The Rebel offense at Alabama was not everything the Rebel coaches wanted, but it was a step in the right direction and produced 23 points in the 26-23 overtime loss.
"I'm pleased we got better, but we have to keep working to get to the next level where we pull those close games out," said Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner. "We left some plays on the table, so to speak. We had several plays where we were one player doing the right thing short of breaking something big. We have to keep working to get all 11 guys firing at the same time on every play."
Werner said there are always plays - when watching a game film - where something simple would have sprung the play for a large chunk of real estate.
"We had a run play versus blitz against Alabama where if one of our blockers had taken the right steps that we have worked on since the first day of practice, he hits the guy in the mouth and it's a long TD and probably wins the game," he explained. "Those are going to happen every game, but we have to hold them to a minimum, especially in a close game.
"In every close game, there are two or three plays that would have made the difference. Against Alabama, there were a few more than that and we need to minimize those kind of plays, do what we're supposed to do and reap the rewards."
Werner is not happy with the 22-86 third-down conversion results the offense has attained this year.
"Third downs have obviously been a problem for us. Part of it is protection. We've had some issues there so we have gone to more seven and eight man protections at times, but when you do that, it's easier for defenses to cover your routes," he explained. "Part of the problem is poor reads and part of the problem is dropped passes. We had three third-down drops against Alabama last week.
"Anytime a pass is incomplete, there are a number of things that can happen and we are working on all those aspects. When we work those out, our third-down conversion percentage will go up. It's on us."
Against the Tide, with BenJarvus Green-Ellis banged up a little and not being able to go much in the fourth quarter, the Rebs turned to Mico McSwain to carry the mail.
"We are trying to find a guy who can come in and hit a big play. BenJarvus is very solid, but we feel Mico is a guy who can break one for a long run. That's why we went with Mico instead of Bruce Hall," Dan stated. "He's more of an east-west runner than we are looking for, but he can also make guys miss and get a big play. We need some big plays on offense. We need a big play threat. We need defenses to be worried we can pop a long one and keep them thinking that.
"Mico has also gotten better at getting north and south quicker. It's an ongoing process, but something he's showing signs of."
After the Bama game, QB Brent Schaeffer expressed being more comfotable in that contest.
"You could tell he felt good back there. He made some better decisions and better throws. It's just like anything else, though, it's not going to just happen. You have to keep working and make it happen," Werner said. "Obviously there is room for improvement, so we will keep working, doing the same things we've always done.
"I'm one of those guys who believes in the system. We know it works and wins championships. We just have to get our guys to understand it more and more. We have to take the things we do well and expand on that to where we can do everything in the package well."
The task immediately in front of the Rebel offense is Arkansas Defensive Coordinator Reggie Herring and the Hog stoppers, who use an aggressive, blitzing style of play.
"They will blitz all the time. They will go almost exclusively with man coverage. Coach Herring wants to create negative plays and does a good job with it," said Werner. "The year Miami played North Carolina State and he was the DC there, they were number one in the country in total defense.
"On our side, that style gives you opportunities to make big plays. We just have to get protected right and make a play, or pop a big run by getting everyone blocked. His idea is that you are going to block 10 out of 11, but you aren't going to get that 11th guy and he's going to hit you in the mouth."
Werner said the Arkansas defense is very good, a typically good SEC-quality group of players.
"Arkansas has good athletes and an aggressive style of play. They are real good and do a good job of executing what they call," Dan added. "I'd put them right up there with LSU, Alabama, Auburn, and all the good defenses in the SEC."
In the past two games, the Rebels have turned to Maurice Miller to take over the right tackle slot vacated by injuries to Darryl Harris and David Traxler.
"We are really pleased with the way Mo has stepped in. We had problems there with the injuries and didn't really know who was going to step up and handle the position. Maurice has done that. He's done a nice job for us - we are pleased with the way he's handled the move," Werner added.
Werner was also short his starting tight end, Robert Lane, who will probably miss the Arkansas game too.
"In Robert's absence, we went with Lawrence Lilly and Robert Hough. Lawrence did a good job blocking and Robert did a real good job when he was in there moving around some," Werner assessed. "Robert only worked at fullback a couple of days before the Alabama game, but he did a great job, all things considered."
In two days, Werner will see if the Rebels have expanded what they can do effectively when they line up against the Hog defense.
"Against their defense, we are going to have to be versatile. We have to expand on what we did against Alabama and include more vertical passing. We have to be able to run the ball, continue with our short passing game and add some vertical stuff to the Alabama package. That's what we are hoping for - to make a step toward being a more complete offense," he closed. "When we get to the point where defenses can't hone in on us and narrow what they feel they have to defend, we will be better."
Dan Werner -
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