I spoke with Ricardo Hurley today and he is still not 100%. He told me he will not be 100% until the season is over and that the ankle injury has continued to nag and frustrate him. He did guesstimate that he is around 90% however, and he said that is as good as a 100% to a lot of people when it comes to his ability. He is looking forward to playing in Oxford this weekend.
Moe Thompson may be a nice, clean-cut All-American kid off the field, but on the field he turns nasty. Over the last three weeks he has gotten better and better, particularly as he strives to put pressure on opposing QBs no matter what anyone else does. The reason I bring this up is that he told me something today that is worthwhile, IMHO. He said, "We are coming together. It is happening this week. We're all starting to get on the same page Mr. Perry and I think you will see that against Ole Miss."
When I asked him if he was just saying that to make me feel better he was adamant that he was not. He continued to tell me that he really felt that this defensive line is coming together, and that they are very capable of having a breakout game this weekend the way things were going in practice.
All of this is noteworthy because Moe has told me for three consecutive weeks prior to this that he was not completely happy with the intensity or togetherness of this defense. He pulls no punches, and he tells no lies. You get what you ask for when you are talking to Moe, and you may not always like it even though he says it with that smile of his on his face. So today, as he was telling me all of this — and looking me dead in the eye while doing so — it gave me a little extra confidence boost about our chances heading into this game Saturday.
Here is another quote from Moe: "The togetherness is there, it wasn't so much how it was last year because we had problems in that department then, but the togetherness is there this year ... we just believe in ourselves right now, we're practicing hard. Everything is up to another level. That's the big difference from last year; we were never able to achieve this kind of togetherness. But it's never been like that this year ... and the small problem we had has been solved this week, I really believe that."
I pressed him on this year's team and why there has not been more pressure put on opposing QBs to date.
"The front four has to have 110% effort every game, every play," he said. " The defensive line has to get after it every play. Up until this week we just didn't have that. Up until now there has been maybe one or two in the backfield and we have to do better than that."
But as I wrote earlier, he truly believes it is going to happen this week. He must see something that gives him promise.
Moe added, and I really like this, "I try to hit every quarterback and get after them — just go hard every play. But I would like to put some more quarterbacks ... (pause) get to some more quarterbacks and put them down. I like doing that."
When I asked him if the new defense should not be producing more sacks he answered, "The 4-3 defense we are running should have a greater effect because we have more schemes to run right now and more looks we can give opponents' offenses. That just goes back to getting the front four to where we are all coming hard on every play, which I think you are going to see happen this week for the first time really. We've been pretty beat up but everyone seems to be healthy this week and that is going to help."
BTW, George Gause says he is 100% and it was actually his shin that was hurting when he left the game after a chop block by Vandy. I asked him if he would bookend Moe this weekend and he said yes, and that he is really looking forward to this game.
Anyway, while I had Moe Thompson, I asked him about a couple of other things ... like playing inside from time to time which we expect him to do some this weekend against Ole Miss. He said, "Inside, it's alright. I'm having to get the hang of it - learning plays and things like that. Three weeks ago against Kentucky was my first game there, but I am learning it OK."
That statement made me believe that he prefers being outside ... but he'll play inside — anything to help get more pressure on our opponents' backfields.
On another note, all of the linebackers I spoke with today — and I spoke with Lawrence, Laury and Hurley — relayed an air of confidence about the gameplan they have been working on to offset Manning's over-the-middle short passes. They told me a few little things that really made the light come on over my head — but I am sworn to secrecy, especially knowing that Ole Miss subscribers might be reading this. Again, I do believe our defense might be primed for a big showing in this game. Lance Laury will start at Sam. Marcus Lawrence at Mike. Jeremiah Garrison at Will. Hurley will back up at Will. Lambert at Mike and Rod Thomas at Sam. We need these guys to have their best game so far if we are going to beat Ole Miss.
Eli Manning and his offense has scored on their opening drives in the past six consecutive games. That is a streak that our defense is aware of and they want to be the ones to break it. If they do so, it might cause early doubts for Ole Miss in this game, where the mental aspects of the game itself are going to be so important — as in the first one that draws blood sort of thing. Ole Miss is riding a big confidence wave right now for a lot of reasons. They are forcing other teams into a lot of turnovers and they are scoring a very high percentage of points in the red zone. Stopping them on their opening drive might just give Ole Miss a reason to step back and take pause if we are able to pull it off.
