OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss inside linebacker coach Jeff Koonz knows what a huge loss it was for the Rebels when MoMo Sanogo went down with a broken fibula and torn ligaments in the win over Arkansas, but he has worked hard to prepare his players for the “next man up” mentality and it seems to be working.
“Disappointing, hate it for MoMo,” Coach Koonz said after Tuesday’s practice when asked about Sanogo’s injury.
“The kid has worked his butt off since I got here. Since the day I got here. he’s been a tremendous team leader, leader in the room, you know. It’s really unfortunate and I’m really strongly encouraged with his optimism and his positivity in a really rough time for him. It’s been great to see that the linebackers rally around him and the whole team rally around him right now. And I’m excited to see him progress and work through his recovery.”
ILB Coach Jeff Koonz on MoMo Sanogo
During fall camp, Coach Koonz made it a priority for all his inside linebackers to know their assignments and have the ability to be vocal on the field. And when MoMo was injured in the early moments of the game against the Razorbacks, his teammates were ready to step up and help fill the void.
“A young man goes down on the third play of the game, fourth play the game, and, you know, guys step up because they prepared that way,” Koonz began.
“I think that your job as a coach is to make sure that whenever something like that happens, the next guy is very fully capable and there is no drop off in production, in adjustments, in technique. And I think we saw glimpses of that Saturday night,” Koonz added.
Jacquez Jones steps up
It was obvious the next men up were indeed “very fully capable,” as linebackers Jacquez Jones and Donta Evans performed at a high level in the important SEC contest against Arkansas.
Jones, a 6-foot, 232-pound sophomore out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, not only responded to his team’s need—he did so in a big way, leading the team with 9 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a half sack on the night.
Coach Koonz was asked how Jones, who was named to last season’s SEC All-Freshman Team, was able to come in and make such a big impact after he didn’t get as many reps against the Tigers in the Rebels’ season opener.
“Technique, eye control,” Coach Koonz said quickly. “Jacquez relied on his fundamentals. He got lined up. He looked at the right thing, and the play just presented itself within his job.
“To give Jacquez a lot of credit, he made some plays in space that are not easy plays on good players. So I was very happy with how he came in and produced. But as far as anything extraordinary, he did his job. And that’s what I was most excited about.”
Coach Koonz on Jacquez Jones’ play vs. Arkansas
Vocal leaders on the field
Even without the vocal presence of Sanogo on the field, Koonz believes his other linebackers are fully capable of taking over the role of getting players lined up correctly.
“Obviously MoMo is a very animated, vocal young man, but Willie Hibbler makes checks,” Koonz said. “Jacquez makes checks. Lakia (Henry) makes checks. Both guys have the responsibility of making adjustments, not just the “Mike” linebacker,” he continued.
“So I think that also adds to the ability to make those calls, make those adjustments when one person may go down. You still are holding everybody accountable. And we missed a couple of those even on Saturday night and both guys are held accountable for that. So, again, I think that’s all part of the planning, part of the procedure, so to speak, during the week, is to make sure that’s what happens if somebody does go down,” Koonz explained.
The other starting inside linebacker for the Rebels this season has been JUCO transfer Lakia Henry. Henry, at 6-foot, 235-pounds, led Ole Miss in tackles against Memphis with seven and then notched three tackles and one tackle for loss against Arkansas.
“I’ve been very pleased with his progress since the day he’s gotten on campus. He’s another example of a guy that is scratching the surface of what he can do,” Coach Koonz said of Henry.
Koonz spoke specifically to an instance where Henry impressed him in the game against the Hogs.
“You know, the other night, you saw he had a couple of missed tackles that he didn’t have the first week. Now, what was encouraging was there was a tackle that he missed in the first half on No. 5, that he had the exact same call, the exact same defense, the exact same run-through in the fourth quarter—and he squared him up,” Koonz recalled.
“He made the play. It was a tackle for loss on the exact same play, so that just shows you glimpses of, ‘Okay, that’s what he’s talking about. I got to come under control. I got to get my eyes in the right place. I got to anticipate this is the blocking scheme against this pressure. OK. This is the play he’s talking about,’” Koonz continued.
“Lakia is going to have a lot of good things in front of him,” he added.
Next man up
Although the Rebels lost veteran linebacker Sanogo against the Razorbacks, they have to be encouraged to see young players like Jacquez Jones step up when asked.
And even though Sanogo is sidelined for the next ten weeks or so, expect his presence to be felt every day during practice, in the locker room, and on the sidelines during games.
He’ll be there cheering the next man up.
(Video: Land Teller, The Rebel Walk)