Coordinators proud of season-ending effort

After a season of disappointments, the Ole Miss coordinators get to sleep - for the first time in weeks - with a smile on their faces after their respective units, for all intents and purposes, dominated the Mississippi State Bulldogs in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday.

Offensive Coordinator John Latina "called" the fundamental results of the Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving Day after th Rebel morning workout - noting, in essence, the Rebs were going to pound the Bulldogs and bang out the win.

That's exactly what happened in this one-sided 20-3 contest that could have, and probably should have, been worse than it was.

"Had it not been for some careless turnovers - one of the interceptions and one of the fumbles in practicluar - I think you would be talking about this game as total domination," said Latina. "We felt our best matchup was running the ball, being aggressive up front and basically pounding them.

"Through the course of this year, Mississippi State has become a bend-but-don't-break defense with a lot of deep coverages and playing their safeties deep. We felt we could be run right at them some and then mix in the outside run when they tightened things up in the middle. The plan worked pretty well except, as I said, for those turnovers."

Latina said he knew there weren't going to be many opportunities for long gainers via the pass, but the offensive coaches wanted to throw a couple of deep balls at the beginning to try to loosen the MSU defense up some.

"We wanted to present the threat of the deep ball early and get them back on their heels a little bit, but unfortunately we threw a pick with a deep ball on the first play from scrimmage," he added. "Even so, I think the message was sent that we might go deep again and that opened up the running lanes a little."

The Bulldogs simplified their defense through the course of the year and didn't do anything fancy because early in the year they were the victims of big plays due to busts and confusion. Did that make them sitting targets for the veteran Rebel offensive line?

"I don't think they were targets - we still had to execute and block them and run to the holes and read our keys. They also threw a couple of different stunts on us, which I expected from Ellis Johnson, their defensive coordinator," Lats continued. "He and I had worked together before and he usually would put in one or two different things for each game. He brought some pressure from the free safety slot today and made us throw some reaction routes we didn't execute particularly well.

"I think we just played pretty well up front whether they were base or if they had mixed it up a lot. We looked tuned in as an offensive line and as an offensive unit in the running game."

Latina felt the 98-yard drive, that took a bunch of time off the third-quarter clock and produced a 17-3 on the first play of the fourth quarter when QB Robert Lane bootlegged in from two yards out, was the difference in the contest.

"That was huge for us. It did so many things. One, it ate a lot of clock and gave us a two TD lead. Two, it kept our defense off the field. Three, I think it demoralized them because we only threw the ball one time and only faced one third down that I can recall," he explained. "To manage the clock that long and add to your lead the way our defense had been playing was the back breaker.

"On that drive, we ran the ball very effectively inside and outside and Robert Lane had 40-plus yards rushing on that drive. We were taking what they gave us - the run - and were executing. You can readily tell the difference in a team that is executing and one that is not. I said going into the game we would have to have some 8-10 play drives. I think that one was 16 or 17."

On the capper on the 98-yard drive, the bootleg by Lane, he virtually walked in the end zone.

"MSU was being very aggressive so we felt a naked bootleg would get them flowing the other way. We faked to the back going to the right, Robert kept the ball and essentially walked in the end zone. Robert was the only one who knew what we were running - the back didn't even know it was a fake," Latina added. "Robert gave a great ball fake on that play."

Latina was asked what the Rebels have to do from now until September to avoid another 4-7 campaign.

"First of all, we have to recruit well. We have some holes to fill and how we fill them will determine a lot," he assessed. "We need the right people in the right positions. That's elementary.

"Then we will need a very structured and disciplined offseason headed into spring. I think spring training will be very physical and very competitive. As I said, we have some gaps to fill and not all of them can be taken care of by one recruiting class. Some of our young players have to step up a level or two and take over for some of the players leaving us. We have to get more discipline and toughness in this program to be able to beat the upper tier teams in the SEC. At times this year we weren't disciplined enoughor tough enough to repeat last year."

John has a big spot in his heart for the two guys he's losing off the OL - Marcus Johnson and Doug Buckles, both of who have been four-year starters.

"The first thing I thought about the game was the victory, but then I thought about playing without those two guys. This was a bittersweet day for me personally. They are very special to me - great players and great kids. It's hard for me to express my feelings for those two kids - they are incredible," he explained.

Defensive Coordinator Chuck Driesbach was as pleased with the defensive effort by the Rebs as Latina was about the smash-mouth offensive performance.

"This is certainly one of our best games of the year. We played very well. We still gave up a couple of big plays, but we offset those a little with an inteception and a couple of fumble recoveries," Driesbach began.

The Rebel 'D' held MSU's offense to just 70 yards rushing on 26 attempts. Jerrious Norwood, who has been running rampantly on SEC defenses the last few weeks, was held to just 24 yards on 11 carries.

"We wanted to control the line of scrimmage and keep a close eye on Norwood, who I think is one of the top backs in the SEC, a league full of great backs," Chuck noted. "I thought our front people played extremely well and played physical.

"We beat a pretty good MSU offense, particularly late in the year. I saw them put up 38 points against Florida and go down the field on Arkansas like they weren't even out there just last week. My hat is off to our players."

The Rebels were also able to bottle up dangerous MSU QB Omar Conner, who was held to -5 yards rushing and managed just 8-28 in the passing department.

"We were twisting and running linebackers through a lot. We didn't get to him as much as I would have liked, but the pressure was pretty steady and ended up being effective. At times it looked like we'd never get there, or that we were waiting on him to throw, but it proved to be enough pressure to throw him out of his rhythm," Driesbach stated.

Driesbach gave a special tip of the hat to the players who were replacing normal starters, etc.

"We were without SS Kelvin Robinson, DEs Jayme Mitchell, Corey Mills and Corvelli Haynes, and we had some other kids just playing on guts who were also still banged up from the LSU game, but they all stepped up and played today," he said. "They were playing for the seniors and I'm real proud of them for that."

On facing the offseason and preparing to do better, Driesbach said one of the biggest factors to avoid a repeat of the 4-7 registered in 2004 is to stay healthy.

"A big part of what happened to us this year was health related. I can list the players who have been hurt and have missed time and it's staggering. Daniel Booth, McKinley Boykin, Michael Bozeman, Andrew Wicker, Chris Herring, Corey Mills, Jayme Mitchell, Corvelli Haynes, Patrick Willis, Garry Pack - and those are just the front guys - missed games and practice times," Chuck continued. "I'm not using that as an excuse, but at times it was difficult getting any continuity going.

"If we can stay a bit healthier and stay with the system, we'll be OK. At times this year we got away from what we had done the first two years and got away from our bread-and-butter stuff. The system works - you just have to believe in it and practice it. I know it works. What we did against the rush this year is inexcusable, but I know in my heart and based on past experience it can all be fixed."

Driesbach was asked if he feels he figures into the future plans at Ole Miss.

"I have not been told anything differently. I will go full speed ahead and wait to hear something. Certainly, I'm like all the coaches - we have heard the talk, but we, as a staff, have not talked at all about our future at this point. We busted our tails to beat Mississippi State and will continue to bust our tails to make this a better football program until we are told differently," he allowed.

Chuck was also asked about the seniors on the defensive side of the ball.

"I love them all. These guys have won a lot of games at Ole Miss. It is a shame they didn't have the kind of year we envisioned this year, but it wasn't due to a lack of effort on their part. They are great kids who will make their marks in the world," he closed.

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