Ole Miss Sophomore Strong Safety Jamarca Sanford has seen the good side and the bad side of college football.
He's been an important part of excellent defensive games the Rebs have played and games he'd rather forget.
This season, he's seen both, but Jamarca believes the Rebel defense is starting to see light at the end of the tunnel.
"We're getting better. We've got some young guys starting to understand and get it. We've got some veterans who have picked up their games. We're starting to get some depth developed - not a lot, but some," Jamarca explained. "And most importantly, we are starting to produce in more and more situations. I can see us improving across the board. We've still got some loose ends to tie up, but everyone is into it and giving it all we have."
Having said all that, Jamarca and the Rebs are not "happy."
"We are playing our hearts out and not getting what matters the most - winning. The Alabama game was tough to swallow. We were one play short, we believe. One play. . . that's hard to take," he explained.
One thing not happening is the frustrating third-down situation.
Through the first seven games, the opposition's offenses have converted 48-100 third-down opportunities.
Forty-eight percent of the time when the Rebel defense has had a chance to get itself off the field, they have not.
It's a figure that baffles and frustrates all the defensive players, Jamarca said.
"It's real frustrating when you play really good defense on first and second down, most of the time, and we can't get ourselves off the field more than we do," he said. "We should be around 30%, but we aren't. We are nearly 50%. It wears on you to play that hard on first and second down and then not get it done on third down.
"I don't think we are letting our guard down because that's the most improtant down in the series. We know the importance of playing well on third down. You don't want them moving the chains, but it seems we always wait until third down to have major busts."
Sanford said there isn't one problem that can be pinpointed and corrected. That would be easy to solve. But he does indicate it's in the players' lap.
"The coaches put us in the right positions to make plays, but we aren't making them sometimes," he explained. "We've got a good third-down package. When we all execute, it works, but we aren't executing enough in those situations."
The one that sticks in Jamarca's head was the third-and-25 at Bama last weekend. Bama converted on a pass play that, he said, should have never been completed if everyone had done their jobs.
"That one play has been on my mind all weekend. To me, it turned the game around in their favor," he continued. "We were in a zone with deep thirds. The corners had deep responsibility on both sides and I had the middle third.
"Nate Banks had gotten hurt and Terrell (Jackson) was in the game at corner. He was supposed to take the receiver deep and I was supposed to come over for help. We were both a step late. We just busted and paid for it."
Sanford said he or Terrell should have found a way to make that play.
"Plays like that are the difference in winning and losing," he said. "We just have to do better."
Sanford believes the key to continued improvement is for everyone to know exactly what to do on every call and then to do it.
"It's the whole defense that's lapsing. Eleven guys have to play as one. We need more pressurte from the front, we have to be on the same page with the linebackers and we have to do a better job as a secondary in coverage in those situations," he noted. "We will keep pushing and working hard to get it right. It's frustrating, but you don't give up - you just keep pushing until you get it done."
Jamarca's recent ankle injury has also been the source of some frustration for him.
"It hurts when I cut, but you just play through it. Injury is part of the game," Sanford stated. "If you can't play with a little pain, maybe football isn't your game.
"It felt good to be out there with my team trying to help us win, but I was in pain. I just fought through it as much as I could."
Jamarca believes the Rebels will be ready for Arkansas this weekend.
"Last year, they made the plays they needed to make to win. We didn't. We want to turn the tables on them this year with some big plays," Sanford closed. "We know they have a good team with a good offense.
"Their running game is one of the best around, but we did pretty good against them last year and are starting to do better things now on defense. We just have to put it all together at the right times.
"We started the year with a new front and we've had some key injuries, but I think we are starting to come together as a unit and we are starting to get a couple of players back from injury. The young guys are also getting better each outing. It's going to be our turn pretty soon. Why not now?"
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