Ole Miss senior DB Tony Conner believes experience, communication key to limiting Dalvin Cook
OXFORD – Ole Miss senior defensive back (huskie) Tony Conner has seen all types of running backs in the Southeastern Conference, but he has yet to face Florida State’s Dalvin Cook who many believe will be a top contender for this year’s Heisman Trophy. Fortunately for the Rebels, Conner has played against many top-tier backs during his career–including last year’s Heisman winner.
In 2015, the Ole Miss defense faced some elite backs in the SEC such as Derrick Henry, Alabama’s Heisman Trophy winner; LSU’s Leonard Fournette; Auburn’s Jovon Robinson and Peyton Barber; Arkansas’ Alex Collins; and Florida’s Kelvin Taylor.
Henry rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown on 23 carries in the Crimson Tide’s 43-37 loss to Ole Miss. Robinson didn’t eclipse the 100-yard mark against the Rebels, gaining 91 yards on 18 carries in the 27-19 loss to Ole Miss. Barber rushed for just 17 yards on eight carries. In the Rebels’ 53-52 loss to the Razorbacks, Collins rushed for 108 yards on 17 carries.
Fournette, who was the favorite to win the Heisman Trophy last season and is seen by many as the likely winner of this year’s award, was held by the Rebels to 108 rushing yards on 25 carries. In Ole Miss’ dominating 38-17 win over the Tigers, Fournette averaged 4.3 yards per carry. Taylor didn’t eclipse the 100-yard mark in the Gators’ 38-10 win over the Rebels, gaining 83 yards on 27 carries.
Facing another elite running back
So now Ole Miss turns its attention Cook, another elite-level running back, who eclipsed the Seminoles’ single-season rushing record – surpassing Warrick Dunn’s 20-year record of 1,242 yards – by gaining 1,691 yards on the ground in 2015.
The junior tailback, a Miami, Florida native, broke FSU’s single-season rushing record in only the team’s ninth game last season against North Carolina State.
Cook also broke Larry Key’s single-season all-purpose yards record (1,821), racking up a total of 1,935 yards. Cook led the Atlantic Coast Conference in six offensive categories: rushing yards/game, rushing yards/carry, all-purpose yards, total rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and scoring.
Experience against the nation’s best
On Tuesday during interviews with the local media, Conner explained he feels his team’s experience against the best backs in the SEC will help the defense slow down Cook and force the Seminoles to air it out.
Looking back at last season’s opponents, Conner thought about where Cook fits amongst the backs he has already faced, comparing the 5-foot-11, 213-pound back to Henry (6-foot-3, 241 pounds) and Fournette (6-foot-1, 235 pounds). Of Cook, Conner said:
Tony Conner on Dalvin Cook
Communication is key
Conner has seen progression from everyone on defense this fall—and has also witnessed the defense give up some explosive plays, something head coach Hugh Freeze pointed as an issue following the conclusion of Sunday’s scrimmage. And as one would expect from a great leader like Conner, he isn’t afraid to take responsibility for the defense’s mishaps on blown coverages.
Since Conner has recovered from the knee injury he suffered last season against Alabama, safeties/special teams coordinator Corey Batoon has looked Conner’s way for leadership in a young secondary that has only a handful of reliable bodies available.
On the depth chart released Monday, Ole Miss looks to start sophomore Zedrick Woods at free safety and true freshman Myles Hartsfield at rover. Junior C.J. Hampton should also see plenty of time behind Woods. Freshmen Jarrion Street and Deontay Anderson have been receiving first and second reps during fall camp and could possibly play significant roles early on in the Ole Miss secondary.
Anderson has a fracture in his wrist he suffered in Sunday’s scrimmage and isn’t expected to miss anytime, though he may have to wear a cast.
Conner knows communication will be critical for the Ole Miss defense this season:
Tony Conner on communication
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.