The Rebel defense has been a part of two losses where a late stop would have made a huge difference in the outcome.
Against Florida, in The Swamp, a late stop - nailing Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow behind the line of scrimmage on a 4th and 1 - sealed a 31-30 victory.
"We feel blessed that these kids kept believing and kept playing hard after two heartbreaking losses," said Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix. "If they hadn't we wouldn't have stopped them. These kids dug deep and rose to the occasion."
Nix said the Rebels had a feeling Florida would run Tebow on the 4th down play, but he wasn't positive.
"We had an idea they might run that play - it is so effective for them, but they'd also been doing well with the short dump passes. Fortunately, our kids got some push up front and got them stopped," Nix stated. "I'm not sure who made the tackle - I think it was a whole gang of them just collapsing their OL."
The Rebels defense gave up a lot of yardage - 443 to be exact - to the Gators, but it was good enough to win.
"We told them if they believed, we'd win this game and they did just that. In all three phases, they played their hearts out and got it done. It was definitely a team effort," Tyrone stated. "We made a few too many mistakes on defense today, but we hung in there and made the plays we needed to make to win. We still have some things to improve, but you can take a game like this and really teach off it with a good taste in our mouths."
The Rebel defense forced five fumbles, three of which they recovered, and had three QB sacks and several QB pressures.
"It was real big for us to take the ball a couple of times from them because Florida takes pride in taking care of the ball," stated Tyrone. "To create some turnovers and apply quarterback pressure most of the day was huge for us. We made enough big plays to give our offense a chance and that's what makes it a team effort."
Houston Nutt said he was frustrated at half and let the players know it. Nix was right in the middle of that thinking.
"How we started the second half was a test of our character and our kids came out on fire. We didn't finish the first half on a good note defensively and we knew we were going to be challenged in the second half. I think we rose to the challenge, for the most part," Nix commented. "To come up with those turnovers to start the second half and then for the offense to capitalize on them was huge."
The key to the game, Nix said, was believing.
"Kids who believe they can do things can accomplish anything," Tyrone ended. "I'd like to tell you something schematically we did, but really this one came down to belief."
Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin, who usually uses four syllable words in normal conversation, described the win over the Gators with one of the smallest words in the dictionary.
"This was a big step for our football team," Austin noted, "and a big step for our quarterback, Jevan Snead. The team and Jevan can grow from this."
Austin said being able to keep the team together and focused after two tough losses did not surprise him.
"It's all because of Coach Nutt. He's the most positive person I have ever been around. He's the same whether we win or lose in terms of keeping players positive and getting them to believe in themselves," Kent continued. "Because of his consistency in his demeanor, we were able to win this game today."
The Rebels ran quite a bit of the Wild Rebel formation against the Gators and it was the most effective formation they had in their trick bag.
"That's about the only thing we had that was working, to be honest with you," Austin laughed, "and it wasn't working all the time. Florida has a great team, but we were able to hit them on a couple of runs and a couple of nice passes.
"Dexter had one big run out of the Wild Rebel for a score. The Wild Rebel was a necessity for us today."
Kent was disappointed in the way the Rebels ended the first half, driving to the Florida 17 only to go backwards 20 yards out of field goal range.
"We just stumbled and fumbled around there. It was disappointing. We were trying to go on a silent count and our guys were leaving early. We'll keep working on it," Kent said. "It was frustrating though and we let the guys know it at half.
"It was time to play. It was time to do things right. You only get 12 shots a year at football games. It's not like basketball or baseball. You have to make them all count. And it's all about how you prepare and then play. We have been preparing very well, but not playing as well as we should. It was time to step up."
The Jevan Snead to Shay Hodge bomb for 86 yards put the Rebs ahead 31-24 with 5:26 to go in the game. Nutt gave Austin credit for that call.
"We completed an out route to Dexter and I saw the corner peek on that play. I thought he might bite to the out. I told Jevan to watch the corner and if he went to the out to take the deep ball. The corner squatted outside and Shay ran by him. The safeties were creeping up in run support and stayed on the hash too, so we had them. Jevan delivered a strike," Austin explained.
The Rebels amassed 325 yards against a Gator defense that had not been giving up much turf, but the bottom line is the 31 points they scored against a D that had held Miami to 3 points and Tennessee to 6.
"We were opportunistic. The defense got some turnovers and set us up with a short field and we were able to capitalize," Austin closed. "This was truly a total team effort.
"And, again, it was all about believing and staying together."
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