The 21-17 loss to Tennessee, atop the SEC East, was a hard pill for both Rebel coordinators to swallow due to the mathematics of the whole night. The number "one" came to mind quickly for the Ole Miss unit bosses.
"We didn't make one big play to win the game," said Offensive Coordinator John Latina. "We did some good things against a very good defense, but when we needed it the most in the second half, we didn't get it done. Tennessee got more aggressive in the second half with their blitzes and we didn't execute against them very well at times."
The Rebel offense scored 10 points on the night against the Vols (the other Reb tally for on a pass interception for a score by S B. Brown) and gained only 257 yards in the process - 89 rushing and 168 passing. A big key in the game was four Tennessee sacks good for a negative 30 yards on the Reb tally sheet and three Ole Miss turnovers - a pair of picks and a fumble by WR Bill Flowers after a nice gain on a reception.
"We felt our protection packages were good for their blitz scheme, but they got a defender free a couple of times in critical situations," Latina continued. "Our running game from the tailback slot was not what we were hoping for, but our quarterbacks had some nice gains to offset that. Again, we had difficulty on third down conversions (4-15) and in not making key plays at opportune times when we had the momentum. We also had three turnovers. In a game like this, turnovers eventually tell part of the tale."
The leading Reb rusher on the night was QB Robert Lane - part of the three-headed quarterback system the Rebs are currently employing. Lane had 44 yards on seven carries, includin a 21-yarder that set up the Rebs' only offense TD.
"Robert is getting a little more playing time and we're expanding his package more and more each week. Right now, we are spoon-feeding him a little bit, but we think he is going to be outstanding," Lats noted. "In the second half, when Tennessee started blitzing more, we had to go with our two experienced QBs more so they could call our protection packages at the line and check out of some bad plays. Right now, the other two just manage our offense better. If Tennessee had stayed more base like they did in the first half, Robert would have played more, but in this case we felt we had to get our guys who had seen those situations before in the game. Robert is doing very well, but we had a choice to make - which players give us the best chance to succeed in that situation? For us, right now, it's Ethan and Micheal, but Robert is coming on strong."
For now, the Rebs will stick with the three-quarterback system, according to Latina.
"We like it and the team likes it," he said. "Our goal is to expand on the packages we have for Micheal and Robert, but to this point we feel the three-quarterback system has sparked us as a team. As a staff, we'll watch a lot of film and go back to the drawing board to see how we can help our players on offense be more productive.
"We've got an open week that we need. We have a bunch of guys nicked up and this is an opportunity to get them 100% before a powerful Auburn team rolls into town. We put a lot into this game and are disappointed we lost, but our kids have been resilient in the past and will bounce back. From my viewpoint on the sidelines, this game seemed to be pretty even from a physical standpoint and that is something these kids can take forward with them. We did not fear them - we came into the game knowing we were going to win, but we fell short. I don't have any fear of this game taking too much out of our kids. In fact, I think they are the kind of people who will find positives in it and continue to get better."
Latina said he could not leave the interview without tipping his hat to the Rebel defense.
"The guys on that side of the ball played and coached an outstanding game against a physical and potent offense," John closed. "They gave us a chance to win the game, but we didn't do our part on offense by scoring a few more points. Our defense scored a touchdown and basically shut UT down after the Vols gained an early 14-0 lead. As a team, we can't ask for any more than that. We just have to do a better job on our side of the ball carrying our share of the load."
For Defensive Coordinator Chuch Driesbach, the night was bitter-sweet.
"We don't like losing and that's the bottom line, but if you are asking me to assess the defensive play, I am very proud of these guys," Driesbach said. "We fought and battled and came together as a unit. We played like a team tonight. I can't say enough about our front guys.
"I feel like this is one that got away. I thought we played good enough to win. We just didn't get it done."
Driesbach looked at the quickie stat sheet handed out postgame and shook his head. The vaunted Vol rushing attack only gained 118 yards on the night.
"Other than the first drive, I didn't think they rushed the ball successfully at all. I take my hat off to our front guys - they played a wonderful game. The coaches had a good gameplan and we stopped them. They fought and fought against a very good OL with good backs running behind it."
After the first drive, the Rebs settled down and started producing.
"I think on the first drive we got caught up in the big game atmosphere and were a little unsettled," Chuck explained. "We settled down after that and basically played base defense against their two-back stuff. That was good to see - that we can physically stand up in base against a team like that and not have to blitz to stop the run.
"I equate the early going to a boxer who goes out and loses the first two rounds and then realizes he can stay in there and swing with the guy. That's what our kids did - I'm very proud of them. We looked like we belonged on that football field. We definitely got better tonight as a defense and it's good to see that improvement. We started getting a little better against South Carolina with seven three-and-outs, then we built on that this week."
The Rebel defense even got a score on the night - a 34-yard interception return by S B. Brown.
"B. was filling in for Bryant Thomas, who pulled a hamstring Thursday in practice. B. took a crash course Friday night and learned what he had to do in every situation. What a super job by B. We were in a dime package and B. was the sixth DB. We were actually blitzing him on the play and he read the screen and made a great play on the ball," Driesbach noted. "A great individual effort by B."
On every parade a little rain must fall, wise men have said. With the Rebel defense, the wet part is still giving up a couple of big plays.
"We got hit with the fade again on their last drive. Perfect throw, perfect catch. I don't know how to get to that pass - only their being perfect would have worked on that play - we had pretty good position and coverage. I don't know what else to do but to put someone on the sidelines 25 yards down the field and just leave them there," he said sarcastically.
And the Rebs, again, were not as efficient as they need to be on third downs, giving up 8-18 to the Vols.
"That's not good. Our goal is to stop them 67% of the time. That's less than 40%. We have to get ourselves off the field better," he explained.
The bottom line is the Rebs went toe-to-toe with a Top 20 team and one of the top programs in the country, but it was little solace to the Rebel nation or the Rebel coordinators.
"We had an opportunity to win and that's the goal. Everything else is kind of window dressing," closed Chuck. "Did we get better as a team? I think so, but moral victories - if you would call this that - do little for our program. We feel we are beyond that mindset."
OM Spirit Top Stories
Ole Miss Commitment Progress ReportThe Rebels will be looking to bring in a few impact defensive ends to help the gap with the departing seniors. A pair of their commits continue to show that they might be the…
OM SpiritYesterday at 12:09 PM
Podcast: Spirit Mailbag; Bradley Sowell JoinsIn this edition of the Ole Miss Spirit Podcast, Ben Garrett and Sudu Upadhyay answer your Ole Miss questions, and former Rebel Bradley Sowell stops by to preview LSU, among other…
OM SpiritYesterday at 9:16 AM
Friday Focus: Ole Miss vs LSUOle Miss travels to Baton Rouge to face SEC West rival LSU on Saturday. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m. CT on ESPN.
OM SpiritThursday at 11:48 PM
Pickett has major breakout potentialOle Miss landed Jamarko Pickett on Thursday. While being a bit off the radar, Pickett shows tremendous upside and long term potential.
Scout HoopsThursday at 8:26 AM