Open weeks can be used for a multitude of goals.
Injured players healing. Rest. Getting a head start on the next opponent. Fine-tuning. All of the above.
Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin tries to get a little bit of everything accomplished, covering all the bases methodically to get his guys braced for the final frantic three-game stretch run.
"First, we have worked on correcting our mistakes from the past couple of weeks," said Austin. "Then we have tried to look at some new things too. We try to put in a few new plays for the next game or two, get those plays on film and try to determine if they will help us move the ball.
"We will do a lot of teaching and fundamentals. During an open week you have a little more time to slow down, evaluate and make sure your kids are doing things correctly."
Austin said there's been plenty to correct this open week, coming off the A-Train, Alabama, Arkansas and Auburn in a row.
"We are working on overall execution. We need to hit a few more throws and figure out a few things in the run game that need sharpening," Austin noted. "The open week practices allow you to get the extra reps you need working on yourself and not the next opponent as much.
"More reps - done correctly - equals more consistency in the games and that's our goal."
Austin was asked about QB Jevan Snead's performance against Auburn, where he seemed off early before righting the ship some late in the first half and most of the second half.
"I've studied Jevan's performance and I'm not too worried about it. Everyone misses some throws," Kent continued. "I've never had a quarterback who was exactly where I wanted him at any time in any season, but Jevan is doing fine. He's protecting the ball, making good decisions and generally throwing to the right people."
While Kent believes the game has slowed down for Snead, in general, there's still a settling process going on.
"The game has slowed down for him some, but there are still times in games when he presses a little bit and doesn't let the game come to him. For the most part, however, he has handled things well with all the pressure that's been on him," Austin stated. "At the end of the day, he has had us in every game with an opportunity to win. We have five wins with three SEC victories so far in his first year playing, so the results tell you he has done a pretty good job. He will only get better, as I have said before, with more and more experience."
Kent has been satisfied with the development of the run game in recent weeks.
"That's a real credit to our offensive line first and foremost," he said. "Our backs are also starting to run downhill and hard on every play.
"Here's the thing with running the ball. It can get thwarted at times and you can't get frustrated with it. You are going to have plays where you don't gain much, or even lose a yard or two, but eventually you are going to make some holes and gain good yards if you stick with it. You have to stay committed to it. So many times teams abandon the run game too early and make themselves one-dimensional and easier to defend. We are not going to do that. We are committed to running the football and keeping defenses honest. That commitment is paying off. You don't gain over 200 yards on the ground on Auburn by accident. It takes work and commitment."
Austin has also been pleased with junior Tight End Gerald Harris' part in the run game, especially since senior TE David Traxler has gone down with a back injury.
"Gerald has come on this year. He's turned in to a pretty good player. He's pretty good in the run game and is developing in the passing game," Austin evaluated. "He's a great kid with a great heart and he plays to the whistle. Gerald does everything we ask him and more."
Fans and pundits dwell some on the Rebs having a "complete" game. Austin doesn't.
"I have three goals - eliminating turnovers, scoring points and having one more point on the scoreboard than the opponent at the end of the game," he smiled. "The only final stat that matters is wins and losses.
"It's not easy in this league with the defenses we face. They are not going to allow perfection, even though that remains your goal all the time. The speed, the athleticism, the coaching, it all adds up to having to really work hard to score points in this league. We are certainly not where we want to be offensively, and not where we are going to be at the end of the season, but for the most part we have done a good enough job to win and against the defenses we play against week-in and week-out, it's hard to complain."
Kent Austin -
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