Speaking of turnovers I spoke with several of my counterparts today about their teams having already played and lost in Oxford. One overriding theme from all of them was about the Rebels' AstroPlay turf. Seems that everyone has been sliping and sliding around on that turf — everyone except the Ole Miss players that is. Maybe that's why Coach Holtz has quietly mentioned the fact that our staff is trying to decide which shoes to wear Saturday. Ole Miss has picked up a number of turnovers and converted them into points after opposing running backs, quarterbacks and wide receivers have slipped and fell without being touched. Rest assured that our coaches are covering every little detail and our equipment manager is making calls to other equipment managers that have already experienced the difficulting of outfitting their teams for that turf. Skip mentioned it again today as a matter of fact. He noted that Arkansas had major problems with the turf. FWIW, Alabama had two interceptions turned into touchdowns — both caused by the turf. One was a wide receiver slipping when making his turn and the other was the 'Bama QB slipping while setting up to deliver his pass. This turf problem for opposing teams in Oxford is for real and it is playing like having a twelfth man on the field for the Rebels right now.
Another thing I was told about Manning almost to a man is that he is the most accurate passer we will see this year. Kirk McNair from 'Bama Mag told me that Manning's accuracy is uncanny.
Syvelle Newton is not a Rapper. He wants to make that clear. He does like to sing but he likes to sing gospel music, church music, things like that. Not rap, as is being tossed around these days.
Darrel Shropshire's right knee is still a little banged up but no one is making major mention of it so it must not be a big problem. He has had to have ice on it a lot lately and it is still a little sore, but he says by game time he does not feel any pain.
Demetris says the bruised elbow happened on the stiff arm against Vandy, but in retrospect the groin didn't give him as much trouble as he thought it would last Saturday. He did say that he feels like he is 100% heading into this Ole Miss game.
Stanley Doughty's best bench press since joining the team is 440. We thought it was 500 since he was supposed to be doing that in high school, but in fact his best bench is 440. Remember, he is still an 18 year old freshman. While on the subject Doughty has lost 30 pounds, is down to 300, and is beginning to show his stuff in practices. The coaches want him to increase his intensity and take the game a little more seriously, but that will come with age and maturity.
Our coaches may very well try to sign eight (count 'em, eight!) offensive linemen in this next class. More on that later, but it is notable since up until now we were under the impression that we would only sign six offensive linemen based on our earlier information.
If a good fullback is out there to be had, our coaches will go after him. Right now the good fullbacks are few and far between this year. Which brings up another point of note. A couple of adjustments have been made this week and it is totally possible that we may see something along the lines of an 'elephant backfield' from time to time at Ole Miss. No further details are available, but it is something I will be watching for based on the hints thrown my way. We have needed a lead blocker in our backfield at times and the coaches obviously are aware of that.
As I told everyone in the chat Tuesday night, and as Lou Holtz confirmed on his show Wednesday night, Kenny Irons is back in the hunt for more playing time. All I can say is this. I was on the sidelines for the second half of the JV game Sunday, and when the action is up close and personal you can really get a feel for how a player is putting out, effort-wise. Irons is a tough runner, he does not go down on the first lick, ever. George Rogers loves the young man's intensity. When Kenny gets his chance Saturday, let's keep our fingers crossed for him especially when they throw the flare into the flats ... he needs to catch the ball and do something with it out there. Other than that, Kenny Irons will give us 110% rushing the ball if given the chance. And the more capable and fresh running backs you can throw at a team like Ole Miss, the better off you are. All four of our running backs made the travel squad. The Ole Miss linebackers are good, and they really support the run defense for the Rebels. This game has the potential to be one of those smash-mouthed inside games between our offense and their defense.
We may see the varsity in the garnet pants before this season is out. If it happens, they are going to have to earn it. These next two games may earn it for them ... and they DO want to wear the garnet pants this season. Take that for what it is worth.
I was told today that Dondrial Pinkins is having his best week so far in practice and that he really looks sharp and aware of his surroundings despite holding him out of contact today with the shoulder bruise. This is important because the general consensus of those close to things and in-the-know is that Dondrial is due to explode any game now. He is really loose and appears to be gaining a lot of confidence and having a good time. Just listening to him speak, and watching him carry himself, it is apparent that he is more comfortable than in the past. Hopefully this will spell good things for us this weekend. The shoulder bruise is not something that should adversely affect Dondrial's performance Saturday — he should be completely healed in time for the game. They held him out of today's practice as a precautionary measure.
