Deane Leonard talks about pivotal play in Ole Miss’ Egg Bowl win
OXFORD, Miss. — For most people, a blackout is not a good thing, coming usually as the result of a severe blow to the head or perhaps from the overindulgence of an adult beverage. But for Ole Miss cornerback Deane Leonard, his particular lack of recall was the byproduct of an athlete acting instinctively.
And in the process, Leonard delivered his own kind of blow.
In last Saturday’s 31-24 Egg Bowl victory over Mississippi State, Leonard made what ended up being the pivotal play of the game. But he doesn’t remember exactly what happened because he was in a zone often described by many top athletes.
With the Bulldogs threatening to score and tie the game in the first quarter, Leonard and Tylan Knight turned the lights out on State’s scoring opportunity.
Mississippi State quarterback Will Rogers tossed a short pass to Austin Williams who appeared to be an instant from crossing the goal line. But Knight had other plans. The junior punched the ball free prior to it breaking the plane of the end zone and Leonard was there to pick it up.
From there, Leonard saw visions of the green grass of the Vaught-Hemingway turf as he ran the fumble back 84 yards.
HYDR! Tylan Knight with the forced fumble on the goal line and Deane Leonard returns it for 83 yards! pic.twitter.com/ummStoDPXs
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) November 28, 2020
‘The athlete turns on…’
“The thing is, when you make plays like that, I kind of just black out and it’s like the brain turns off and the athlete turns on,” Leonard explained. “And then I thought I could go all the way, but I just kind of ran out of gas at like the 50 and got caught from behind.”
The turnover set up the Rebels’ second touchdown of the game giving Ole Miss a 14-0 lead instead of a 7-7 tie.
“Once again, I just kind of blacked out and was just playing at that point,” Leonard said when asked if he saw Knight punch the ball loose.
“But it was a great play by him. Just a heads-up play on the one-yard line. It’s a 14-point swing. So that was huge for the game.”
Deane Leonard on Tylan Knight’s forced fumble
Mississippi State head coach Mike Leach agreed on the importance of the play. “That was a blow,” he said after the game. “That was a blow.”
Attitude is everything
It was not only a huge play in the game, but it was also a huge day for the Landsharks – the best of the season by all accounts. Leonard has a theory about the sudden improvement of the Rebels’ defense.
“I think a big thing is attitude,” Leonard explained.
“You know, when you have guys like Otis (Reese) and T.K. (Tylan Knight) out there, that attitude is infectious around the entire defense. I think that’s what helped stop the run and everything— attitude and having some pride about ourselves.”
DB Deane Leonard
Unexpected hiatus for the Rebels
But just as the Ole Miss defense is hitting on all cylinders; the Southeastern Conference tossed some sand into the gears.
This week’s game at LSU has been postponed giving the Rebels their third off week in just about a month’s time. That much time off can force the team to adjust mentally, putting even more emphasis on its intensity in practice.
Leonard isn’t concerned about the unplanned hiatus.
“Just having these games canceled….we kind of have to approach every week just trying to get better,” Leonard said.
“Today was a very competitive practice, and that’s good to see because, obviously with no game Saturday, a lot of people would be loafing around, but it was really competitive. You’ve got to take this time to get better; that’s all we can really do. We’ve just got to play the cards that were dealt to us.”
Hopefully, the dealer will give the Rebels a hand Ole Miss can play for two more weeks, specifically with makeup games at LSU and Texas A&M. Until then, Leonard and his teammates will be working on consistency.
“Yeah, that’s the thing,” Leonard said. “We’ve put some good stuff on film and a lot of bad stuff on film. And I think if we can just tap into those moments where we have a good defense, then we can apply that going forward with these next two weeks.”