Ole Miss Review 2010
As we walked up to the quad on another gorgeous fall day, I couldn’t help thinking about the last time we’d walked this path. The last time we headed towards the Quad was, of course, for the Florida game – a sexy event made for prime time television. The Florida game was the end all, be all coronation ceremony for the SEC. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a more electric buzz as the Quad was overrun with overexcited tailgaters waiting in anticipation for the biggest game in college football…or so we thought anyway!
Two weeks later there was a totally different feel on the Quad. A Florida loss to LSU and a Bama loss to the Ole Ball Coach changed the Quad to a very casual scene. I know it was only Ole Miss but the Quad had changed from a frenzied Woodstock atmosphere to one more reminiscent of a James Taylor concert and you found yourself wondering if the team’s play would be reflective of the mood on campus. In fact, a buddy of mine ended up at the Innisfree bar where people with tickets decided to just hang out there in lieu of trekking over to the stadium for the late night kickoff. Meanwhile, over on the Quad, let’s just say that by the time many of the fans made it to the stadium, it was reminiscent to closing time at the local saloon – nobody was able to walk in a straight line and everyone was in need of a hotty, a toddy or, oh gosh, a potty. Oddly enough, that’s exactly how I would describe the OM game – it was like closing time at the local bar.
Stay with me here. It was late. We’d all been drinking for hours. It’d been a tough week, too. Last Saturday afternoon some little trampy girl (Garcia did have purdy hair) broke our hearts and we’ve been forlorn ever since. We’ve been so downtrodden that, honestly, we just needed to get lucky. We just needed to find someone, anyone, who had a pulse and could give us back our self esteem. She didn’t have to be Heidi Klum. She didn’t even have to be a barely conscious Lindsey Lohan. Nope, all she really needed to be was conscious and agreeable and this Saturday’s closing time would be a wild success compared to last Saturday’s heartache. So, I give you an Ole Miss victory. It wasn’t pretty. Granted it was better than a Rosanne Barr or Kathy Bates tryst but probably not quite up to even a Sandra Bernhard or Courtney Love romp. No, it was not exactly a “conquest” in any way, to be honest. But, in the end, it goes down as a notch in the belt and a positive that we can take to another bar on another Saturday and, with our newfound confidence, maybe snag ourselves a little Minka Kelly – after all, Jeter and the Yankees aren’t exactly tearing it up these days. Anyway, it was a win and, while it wasn’t pretty, at least defensively we can feel a little bit better going forward…on to the recap…
Paging Homer Smith! Paging…paging…hey, what’s Mike Shula doing these days? Hey, he didn’t post many wins but he still scored some TampaBay hottie dancing queen – maybe he DID know what he was doing! Let’s bring him back….
Ok, so it’s not quite bad enough to bring back Shula but at this point, most feel we only have two small issues – the passing game and the running game. Outside of that, it’s all good! I thought the whole “check with me” series at the beginning of the game was a nice wrinkle and, with the help of a roughing the kicker penalty, it resulted in a touchdown. But, the absence of the Pistol and very little usage of the Wildcat made me think that Saturday was a back to basics deal where we tried to re-establish the running game fundamentals. We also came out throwing deep but, after four bad misses, we tabled everything that was over 15 yards. Now, if you are a safety and you aren’t being threatened deep, you can take some chances. At times, both safeties were within 8 yards of the line of scrimmage and, oddly enough, we checked to a run. ESPN even showed an interesting conversation where Greg was trying to explain himself to a Coach Saban who really didn’t seem interested in what Greg had to say. Clearly something is not in sync on offense.
We did see one thing that was pretty brilliant. A subtle shift of receivers from the left side to the right side coupled with T-Rich changing sides resulted in wide open spaces and an 85 yard romp for a TD. Honestly, that was beautifully designed and executed. However, the focus continues to be on our running game (or lack thereof) so I took it upon myself to examine the runs (ha, that’s what happened to my stomach after the USC game) and the downfield passing from the OM game. Here’s what I found:
PARTING OFFENSIVE THOUGHTS
Listen, I’m just some dude with a keyboard so far be it for me to be Mr Wizard and go all Bill Walsh on you. But, from watching the game closely (thank you God for giving us Tivo and HD television), I found two things that commonly happened Saturday night. First, our interior line (C, Gs) whiffed on several assignments that left unoccupied defenders in our run lanes. Why did they whiff? Well, Joe Pendry can probably answer to that but my guess is that they make their initial line call on what they see in front of them. Then, the safety(s) walk down and present another defender who is unaccounted for. The blocking scheme takes on their assignments resulting in a double team on one guy and an unblocked defender – I’m not very good at math but 2 vs 1 and 0 vs 1 means perhaps that instead of double teaming we should be blocking the unblocked man. Additionally, I hate to be “that guy” but from watching the game it’s evident to me that Greg needs to find himself a Courtney Love over at the Houndstooth. Homeboy needs his mojo back b/c he doesn’t trust what he’s seeing on the field. Even when he has loads of time, he gets nervous, panics and then checks the ball down to a running back with two LBs flanking him. The fact that Greg missed some wide, wide open throws and should have had two balls picked off tells me he’s not confident in himself or his reads. If it’s not a bubble screen or a check down then he, along with the rest of us, is holding his breath and hoping for good things to happen. If you remember, he went thru the same things in the middle of the season last year but righted himself in the AU game and the SEC championship game. So, if you are one of the ones clamoring for a change at the QB position, it isn’t likely to happen. However, I will say Greg is a senior so I’d like for AJ to get some snaps just for experience sake alone.
