Ole Miss Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix has had two or three media opportunities at the Cotton Bowl.
Each time, his sessions staqrt off with the same question. Can the Rebels stop the option?
It's a pertinent inquiry. After all, the Rebs didn't sniff stopping it against Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl and the opponent for the Cotton Bowl - Oklahoma State - has the option prominently displayed in their offensive arsenal, especially since Cowboys QB Zac Robinson appears to be healthy now after struggling through sundry injuries during the regular season.
Nix has been patient in answering that questions each time it has popped up.
"The biggest thing in defending any offense is playing your responsibilities. What we have to do is become a physical, disciplined defense and when you do that, and try to control the line of scrimmage, it doesn't make a difference what kind of offense you face," he said. "What we have stressed to our kids is doing the things we are supposed to do at a high level and at a consistent basis. We did not do those things against Mississippi State. We didn't play with discipline or with the toughness we needed to. The point of emphasis since then is getting back to the type of football and reputation we are trying to earn here at Ole Miss."
That answer doesn't give any specifics of how the Rebs are going to try to stop the Cowboy option, but the tone of Tyrone's voice made it clear the Rebs have been working on the option and the memories of the Egg Bowl are still stinging.
"The film session after that game was painful and something we don't want to experience again. There were a lot of examples of us not being focused, not playing with fundamentals and players doing their own thing. It humbled us back to remembering how we got here, remembering what our purpose is and remembering we are not good enough to just show up and expect to win. We have to work, we have to compete and we have to outhustle the competition," he noted. "We also have to do all the little things to give us a chance."
Nix will have one weapon available to him who was not participating in the Egg Bowl - senior DE Greg Hardy.
His two-year journey with Hardy has been one of ups and downs, with Greg sparkling and Greg being injured.
"What we had to get across to Greg is that everything is not a pass. He's had so much success rushing the passer, but you have to defend the run to be a complete player," Nix reflected. "Since he has been back for bowl practices, he's been fine. He's worked hard and has made steady improvement since we have been here. He's now better against the run than he's been.
"The thing about Greg is that he can do what he wants to do. He has tremendous ability and talent. It all boils down to focus and consistency. When he's on, he is as good as it gets and I hope he is on against Oklahoma State. I have to feel he'll be motivated for this game because he'd be crazy not to know how much NFL money is on the line for him."
The quirky Hardy and Tyrone have had no personality conflicts despite Greg's eccentricties. Nix is dogmatic in his evaluation of that situation.
"I'll adjust to any personality if you can make enough plays," he laughed. "Greg has adjusted to us too. It helps when you have Marcus Tillman, Kentrell Lockett and Emmanuel Stephens too and when Greg wasn't on his game, we were fine and we could roll him in there and look for something big to happen. Greg has a tremendous upside. He's going to have a great future in the NFL. We'd just like to see him finish on a strong note in his last game as an Ole Miss Rebel.
"Greg has never done anything disrespectful or anything to disrupt the team. He just goes to his own beat sometimes, which is fine as long as he does it in a team structure."
Shifting gears a bit, after the Cotton Bowl, the only returning defensive end with any experience will be Kentrell Lockett, who has made great strides while under Nix and Tracy Rocker and now Terry Price.
"Kentrell comes to work every day and it shows in his consistent play. I really think he can be one of the top defensive ends in the conference next year if he continues to get stronger and work his body like he has been," Nix noted. "He's right on track.
"We have some holes to fill but we have a plan. We are stressing to defensive end recruits that they can come here and have a unique opportunity – a chance to get playing time early on a team that is already winning," Nix explained. "We are losing three of our top four, so there is an immediate chance for a young kid. It was great to get JUCO Wayne Dorsey, but we need more. We'll get some DEs and we will have a chance to compete. I feel good about that."
For now, however, the task at hand is not about recruiting. It's about Oklahoma State.
"Oklahoma State is multiple and they have some playmakers who are outstanding. They can run it, they can throw it, their quarterback can run and they do it all well," stated Nix. "We have our hands full."
The venue for the Cotton Bowl - shiny, new Cowboy Stadium - is not a concern for Nix. What's on the other side of the ball is.
"The new stadium is not a distraction to us. The field is the same size. When the ball is kicked off, it's just football. The team that plays with intensity and plays with fundamentals will come out with the win," Nix said. "We are enjoying the stadium and we are happy to be the first team to play a bowl game in that stadium, but it's still just football. It's a great venue. The best players in the world play there and we have an opportunity to showcase our talents on that same field. That's pretty special, but it's not a distraction that I can see.
"But I know what will be tough - Oklahoma State's offense. We better be ready to buckle up and get after them or they will make us look bad."
The approach the Rebels take will be important.
"It is very important for us to be ready for this game. Ninety percent of the game is mental to me. We need to be focused and send a message that we are a team still on the rise and a team that is going to continue to get better," he said. "I like what we have done so far this week. I think we are focused and will be ready. It could always be better, but I am pleased with where we are."
Tyrone has become a complete and effective defensive coordinator. He credits those he has worked with in the past and "the guy I'm working for now."
"Houston has been a blessing to me because he gave me a great opportunity and I like his approach," Tyrone stated. "We have a great relationship and I can talk to him about anything that is going on. That's not always there with some staffs. He takes to heart the decisions I make. To have a voice with the head coach and for him to believe in you and your decisions speaks volumes – more than money, more than anything."
Having said that, Nix would like to run his own program one day - which he will.
"I don't put a whole lot of emphasis on being a head coach, but I know I am being prepared by one of the best every day in Coach Nutt," Tyrone stated. "I am so honored to be with him and to watch him work. He gets it. He understands how to enjoy the game while working hard. He understands the importance of recruiting and he's fun to watch. My emphasis is on being the best defensive coordinator I can be, but if something presented itself, that would be great, but as long as I have good kids who want to be successful and I am working for good people, I'm happy. I've got that at Ole Miss.
"If I ever become a head coach, I will take a little bit from everyone I have played for and worked for that I respect. Wyman Townsend, my high school coach, taught me a lot and I respect the heck out of him," Nix allowed. "Coach P.W. Underwood is one of my biggest mentors. Coach Jeff Bower gave me my first opportunity to coach. I don't know if there was a better head coach in the country at one time than Steve Spurrier who I worked for and you know what I think about the guy I work for now. I think you mold yourself off everyone but ultimately, you are going to be yourself and try to learn as much as you can along the way."
One more question, coach. Don't know if this has been asked before or not, but can you stop the option?
Nix patiently answers. . . . again.
Nix asked same question
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