Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner said there are pluses and minuses to playing a lot of games in a row without an open week.
But he's never coached on a team that opened the season with 10 games in a row before they got a break.
"You can get in a rhythm, which is good, but we haven't had much down time to allow our players to heal, which isn't good," noted Werner. "It's been bam, bam, bam, bam - 10 in a row. I've never done that before.
"We even started the year on a short week between the first and second games because our opener against Memphis was on a Sunday. You play the hand that was dealt you, but ideally you'd like to have an open week after four or five games and then another one after your 10th game, for instance. That allows you to heal up some midway through the season and then rest up for the final two games, where you want to make a good push and have good showings to finish strong."
The Rebels have the close Auburn loss in their rearview mirror, but there are some things about it Werner does not want to forget.
For instance, his QB, Brent Schaeffer, played one of his better games this year against the Tigers.
"The one interception, where the Auburn DB made a good play, he shouldn't have thrown. Other than that, he made good decisions and the film shows that," Dan evaluated. "He managed the team well, which is something we've been working hard on, and he got rid of the ball on time, which obviously helps out the offensive line.
"And more importantly, he hit guys who were open and our guys caught a higher percentage of the attempts. He had a good game against a very good defense, a defense with a good scheme, excellent athletes and with the intention of pressuring him."
Earlier in the week, Coach Ed Orgeron said Werner had a lot of trick plays up his sleeve and he was going to encourage his OC to use them more liberally.
The Rebels hit Auburn on a reverse to Mico McSwain that resulted in a 27-yard TD run and on a halfback pass from TB Bruce Hall to Schaeffer.
"We've always got some unorthodox plays in our gameplan to keep people honest and to, hopefully, hit them with a big play at the right time," Werner explained. "But they have to be at the right time. When they work, they are beautiful, but when they don't, all of a sudden it's second and 20. They are always a gamble. It's a risk-reward thing. You have to be careful about the timing of when you call those types of plays.
"When they work, you look pretty smart. When they don't, you put your team in a hole, so you have to have the odds on your side when you make the decision to call those types of plays."
The reverse call on the Rebs' first drive was tough for Dan to pull the trigger on, but fortunately it worked.
"That's a prime example of what I was talking about. We felt we opened the game on a roll and we didn't want to stop that," he sid. "A reverse call there was a little risky because if Auburn had sniffed it out and stayed at home, we are facing second and long and we have killed the roll we were on. Fortunately, our timing on that one was just right, we caught Auburn off-guard and Mico took it in to cap a really good opening drive for us."
Against Arkansas, the week prior to the Auburn game, Werner commented the Rebs left 375 possible passing yards on the table, i.e., open receivers who did not get the ball or did not catch the ball when the opportunity was there.
The Rebs fared much better against Auburn.
"We had a short throw that was dropped and we had an interception that went off the receiver's hands and both of those should have been catches. Other than that, we didn't leave too many yards out there," he commented.
And what about those drops/bad passes?
"As the offensive coordinator, I have to do two things. On plays like those, I tell the quarterback he's got to throw a better ball and I tell the receivers they have to catch that type of pass that is slightly off," said Werner. "We had two key plays in that game like that - throws that should have been a little better, but should have been caught just the same. One resulted in an interception. Instead of us having a first down on the 50, Auburn had a first down on the 50. Huge swing."
Coach O also mentioned earlier in the week he would like to see Robert Lane, who made two big catches against the Tigers from the fullback slot, get the ball more. Werner concurs.
"Robert has been out for two or three games, but we know he can catch the ball and we know he can make plays. We moved him around some for the Auburn game and it paid dividends," Dan stated. "The quicker he learns everything from different positions, the more we can try to get him the ball."
Auburn's defensive front seven is as good as anyone's, but the Rebel offensive line, for the most part, did a nice job against them.
"That was our big concern that week. We were watching them on film and they are blowing offensive linemen and running backs up. We challenged our guys to attack them and compete and I was happy with the way they did that," Dan noted. "They are making progress every week and that's good to see because no offense can work without a competent OL."
Werner's offense is straight at you in the running game. The Rebels boast one of the top ground-gainers in the conference in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, but the 10 straight weeks have taken their toll on the talented Rebel TB.
"BenJarvus just keeps banging away at the middle and producing, despite ongoing shoulder problems. As a staff, we decided we had to lighten the load on him against Auburn and use other backs as well, but that's a hard decision because he's so good on first and second downs. You give it to him and you feel he's going to get five yards," Werner assessed. "With the offense we run and the style he runs with, he's just taking a beating. We have to be smart with him for the rest of the season.
"(RB Coach) Frank (Wilson) does a good job of gauging how much BenJarvus can take, but we have to make that decision for BenJarvus because he won't tell you he's hurting. He wants to play, no matter what."
BenJarvus' health issues were not a factor in putting Bruce Hall in at tailback against Auburn, according to Werner.
"Bruce earned a shot and we were going to give him one whether BenJarvus was OK or not. Bruce capitalized on his chances and we kept him in there," Werner said. "That really accomplished two things - we got good production out of Bruce and were able to rest BenJarvus, but we were going to use Bruce regardless. He deserves it. He has busted his tail all year and has not complained one time. He will get more playing time due to the results he had against Auburn."
The Rebel offense will line up against Northwestern State Saturday at 1 p.m. in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
What are Werner's thoughts on the Demons' defense?
"Northwestern is really physical up front. They are only giving up 90 yards a game rushing and have played a couple of quality Division I opponents," Dan said. "They have some guys who are good football players on that front seven. They run a lot of different fronts, they blitz a lot and they play a lot of man coverage.
"We have to be prepared for them. As a staff, we have to make sure our guys know they are a pretty good unit. One thing I won't do is lie to our guys. If I thought they weren't very good, I'd tell our guys because they could see it on film. They see Northwestern's down linemen can play. They can tell a good DL from a bad DL on film. You don't fool kids these days. We better strap our helmets on tight. It's not like we are blowing people out and can take anyone for granted.
"I think our guys understand how important it is to have a great game this week. That's part of our job as coaches, to make them understand the high level they have to play at."
At 2-7, a win, any win, will be good for the Rebels.
"We need one. We've come so close in several games. We need to keep going, get a good win and hopefully watch that snowball," he closed.
But first things first. After taking NW State down, the Rebs get a needed break, their first open week in 10 games.
Dan Werner -
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