Some days you feel like a Nutt. Some days you don’t. Two Saturdays ago, Spurrier felt like the king of the world as everything he tried on offense worked. This Saturday you almost had to feel for Nutt…hmm….bad choice of words. But, that’s probably what Masoli was doing every time he got rocked – he had to check and make sure his boys were still along for the ride. What a long, long night it was Masoli and for Houston, who definitely had his problems running the ball and throwing the ball. I guess that’s what you get when you mix a PO’d group of defenders and a mandate to be aggressive and physical. I know, I know, it’s only Ole Miss. Yes. But, did you know that coming into this game OM was #1 in the SEC in scoring offense and #2 in rushing offense? About the only thing they don’t do well is passing, where they are ninth in the conference standings. So, how did we defend them? All night long you saw Milliner, Barron, Lowery, Lester, Menzie and Dre flying up in run support on the edges. OM had to abandon their edge run game which forced them to run into the waiting arms of Marcel Dareus who dominated the line of scrimmage. So, Saban took away what OM did best and forced them to throw the ball 40 times (they only ran it 26 times, some of which were Masoli scrambles). Excellent game plan and a phenomenal job by the secondary of being physical in the run support game – something that’s been, at best, sporadic during the year.
PARTING DEFENSIVE THOUGHTS
I’m skipping the individual kudos this week due to the lengthy nature of the offensive recap…and also to acknowledge the total team (there’s no I in team!) defensive effort that was played against OM. THAT is the style of defense we are accustomed to seeing – an upfield attacking unit that is hell bent on stuffing the run. High fives go to Dareus, the entire secondary and to Donte Hightower. Donte lined up at DE and wreaked havoc. Personally, I’d be giddy about a pass rushing DL that featured Dareus & Gentry at DT and Upshaw & Hightower at DE but that’s just me being greedy for a pass rush. I will say that the way we slammed the door shut on the edge running game gives me a lot of hope looking ahead to that team down the road but, for now, I’ll just be happy with a win over UT and an off week to heal up the D.
I’m trying to think of a reason to not say this but I’ve got nuthin. That was the best special teams performance of the year, IMO. Fine, you be the guy to point out an earlier game that was better but I sure can’t think of one! Of course the punt returns were phenomenal – appropriately Maze reminded me of a former #4 (Prothro) who was the grand marshal of the homecoming parade hours earlier. I like to say in marriage, I outkicked my coverage by marrying my lovely bride. For me, outkicking my coverage is a very, very good thing. For OM? Not so good. Props go to Fulton and Dre who handled the gunners with relative ease. That, along with the long punts, created huge areas for Maze to run thru easily. Also, I liked what I saw out of Cade Foster. Sure, Cade’s 49 yarder wouldn’t have been good from 50 (or 49.5) but he KILLED the 44 yarder! And, he got another touchback, so that’s solid. Mandell, with fortuitous bounces, even averaged 38.2 yards but, more importantly, didn’t shank his driver. Chris Underwood even got us a first down by blocking his man into Shelley, forcing a roughing the kicker call – now that’s clever! But, honestly, you begin and end with Maze and his 125 punt return yards.
I know this is Cheesy but God bless Wisconsin and Badgers everywhere! JUMP AROUND! What a great scene that was at Camp Randall Stadium where Wisky disposed of OhioState’s dreams of being an embarrassed loser of yet another national championship game! Meanwhile, this may be Corny but the Huskers got shucked by a big corn fed Bevo, and what he left behind in big corn patties pretty much describes where Nebraska’s chances for a title went to.
So, two down, three to go. Oregon, Oklahoma and, to a much lesser degree, Michigan State continue to have undefeated seasons and, as long as they are undefeated, that will make it difficult for us to get into Glendale. Here are their remaining schedules:
Oregon: UCLA, @USC, Washington, @Cal, Arizona, @ OregonState
Oklahoma: @Missouri, Colorado, @Texas A&M, Texas Tech, @Baylor, @OSU, Big 12 Championship
MichiganState: @Northwestern, @Iowa, Minnesota, Purdue, @PennState
I still contend that the best thing for Alabama is for LSU and AU to win all of their remaining games. Yes, I know they play each other this Saturday smarty, but, outside of that game, they both need to win them all. The higher they are ranked, the better a victory over them looks because this year, there is no Florida waiting at the end of the SEC West rainbow. Instead of a pot of gold, the East will give us a pot of (insert unpleasant foulness here) so our style points will have to be earned prior to the championship game.
But, honestly, it’s about us right now. With UT on the horizon, I just don’t see St Nick embarrassing the mathematically challenged Dooley. Dooley has his own list of issues and, with him being a Saban disciple, running up the score simply won’t happen Saturday night. Basically, going back to the earlier analogy, we are hoping to hook up with maybe a six or a seven by the end of the night. It might be a little prettier than Ole Miss but it won’t be gorgeous by any means. But, we should all have a smile on our face as we look forward to the off week and a chance to re-energize for the home stretch.