Landsharks Look to Build Down the Stretch
OXFORD, Miss. — If Vaught-Hemingway Stadium were a home, one could say it is decorated in an eclectic fashion.
In the offensive room, the space is filled with fine antique Chippendale furnishings that could be worth millions of dollars.
The defensive room, however, at times seems to have been furnished by things from IKEA — with some assembly required. It may take a little work, but once all the pieces are put together the finished product will be sturdy and durable.
In its home Saturday, Ole Miss welcomed South Carolina, but unceremoniously made them head back east on the losing side of a 59-42 score. Although the Gamecocks did not win, they were treated hospitably as the Ole Miss defense allowed 548 yards, 318 of them on the ground. That is 8.2 yards per rush and 8.1 yards per play.
“We’ve made some progress, I thought on defense, but that was painful to watch,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said at his Monday press conference. “I don’t even see all the plays during the game because I am over there with the offense sometimes. But 8.2 yards a carry, that’s like little league stats man. This is the SEC, that should never happen.”
Sophomore A.J. Finley led the Landsharks with six tackles and an interception against the Gamecocks. He believes he knows a simple way to make some home improvements.
Former DB at St. Paul’s A.J. Finley with an impressive interception for the Ole Miss Rebels vs South Carolina.
— Pigskin Pete (@pigskinwnsp) November 15, 2020
“Honestly, I feel we have to make some plays when they present (themselves), Finley said. “I feel like getting off blocks is one of our biggest things. So, I feel that this week and next week we are going to have to get better on getting off blocks.”
This week’s game at Texas A&M has been postponed due to coronavirus concerns and that gives the Rebels some extra time to get ready to face Mississippi State Nov. 28 in Oxford.
Until then, the coaching staff will look for ways to renovate the defense.
“We’ve talked about it already,” Kiffin said of what he and his staff are doing to work on the defense during the off time.
“You’ve got to look at everything. You’ve got to look at, do we do too much? Because it’s not just guys missing tackles. We weren’t aligned at times, which is really bad. (South Carolina’s) a pretty easy team to line up to. They’re in I (formation)-right and trading the tight end—what we did like 25 years ago. That part was very discouraging, so we are looking at everything.”
Against South Carolina, there were some impressive individual defensive performances. Lakia Henry notched ten tackles, while Jon Haynes tallied nine and broke up a pass. Keidron Smith broke up four passes in the game. As a team, the Landsharks recorded five tackles for loss, two sacks and hurried the quarterback five times, twice by Finley.
The Mobile, Ala., product was not disappointed with the play of the front seven of the Ole Miss defense, but like Kiffin, he knows the entire unit can play better.
“I don’t feel like they’ve done terrible, there’s a few plays we got pressure on the quarterback,” Finley said. “I feel like they did a pretty good job so I feel we can improve on that still.”
Ole Miss has got to improve its defense. Currently the Rebels are 123rd in the nation in total defense, surrendering 545.6 yards per game along with 40.8 points per game.
Individually, Smith leads the team with 47 tackles, 29 of them solo stops. Jacquez Jones is second with 44 tackles, 21 of which are solo. MoMo Sanogo has 41 tackles, 21 solo. Sam Williams paces the way with three sacks and six tackles for loss totaling 21 yards. Henry and Ryder Anderson have five tackles behind the line of scrimmage each.
— TJ (@TJOxley1) November 15, 2020
Finley leads the team snatching three of the Rebels’ four interceptions this season.
Those numbers prove Ole Miss has the construction crew on site that can lay the foundation to return to what the Landsharks have been in the past. With Kiffin and co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge serving as foremen, there is time to make the Rebel defense a solid structure that will last quite a long time.
After all, the words are displayed right inside the stadium: “Home of the Ole Miss Rebels.”
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.