Ole Miss Landshark defense preparing for matchup against Alabama
After Ole Miss defeated Fresno State 73-21 on Saturday afternoon, head coach Hugh Freeze said he was pleased with the overall performance of his team but noted his defense missed a couple of assignments that allowed the Bulldogs to bridge the gap on the scoreboard.
In the second quarter, Fresno State’s freshman quarterback Chason Virgil led the offense on a 10-play, 82-yard scoring drive that culminated with a 9-yard TD pass to junior wide receiver Josiah Blandin as the first half came to an end. This cut the Bulldogs’ deficit to 35-14 at halftime. On that drive, Da’Mari Scott’s 37-yard catch from Virgil on 2nd-and-6 from the Rebels’ 40 was one of the big plays to which Freeze referred.
Stopping the big plays important heading into game against the Tide
After the game, Freeze said he felt the defense needed to cut out a lot of the downfield plays. “I challenged them after halftime to set the tone early in the second half and they came out and did that,” he said. “They set it with a three-and-out fumbled punt, then created a turnover. I was really proud of how they took care of that. There is a lot to improve on.”
At the 12:55 mark of the third quarter, the Rebels’ defense did indeed pick up the pace when middle linebacker C.J. Johnson picked off Virgil and returned the football to Fresno State’s 20-yard line. Johnson, who missed Ole Miss’ season-opening 76-3 win over UT-Martin, feels that the defense is in a good place but can be better.
“We gave up a lot of big plays, and that’s something we pride ourselves in here on defense,” Johnson said on Saturday after the game. “We think if we don’t give up big plays, we don’t think there’s anyone that can beat us and I think that’s something we need to work on going into next week.”
Johnson’s words are encouraging, especially with No. 2 Alabama awaiting the 15th-ranked Rebels next weekend in Tuscaloosa, Alabama for what will be one of the biggest Southeastern Conference games in week three.
So far this season, Ole Miss looks to have every bit the elite defense it had last season. In the first two games, the Rebels have grabbed four interceptions and haven’t allowed their opponents to put up 400 yards of total offense.
The Ole Miss Landshark defense finished the 2014-15 regular season ranked number one in scoring defense–allowing only 13.8 points per game, ahead of Stanford (16) and LSU (16.4). The Rebels are on pace for a repeat of last season’s success, allowing only 12 points in their first two games this season.
Alabama (2-0) is currently fourth in the SEC in passing (576) and rushing yards (458); however, Ole Miss free safety Trae Elston, who picked off Virgil early in the third quarter for a 38-yard interception returned for a score, feels confident about the defense heading into the Alabama game.
Elston and Johnson on preparing for Bama
“We just got to line up and do our job,” said Elston, who has two interceptions returned for touchdowns this season. “If we line up and do our job, I think we will be the best defense in the country.” Elston also mentioned the defense’s communication will play a factor against the Crimson Tide.
Johnson echoed Elston’s comment about the defense heading into the team’s first test of the season:
We are ready. We are going to be ready; we are going to prepare. It’s going to be a knock down in T-Town and we can’t wait. — C.J. Johnson
The Rebels take on the No. 2 ranked Tide at 8:15 p.m. CT in Tuscaloosa. The game will be televised on ESPN.
(Feature image credit: Amanda Swain, The Rebel Walk)