Column: Where is Ole Miss’ Landshark Defense?

Posted on Sep 16 2018 - 12:55pm by John Macon Gillespie

On Oct. 15, 2011, Trent Richardson and the No. 2 Alabama Crimson Tide rolled into Oxford to face the 2-3 Ole Miss Rebels.

Ole Miss optimism after an early Jeff Scott touchdown quickly turned to sickness and even disgust as Richardson bowled over the Rebels for 183 yards and four touchdowns. The Crimson Tide went back to Tuscaloosa with a 52-7 win and would go on to win the national championship.

Back then, that was the lowest of lows. Ole Miss would go on to lose each of its remaining seven games, including a homecoming loss to Louisiana Tech and a 52-3 shellacking against LSU.

Then, Ole Miss cleaned house. A new athletic director, a new head coach and an entirely new staff walked into Oxford. Pretty soon, the Rebels were ranked again. Then they beat Alabama, beat Alabama again, and won the Sugar Bowl.

Those days are long gone.

Running back Scottie Phillips tries to escape Alabama defense on Saturday. Photo by Christian Johnson

During the rollercoaster that was Ole Miss’ 2017 season, the Rebels lost to the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa 66-3 in one of the worst defensive showings an Ole Miss team has ever had.

A 63-point blowout against the Tide is as low as it can get, right? Surely things would look up and be more promising the next time the Rebels took on mighty Alabama. Wrong.

A disoriented and overmatched defense was exposed for what it was on Saturday night, and there’s no way to slice this performance positively. SEC teams aren’t supposed to lose to any opponent by a 62-7 score, even if it is Alabama.

How did we get here? Wasn’t it just yesterday that the defense was the strong point of the gridiron Rebels?

Call it a lack of recruiting. Call it a lack of coaching. Call it a lack of talent. Call it whatever you want.

The point stands: no SEC team should ever, ever be blown out by 55 points.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown attempts a catch during Saturday’s game versus Alabama. Alabama won the game 62-7. Photo by Christian Johnson

Ole Miss being picked apart by SEC teams hasn’t happened since the Houston Nutt era, and I’m not saying that this is Matt Luke’s fault. I don’t believe it is. Luke hasn’t had enough time to establish his own legacy of recruiting here at Ole Miss.

But where does the buck stop? Where does this “Landshark” defense show that it is deserving of its moniker?

Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff preaches about eye level, knowing your assignment and playing with energy. None of those three factors were on display Saturday night against the Tide.

I’m not a part of the team, so I can’t for sure say what the problem is, but something has to change. Whether it’s on the coaching staff or just waiting until some semblance of help comes from the recruiting trail, something has to change.

I was optimistic about this defense after the season-opener against Texas Tech. Then, last week hit. Then, Saturday hit. With performances like this, Ole Miss cannot go far in 2018, bowl ban or not.

Sure, Alabama has a legitimate argument when it comes to being the best team in the nation, but when you’re in the SEC, that shouldn’t matter. A loss to a talented team is fine. Being blown out like you’re a mid-major program is not.

This Ole Miss defense has given up 1,631 yards of total offense in three games. The offense is good, despite not playing well on Saturday, but this defense might be worse than anyone feared, and that’s saying something.

This isn’t on the level of an SEC defense. This isn’t on the level of some Group of Five defenses (Arkansas State was outscored 57-7 by Alabama last week).

If something isn’t changed quickly, this has the makings of a long, long season.