Rod Wilson told me Monday that he was good to go and ready to play. Evidently that was not the case as they announced today that he is not ready to play and will not travel to Oxford. Jamacia Jackson is back and 100% and and ready to do some 'safety blitzing.' Which brings up a good point ... get ready for some gambling from our defense this weekend. It is going to have some of you on the edge of your seats at times. If we get burned once or twice do not panic. It's all part of the game and forcing Ole Miss to take note of our different packages that can be adjusted too late for Ole Miss to audible out of if properly executed.
If you match our personnel position by position against Ole Miss, we are clearly superior. But they have beaten other personnel superior teams already this season ... especially on their home field. That is why this game will come down to who makes the least number of mistakes. Not just when it comes to turnovers and penalties, but also in the game of execution. The reason I mention this is because from what I am being told, the light has come on for this very young team of ours in the execution department. Most of them anyway. It's good that this is happening to so many of them at the same time because if they can make it happen, proper execution is what makes a good football team. It is difficult to describe or explain the problems I have been hearing about ... our coaches have been having in that execution arena thus far this season but suffice it to say it has been a major problem. The talent is there, but the maturity, intensity and execution has been lacking at key times. The maturity is taken care of with each passing contest. The intensity is taken care of once they are comfortable and totally understanding of what they are being asked to accomplish ... not always an easy thing to do with very young players. And the execution is being taken care of with repetitions, when it becomes second nature and muscle memory begins to take over. To date they have been 'thinking too much' rather than following their instincts and reacting naturally. According to what I am hearing, it appears that it may all be about to come together for this team of young Gamecocks.
That was not an argument that Matthew Thomas and Coach Skip Holtz were having this past weekend on the sidelines of the Vandy game. That was both of them firing each other up so to speak. Matthew is an intense young man and Skip has evidently learned how to channel that intensity and push Matt's good buttons. He's due for an explosion as well and he has been smiling a lot more than usual after practices.
On a final note, this game is extremely important for both South Carolina and Ole Miss. Ole Miss needs to win this game to stay in the hunt for the Western Crown. SC needs to win this one to become bowl eligible Saturday and put that little added extra pressure behind them after the collapse last season. I just wanted you to know that every single one of our players are very aware of that and seem intent on getting the bowl eligibility question out of the way and moving on from there. None of them are thinking or are contemplating a minor six win bowl ... to a man they intend to compile a record in the next four games that will send them to a nice New Year's Day bowl. They are very aware of what they need to accomplish beginning this Saturday.
- Russ Perry
Other Stat Notes Of Interest: Source - OleMissSports.com
Ole Miss is looking for its fifth straight win to match its longest winning streak since winning five-in-a-row back in 2001 ... Off to their first 4-0 SEC start since 1970, the Rebels are looking for their first 5-0 conference start since winning their last SEC crown in 1963 ... A win Saturday over South Carolina would give Ole Miss its first three-game sweep of the SEC East since divisional play began in 1992 ... Junior PK Jonathan Nichols (Greenwood, Miss.) needs five points to tie the Ole Miss season scoring record and eight to tie school's career scoring mark ... Senior WR Chris Collins (Gloster, Miss.) is 26 receiving yards shy of the Ole Miss career record of 2,274 set by Willie Green (1989-1992).
Saturday is another opportunity for Lou Holtz to even his record at South Carolina. He is now 27-28 since taking over the head coaching job at USC which is remarkable considering that he and his staff took over a program that had gone 1-10 the year before and went 0-11 during his first year in Columbia. This game will also give the Gamecocks an opportunity to even their all-time series record against Ole Miss both overall and when they play in Oxford.
Saturday's game will be the 12th meeting between Ole Miss and South Carolina dating back to 1947, and the third since the Gamecocks joined the SEC in 1992. The Rebels lead the series 6-5 and have won three straight dating back to a 20-13 win at Columbia in 1981. Ole Miss won the two SEC meetings 30-28 at Oxford in 1998 and 36-10 in 1999 at Columbia. The Rebels are 2-1 versus the Gamecocks in Oxford.
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