backs were against the wall and that we had nobody to blame but ourselves for the shape we were in. Our seniors stepped up big today. It was healthy and productive. I also hope it's contagious."

While the Rebs took the lead into intermission and looked as if they would put up 40-plus points on the Gamecocks, USC changed things up a little in the second half and evened things up a bit.

"They stunted and slanted a little more and we missed a couple of big plays that were there for the taking. Suddenly, they had the momentum, but unlike previous games, we handled the momentum swing with poise and never lost our confidence. That was a major milestone for these kids because momentum swings in games like these and you cannot get down. I think we learned a valuable lesson today," Latina stated.

The win was definitely sweet for Latina, whose offense has spit and sputtered and been "unsettled" for a good portion of the current campaign.

"Every week we thought we were getting a little bit better, but it really doesn't matter what the staff thinks if the kids don't believe it. They have to believe it in their hearts and souls," he closed. "I started seeing some real belief in practice last week. We talked to the kids about USC's defense being really good, but it was basically the same as last year's and we scored a bunch of points on them a year ago. We started asking them 'why not this year?' Our kids bought into our vision of us making plays and bought into the three quarterback system in a big way. I think they finally believe and that's a major stepping stone for us. Hopefully it will grow from here."

On the defensive side of the ball, Chuck Driesbach had some mixed feelings.

He was very pleased with the start of the game, not so happy with the second quarter, continued the down swing in the third quarter and part of the fourth stanza, but then got elated again late in the game when the Rebels allowed no more points in the crucial fourth quarter trailing 28-24.

"This was a great game to watch, I'm sure, but it was no fun sitting up in the press box trying to figure out a way to stop them," Driesbach said. "This is a tough place to play and a tough offense to gameplan and scheme. South Carolina is one of the hottest teams in America right now, which makes this one of the best wins I've been around. When you consider where they were coming into the game and where we were, it doesn't get much sweeter than to pull this one off."

The Rebs were able to hang tough when they had to - early to held gain some momentum and late when SC had all the momentum and the home crowd thumping, but they did give up a whopping 491 yards of offense, a lot of which came on big plays.

"At halftime, I looked the kids in the eye after we had given up two touchdowns on assignment busts and challenged them," Chuck noted. "I said 'are we going to do this again? Just give it to them? At least make them earn it. We know what to do, we know how to stop them, do it.' And while we gave up two more TDs in the second half, I thought we played very well in the last 12 minutes of the game. We allowed no more points and we gave the offense a couple of chances to win the game. They cashed the last chance in by doing a great job. My hat is off to our offense and the offensive gameplan. I told them early in the week that I didn't know how I would defend a three-quarterback system, but I knew it would cause me problems trying to stop it. It worked beautifully."

Chuck is still frustrated and perplexed by the number of big plays the defense is giving up. He humorously mentioned "Black Magic" as a remedy.

"We might need a witch doctor or an exorcist," he smiled. "I don't know what it is, but it seems every quarterback we have played has made perfect, imporbable throws against us and the receivers are making great catches. Today, I thought our coverage was OK, but we couldn't seem to shake the ball loose when we were there to make a play or we didn't finish the plays."

Driesbach thought one area the Rebs did shine was in run defense, limiting a pretty fair running team to 142 yards on the ground, 42 of that on a QB draw that was an assignment bust by the Rebs.

"I was very proud of our front today. They didn't give up much. Our defensive front coaches did a great job of gameplanning. They are a hard bunch to gameplan because they have an athletic quarterback, they run a lot of misdirection and they have a strike-quick vertical passing game, but I thought we did a good job against the run," he noted. "We just need to make a few more plays in the passing game that we are in position to make."

Chuck said his heart skipped some beats on USC's last-ditch drive when they had two long shots to the end zone for the win, but WS Charles Clark and CB Travis Johnson made two excellent plays knocking the ball away from would-be receivers.

"That's how we were supposed to do it all day. I was glad those two got it done because I didn't know what was going to happen when those balls were in the air based on what we had done the rest of the day. But it all turned out great," he ended. "This was a big win for us and hopefully it will turn the season around and get us going on the right track. I know this - it doesn't get any easier."

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