In last Saturday's overtime loss to LSU, the Rebel coaches pulled a surprise switch in the second half of the game.
Starting QB Brent Schaeffer was replaced after the first Rebel offensive series of the second half and did not return until overtime. Backup Seth Adams took his place.
Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner addressed the "why" question recently.
"We felt like we had stalled out a few times with Brent in there and with us getting great field position off our return game," began Werner. "Whether it was his fault or not, his job is to move the team, so we wanted to make a change to see if it would jump start us."
Werner said the change had nothing to do with going conservative or Adams' ability to be more cautious with the ball in light of the Rebels holding a 17-7 lead, and then a 20-7 margin after Adams drove the Rebs into field goal position on his first try.
"That really didn't come into the thinking at all. We were thinking more aggressively when we got in the Red Zone. We wanted to punch it in and finish them off. That's the mentality we have to have as a football team," he continued. "Earlier, we had so many chances with returns, fake punts and onside kicks and we didn't produce when we had those opportunities to put the game out of reach. We have to turn those into seven points in a game like that.
"Unfortunately, after Seth got in there, we started getting terrible field position and couldn't be as aggressive as we wanted to be. With the lead, we didn't want to do anything stupid with our backs to the wall."
Werner is in the press box during the game, but he keeps constant communication with the sidelines throughout. He said Brent was "fine" with the move.
"I told him a long time ago that these things happen and to keep his head in the game if it did. He stayed in the game and stayed ready. He was ready to go when we called his number to go back in when the game went to overtime," Dan said. "LSU started having success against the run in the fourth quarter. They were loading up the box and we felt like we could get outside a little bit, use Brent's talents that way, in overtime. We felt we could move the pocket some and operate away from the blitz, but it didn't work."
Earlier in the year, Werner lamented at times there were plays to be made his guys didn't make. That was not really the case against LSU, he explained.
"Our plan was to run the football, play field position and keep ourselves in position to win it at the end. With us ahead 20-7 in the fourth quarter, everything was playing out perfectly, exactly as we hoped and planned," he said. "We knew from the get-go we weren't going to put 500 yards on them. So what do you do? Find a way to win. Exactly what we needed to happen did happen, except one thing.
"That one thing cost us the game. We didn't get a couple of first downs when we needed them the most to finish them off. We have to learn to finish. LSU knew - with the field position we had - we were not going to throw it much. That's where we have to get tough, batten down the hatches and finish the game."
Werner said all losses are tough, but that one may have been the hardest to swallow yet.
"With the way the game played out, with us holding a late lead, that one was real tough," he said. "That's one we should have found a way to win."
Dan does not have any fears of a letdown against Mississippi State this weekend.
"This group of players has been amazing. They have had their hearts broken several times this year, but they keep coming back. A lesser team, with a lesser head coach, could have folded, but this one refuses to," Dan evaluated. "You have to give Coach O and the players credit for being resilient and coming back for more after several close losses to supposedly better teams.
"They have bought into what we are trying to do and the intensity level it takes to get it done. They will be ready for Mississippi State. I told the offense this is their bowl game. It's the archrival, the last game of the year, the last game of the seniors' careers. It's something they will remember forever and something the underclassmen can build on and create some momentum with."
Dan is aware of the magnitude of the Egg Bowl.
"This game is something you have to live with for 364 days, so you better take advantage of it. Living here and knowing people in the past who have coached here, I have had several calls well in advance of this week telling me how important this game is. We know it's a big deal," he said. "Florida and Florida State were big rivalries when I was at Miami, but it's a whole different ball game in the state of Florida. Down in Miami, you never run into an FSU or Gator fan. Here, you probably live next to an MSU fan, or at least know some Bulldog fans you have daily contact with. It's like Auburn and Alabama - you have to deal with it and hear about it all year."
What did Werner look for this week from his quarterbacks as the Rebels prepared for Mississippi State?
"The same things we always look for in practice. Who's moving the team?" he stated. "All the way from calling the play in the huddle, to controlling the offense, to executing. I look for everything - body language, leadership. I will be looking for the guy who is sharp and can take us to touchdowns."
Werner said there have been obvious negatives and positives this year on offense.
"Obviously, we aren't rolling up the points or the stats we want. Not even close, but we have developed some positives," he noted. "We are second in the SEC in least turnovers. And we are by far the youngest team on offense in the league.
"We are high in the SEC for least penalties. That, to me, means the guys understand what we want. Hang on to the ball, be smart, limit penalties. Now we have to start making some of the explosive plays and that's where you get the stats and score points."
Dan wants to see those things, plus more playmaking, come from the QB slot this weekend to finish off the season.
"We need to run the offense, limit mistakes and make plays, the same as every week," Werner explained. "We realize Mississippi State has a good defense. We understand the importance of the game. We have to go out there and play smart, hard-nosed, effective, error-free football. When the plays are there, make them. Finish the game.
"We are due to do that and there will be no better time than Saturday. When we get that done, we can look forward to the offseason and tremendous improvement from our quarterbacks and everyone else on our young offense."
After four days of preparation and practice for MSU, the Rebel coaches have chosen Schaeffer to start, but Adams is also ready should Brent not move the team.
"Brent will get the nod, but we have faith in both of them," he closed. "We expect Brent to do a good job and take the offense to a good showing."
Dan Werner -
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