Travis Johnson knows he and his Rebel teammates have quite a challenge on their hands in Knoxville Saturday with the Tennessee Volunteers. The game marks Ole Miss' third road game in four starts.
At 1-2 and with back to back losses to Vanderbilt and Wyoming, the Rebels find themselves in one of the nation's toughest arenas – Neyland Stadium - in which to bounce back. But Johnson said there's no time like now, and Knoxville is as good a place as any to get things right.
"We've been focused, but we haven't played well enough as a team," said the 6-foot-1, 191-pound cornerback from Shannon. "I admit it's been hard out there to get things together on offense and defense. We really aren't making the plays on both sides of the ball that we need to make. We have to do that starting Saturday."
Johnson said that the Rebels are 1-2 after a win at Memphis prior to the two recent losses is not what he would have believed before the season started.
"Yeah, I'm surprised," said the fifth-year senior. "But it sometimes takes time for a team to come together and build something together. We just have to keep practicing and working harder every day, and I believe things will get better as the season goes along."
Johnson has seen the highs and lows of college football. His third year as a sophomore, the Rebels won the Cotton Bowl and finished with 10 wins. Last season the team was 4-7.
This year Johnson is hoping for a turnaround so that a bowl game will be in the Rebels' future once again.
"I don't have a lot of time left here," said Johnson, fourth on the team in tackles with 15, 11 of them solos. "This is my last go-around. It's hard for me right now. For us seniors and those who are playing their last season here, it's tough for us right now. But we are trying to put things behind us and have a better season.
"The freshmen haven't been through anything here before. Those of us here last year know what it's like to have a losing season. I don't like to lose. It's hard right now, but I'm trying to go out there and focus and play better."
Johnson said there are a lot of areas he feels the defense can and must improve.
"We've missed a lot of tackles on defense, and we've missed a lot of assignments," said Johnson, who has one tackle for loss, one forced fumble, and one pass breakup through three games this season. "We have to get better in a lot of areas. Things like that are just hurting us when it comes to making plays and stopping drives."
But Johnson says he truly believes the Rebels can still bounce back and have a good season, even though the competition gets tougher as the weeks roll on.
"We're just down two games. We can still have a good season," he said. "We just have to play smarter and better and put those early games behind us and move on."
Johnson says Coach Ed Orgeron and staff are trying to help make things right on defense and get things moving ahead. He feels it's just a matter of time before it all comes together. Hopefully that starts this weekend at UT.
"We're ready to play, but as a team we have to find the strength to get back up and win," he said. "When we do come together better and make plays and work as one, then we'll have a better chance to win games."
Johnson said some key injuries early have also hurt the Rebels' cause on the defensive side of the ball.
"It's hurt a lot with P-Willie out (Patrick Willis) and also with Jamarca Sanford," Johnson said. "They are both big keys. Players are going to get hurt during a season, and the players behind them have to be focused and ready to go and be prepared to play the game."
That being said, Johnson will be giving it his all in this, his last go-around, as he calls it. He knows he and other older players must step in and lead as the Rebels close the book on September and head into October.
"We played Tennessee tough last year here," he said. "Tennessee is a big game. We had a chance to win last year. We want that same chance this year, and we'll all have to step up and play better to do that. We just have to go out and get it done."
Travis Johnson ready for Reb 'D' to step up
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