Kent Austin -

There are many factors involved for the Ole Miss offense to be effective against the Tennessee Vols' third-ranked defense in the SEC, but perhaps the most important is avoiding third-and-long situations.

Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin is asked every week about that week's opposing defense.

His comments don't vary much when the subject is the next SEC foe.

In fact, you could take a transcript of his comments about South Carolina and apply them to this week's foe, Tennessee, who happens to have the third-rated defense in the Southeastern Conference.

Such is the life of an SEC offensive coordinator.

"They are a pretty good group," he chuckled knowingly. "They are really fast and they really run to the ball well. They are very aggressive and are good hitters. They are also excellent tacklers who are playing with a lot of confidence right now.

"They are a typical SEC group, led by a typically strong and tough defensive line. We certainly understand the challenge up front for us this week. We get it. We can't get beat up front - we understand that. We have to do some things to help out our line schematically."

Asked if he feels like a broken record week after week saying basically the same things about every SEC defense the Rebs face, and Austin just nods.

"I don't think there's much doubt in anyone's mind that the SEC is the best defensive league in the country," Austin allowed.

But it's a challenge Austin doesn't shy away from.

This week's biggest concern, based on the performance of the Rebs' offense throughout the year, is to stay out of third-and-long situations.

"We have to find a way to get first downs on first and second down or at least get in manageable situations on third down," he continued. "Third-and-eight or more is not a good scenario, especially against this defensive coordinator (Monte Kiffen).

"He'll dial up the blitzes and force you to throw hot. It's a scenario we have to stay out of."

Kent would also like to get more players involved in the passing game, but all that depends on the flow of the game, he explained.

"There are some things we can choreograph and some things we can't," he stated. "Our passing game is designed for our receivers to adjust their routes within the pattern structure based on what the defense is doing.

"Sometimes you can spread the ball around and sometimes you can't, but someone will usually be open in either scenario."

All-American candidate Eric Berry, a Vol safety, is also a concern for Austin, or any offensive coordinator.

"When he comes down in the box, which he often does, he's like a middle linebacker. He's a very strong, efficient tackler with great speed," noted Austin. "When he drops into coverage, he has natural playmaking ability. He has a knack to make plays that others don't possess. You'll see a tipped ball and he finds a way to react to it and get it. He has great reaction time and is a super athlete."

To counter UT's attack, Kent said it's critical for the Rebels to get Dexter McCluster involved early and often in the offense.

"Dexter is a major key to our offense, as everyone knows. We have to create some situations to get him active and keep him active in the game," Austin surmised.

McCluster has been used at the slot position, split wide, in the Wild Rebel and at tailback, but the Rebs have been most effective when simply turning around and handing him the ball.

"That's the easiest way, of course, but we'll have to be more creative than that in getting him the ball in other ways," Austin closed.

Welcome to the SEC. Another day, another strong defense.

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