NOTEBOOK: Rebels’ defense draws mixed reviews
It was a day of mixed reviews for the Rebel defense in its 73-21 win over Fresno State. After holding UT-Martin to three points a week ago, Fresno State managed three touchdowns on Ole Miss Saturday.
The Bulldogs had 316 total yards. It was a balanced attack for Fresno State with 163 yards rushing and 153 yards passing. The starters received high marks from defensive coordinator Dave Wommack, but he was less pleased with the play he saw from the backups and beyond.
“I’m proud of our ones. I think our ones are going to be pretty good,” Wommack said. “I was a little disappointed in how we handled some things with twos at the safety and linebacker position. We’ve got to step up when we get into the SEC play. If we’ll do that, then we’ll have a pretty good football team.”
Senior C.J. Johnson made his season debut after sitting out the UT-Martin game as punishment for violating team rules. In his first game at the middle linebacker position, Johnson had two tackles and one interception that went for 70 yards on the return. He was tackled just outside the 5-yard line. Head coach Hugh Freeze joked that Johnson “was old and ran out of gas.”
“I did,” Johnson said. “It felt good to be back out there with the team. After the first series, I was a little nervous a little bit. I felt like I played pretty comfortable.”
The Laremy Tunsil saga continued on Saturday before the game. It was more of the same in terms of an update, but Freeze and Ole Miss athletic director Ross Bjork released a joint statement divulging a little more information.
“We have been preparing as if Laremy Tunsil will not play and that status will continue until the matter is resolved,” the statement read.
The statement went on to say Tunsil accepted the university’s offer of separate legal counsel, which has “experience in similar matters.” The school is paying for the counsel as permitted by NCAA rules.
Tunsil has missed the first two games due to an investigation into an eligibility matter. What the investigation involves has not been revealed, but the decision to keep Tunsil out of games isn’t related to anything involving the football staff, acccording to the statement.
The Ole Miss defense took a hit heading into next week’s marquee matchup against No. 2 Alabama. Cornerback Tee Shepard was ejected from the game after he was flagged for targeting a defenseless receiver. Shepard hit Fresno State receiver Keyan Williams midway through the third quarter.
Per NCAA rule, since the foul occurred in the second half, Shepard must miss the first half of next week’s game against Alabama.
Center Robert Conyers was held out of the second half with a sprained knee ligament, though Freeze said he could have returned if needed … Trae Elston had his second interception returned for a touchdown in as many games … Will Gleeson punted only one time for 34 yards. He has only had to punt three times total this season.