Johnson returns from injury, Rebels look to improve

Posted on Oct 21 2015 - 8:05am by Brian Scott Rippee

The Ole Miss defense is struggling, especially on third down. Coming off of a performance at Memphis in which they gave up 481 yards of offense,  the Rebels allowed Memphis to convert 12 of 20 third down attempts. The “Landshark” defense is searching for answers.

Hugh Freeze noted on Monday that the defense missed 30 tackles on Saturday, a statistic that must improve going forward.

Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said focusing more on technique should help the Rebels improve in that area.

“I thought our tackling cost us five first downs on third down situations, which we were poor at,” Wommack said. “A little better technique, and a little better tackling, and working on tackling drills and technique with the corners, and we’ll get better.”

Wommack said the Rebels worked strictly on tackling drills for a portion of practice for the first time in a while.

“I feel like we are way better than that,” junior cornerback Tony Bridges said.  “We’ve got to execute on third downs and big plays.”

Third down has been the Achilles heel for the Ole Miss defense this season, and is the only major difference in the performance of the defense in 2014 compared to this year.

“It’s almost like it’s been a thorn in the side, and part of that is experience,” Wommack said. “ I don’t think our eyes are seeing things quite as quickly as they need to, and we’re  missing a bunch of tackles on third down.”

Wommack said the Rebels’ struggles on third down have almost become a psychological thing, joking that it was similar to the second baseman not being able to throw the ball to first base.

“It’s so crazy because our first and second down has been been good,” Wommack said. “If you get off of the field, then you’re not playing 90 plays, and you’re not as tired. We’ve got to get off the field on third down. That is  huge thing to us.”

“We are just going to have to break through it,” Bridges said.  “Going back on film, some of those third downs we gave up we weren’t running our feet and flying to the ball.”

The Rebels did get some encouraging injury news on Tuesday. Senior middle linebacker CJ Johnson practiced and took reps with the defense and was unrestricted, according to Wommack.

“It was just positive having him and there and his leadership running the defense,” Wommack said.

Johnson’s status for Saturday is still uncertain.

It won’t get any easier for the Rebels as they face a Texas A&M offense averaging 36 points per game led by sophomore quarterback Kyle Allen, who is completing just over 60 percent of his passes.

“They’ve got a quality team with good speed across the board,” Womack said. “They always have a good offensive line, and I think they do this year again, and a tough running back.”

Ole Miss and Texas A&M are set to kick off on Saturday at 6 p.m.