In the moments after Ole Miss’ narrow 34-30 defeat to Arkansas in Fayetteville on Saturday night, Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack spoke with a sense of disappointment and frustration about just how small the margin between a win and a loss in the SEC is.
“Its disappointing. We’ve got to learn how to get better each week as a player and as a coach,” Wommack said after the game. “If you don’t do that in this league, anything can happen. One play makes a difference in games like this, and we have to find a way to overcome that as players and coaches.“
Ole Miss has struggled giving up the big play at times this year, and it gave up two early on in the game last Saturday night, like on the game’s first score, when Austin Allen took advantage of poor technique in the Rebels’ secondary to find Dominique Reed for a 51-yard touchdown strike. Or the opening play on the Razorbacks’ next scoring drive, when Rawleigh Williams III bounced a run outside for 53 to kickstart what would result in another touchdown.
“It was two individuals deciding to play a different technique than we worked on all week,” Head Coach Hugh Freeze said. “Played outside leverage instead of playing inside.”
Ole Miss has a younger defense, especially on the back end in the secondary. The coaching staff has talked about fits and eyes being in the right place and other fundamentals that have seemingly been the crux of the Rebels giving up big plays.
“It’s mainly because our eyes are in the wrong spot most of the time that we give up explosive plays,” Marquis Haynes said. “Sometimes we try to go to the sideline and fix it. When we fix it, the other team goes to their sideline and counters what we are doing.”
When Ole Miss arrived at a well-timed bye week, one of the things Freeze enjoyed was the fact that it gave them time to focus on themselves and some of the fundamentals rather than having to scheme for another opponent.
“Last week was frustrating. We talked about chances to make plays that have a direct outcome on the game that we failed to make, or making a call that would have been better in a certain situation,” Freeze said. “We all have those, and we all have to improve ourselves this week as we get ready for an LSU team that is super talented.”
It’s improved some, and the defense held its own in the second half in Fayetteville, giving Ole Miss a chance to win the game. But those things will also need to be sured up, especially with Ole Miss navigating its way through the middle of its SEC schedule.
“I think it goes to effort. We want to give so much effort that we lose focus on what is ahead of us. We just have to be smarter,” Haynes said.
Ole Miss is doing its best to adapt. Freeze said on Monday that graduate assistant Christian Robinson will now coach the Mike linebackers and Wommack will focus on the Stingers.
A trip to Death Valley looms this weekend where the defense will face a fierce ground game. All eyes will need to be in the right place, and techniques will need to be followed if it hopes to neutralize the likes of Leonard Fournette and Derrius Guice. LSU has a great deal of speed in general, and as quickly as the game goes, Haynes and the Ole Miss defense will need to correct the mental mistakes and adapt.
“Most of the time because if the team is going fast, we are out there thinking real fast about what we have to do,” Haynes said. “What’s the next play? and stuff like that can sometimes lead us out of our place.”