Sept 8, 2012; Oxford, MS, USA; UTEP Miners running back Autry Golden (29) carries the ball as Mississippi Rebels defenders tackle him at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Marvin Gentry-US PRESSWIRE
No matter what level of football they coach, all coaches can agree on one thing. You can not ask a player to be more athletic, you can not ask them to be taller, but you can ask them for one thing: to fight. That is exactly what the Ole Miss defense did against UTEP, they fought. The Rebels sacked quarterback Nick Lamaison five times and made a couple of huge stops inside the red zone to keep the Miner offense at bey.
The Miners started the 2nd quarter with a first down at the Ole Miss 7. A touchdown would tie the game up and give them a heap of momentum going forward. After minimal rushes of 2, 3, and 1 yards respectively, UTEP faced a tough decision on 4th and goal from the 1 yard line. Mike Price elected to roll the dice which proved to be a fatal decision as Gilbert Pena and Ralph Williams stuffed Lamaison in the backfield to give the ball back to the Rebels.
Late in the 3rd quarter, the defense was faced with another crucial possession as UTEP got the ball at the Rebel 8 yard line after a Randall Mackey fumble. Thanks to a couple of penalties, a Woodrow Hamilton sack, and a good swarm tackle by Dehendret Collins and Joel Kight, the Miners were backed up to the Ole Miss 20. If the Miners got into the end zone, it would have been a one-possession game, instead they found themselves down by 11 with time running out.
The defense answered the bell when it counted, something that has given them swagger and moxie. Despite allowing 274 through the air, the Miner were limited to just 37 yards rushing after exploding on the ground against Oklahoma the week before. There are a lot of positives to take away from the game to go along with a few things that need work going into the marquee matchup with Texas.
Defensive Line: The line accounted for 3.5 of the 5 sacks with production coming across the board. Ole Miss is tied for 2nd in the nation in sacks with 9.0 and a lot of that can be attributed to the strong play by the line.CJ Johnson continues to shine as he recorded four tackles including 0.5 tackles for loss. Uriah Grant played well up the middle and added four tackles and a TFL of his own. Those two did not even account for the best performance on the line. That honor belongs to Pena who recorded 2.0 TFL, including the big stop on 4th down in the 2nd quarter. The depth at this position may be the best on the team as eight different Rebels were in on at least one TFL. Even better, the line did not have a single penalty all game.
Linebackers: The linebackers played well limiting the outside as well as closing any gaps. Mike Marry had his usual production, leading the Rebels in tackles with eight. EJ Epperson had 1.5 TFL, but was flagged for a big personal foul penalty. Denzel Nkemdiche and Joel Kight each had solid, but not stellar games, recording three tackles apiece. The linebacker core appears to be a very top-heavy group, meaning players like Brishen Mathews and Ralph Williams will have to step up before SEC play begins. The dumb penalties will have to dissipate if they are going to match the line’s productivity.
Secondary: A group that is traditionally the kill spot for the defense has been lackluster so far this season. The Rebels rank 12th in the SEC and 81st in the country in pass defense. Trae Elston had a good game, recording four tackles and earning the SEC defensive play of the week. It is too bad that the hit that was advertised as the best in the SEC later resulted in a suspension for Elston. I’m sure SEC Commissioner Mike Silve will be happy to field your letters and house toilet-papering. The blitz schemes from the secondary has worked well at times and has allowed the remaining DB’s to get beat as well. After passing for just 48 yards against Oklahoma, UTEP passed for 274 against Ole Miss. UTEP was able to complete 13 passes for 10 yards or more, a number that will have to go down. Cody Prewitt notched an interception, a good sign going forward, but this unit will have to improve drastically.
The talent is there in the secondary to improve to a capable unit. The speed of Collins, Senquez Golson, and Wesley Pendleton are SEC-caliber, but they will have to stay with their guys. Elston is a big hitter, will be a great commodity this year and for years to come and he will be sorely missed this weekend. Overall, the run defense was superb and the pass rush by the front 7 was ideal for giving ball-hawks like Frank Crawford and Charles Sawyer a chance to make big plays. All-in-all you will take a game where you only allow 10 points. Dave Wommack’s squad showed a lot of promise this game and as they get more experience together, the chemistry will improve. One thing is for sure, the message of “Fight, fight, fight” is resonating in these guys’ heads, and that is all that you can ask for at this time.