The Rebels put the finishing touches on this week's preparation for the upcoming game against Arkansas in Fayetteville during today's 1 hour and 45-minute workout in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Every phase of special teams play was rehearsed extensively. . . PK Jonathan Nichols was perfect in six field goal tries including his final attempt from 50 yards out. . . P Cody Ridgeway, who has been struggling with a bad back the last month, said he's much better this week and his punting in practice was the proof. Cody had a solid week hitting the ball. . . KO specialist Wesley Bryan also had a good week, both kicking off and punting. All week, his kickoffs were deep in the end zone. . . The punt return team, which has been suspect in two or three games, was addressed over and over every day in practice. . . Poor special teams play was a major factor in the outcome of the Auburn game and has factored in a couple of more games. Special teams play are always a high priority, but this week even moreso.
"If you don't treat special teams like it's just as important as offense or defense, it will cost you some games," said Coach David Cutcliffe. "We've had some lapses in those areas this year that we haven't had in the past. We worked extra hard to get those lapses corrected for this stretch run."
It seems the biggest concern right now - as the Rebs take on the Matt Jones-led Razorbacks - is what to do at the left defensive end position with starter Jayme Mitchell, one of the best players on the team, out. RS frosh Brandon Jenkins will get his second start there, but junior Corvelli Haynes will probably get equal snaps at left end and will also have some backup duty on the right side.
"It's tough when you are facing a team that likes to option and put a lot of pressure on your defensive ends to be missing your best one," said Defensive Coordinator Chuck Driesbach. "We just don't have a lot of experience on that left side. We've tried to put in some little things to help take the pressure off of that position some, but some of it we will just have to face the fire and get the job done. Brandon is making progress, but this is a tough assignment for him. Matt Jones makes veterans look bad at times."
Driesbach is pleased with the week's preparation and the defensive gameplan.
"The kids have prepared hard and have been focused and attentive. We feel like we have some things installed that can help us contain their offense. We have some things in to read the option, we have some things in to attack the option and we have some different looks to try and confuse their reads. We have some calls that we hope will force Matt to pitch the ball - we want to get it out of his hands as quickly as possible."
As we have said all week, there will not be any personnel changes in terms of who the starters are and who the backups are, but the snap distribution could be substantially different from the Auburn game. . . Look for QB Robert Lane to be more involved in the passing game, look for TB Jamal Pittman to get more snaps/carries, look for WR Larry Kendrick to be in the main receiver rotation, look for LBs Garry Pack and Patrick Willis to get nearly as many snaps as the starting LBs and look for the Rebels to try to utilize more positions/players in the passing game. . . Several new plays have been installed this week which, if executed properly, should put ballcarriers in one-on-one situations with Hog defenders.
On the injury front, DE Jayme Mitchell will not play. Neither will DT Andrew Wicker. In Wicker's absence, Chris Herring will get most of Wicker's snaps at backup DT behind McKinley Boykin. He will be paired with Daniel Booth, who plays behind Michael Bozeman.
C Chris Spencer is still a little hampered with a hamstring pull and sat out some team drills today, but he will be ready to go against the Hogs. His backup is versatile Tony Bonds.
For the first time in several weeks, it appears both OTs - Bobby Harris and Tre' Stallings - will be close to 100%. Both have struggled lately with ankle sprains. Also, SS Kelvin Robinson, who has been hampered with a shoulder injury the past two games, went full speed all week and is fine.
The Rebs will leave Oxford tomorrow at 1 p.m. and will fly out of Tupelo at 2 p.m.
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