Run fits still an issue for Ole Miss’ defense

Published 6:53 pm Monday, October 17, 2016

It is no secret. Ole Miss has struggled with run defense.

That deficiency will be tested again on Saturday when Ole Miss travels to LSU and could possibly face arguably the best running back in the Southeastern Conference if not the country in Leonard Fournette.

In their first six games, the Rebels have allowed opposing teams to run for 1,292 yards. That is 215.3 yards per game and nearly 5 yards per rush. Last Saturday, Arkansas ran for an even 200 yards. Two weeks before that, Ole Miss allowed Memphis to rack up 119 yards on the ground.

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The biggest focus for Ole Miss’ defense in practice has been working on their run fits and making sure linemen and linebackers are hitting their marks in the trenches.

“There were times where it was done correctly and we had success,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said during Monday’s press conference. “There’s other times that it wasn’t, and there’s other times that it wasn’t necessarily linebackers’ fits. There’s other times where we wished we had a different call. There’s other times we didn’t fit the gaps exactly right. It’s a combination of all those things”

Freeze is making a change in responsibilities among his defensive coaching staff this week in hopes to jumpstart things.

Graduate assistant Christian Robinson will be responsible for handling the Mike linebackers while defensive coordinator Dave Wommack will focus exclusively on the stinger, or outside, position. Robinson, a former SEC linebacker at Georgia, is in his second season as a defensive graduate assistant who has worked primarily with the defensive line.

“We’re going to try to put another set of eyes on one position and try and help them improve this week,” Freeze said. “Because this week, it’ll be vitally important.”

Not just about Coach O

Since former Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron was promoted to interim coach at LSU after Les Miles was fired on Sept. 25, the storyline has been one thing and one thing only: Coach O back as a head coach facing his former team.

Much has been said, written and even tweeted about it since Saturday night when both teams finished up with their opponents and could turn their focus to this week’s showdown in Death Valley.

Orgeron has not shied away from answering questions regarding his past and his tenure as Ole Miss’ head coach, which has made the focus for LSU all about that more than the game taking place at Tiger Stadium. For Ole Miss, or at least some of the players, the focus is bigger than one man who used to roam the home sideline at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

“(Orgeron’s) trying to make it a talking point, but I think we’re just ready to play it,” offensive lineman Sean Rawlings said. “We’re always ready for LSU no matter who’s coaching because that’s a really important game to a lot of us and a lot of the Ole Miss fan base. That’s the thing that motivates us most. It’s not who’s coaching or where he used to coach.”

Injury update

Freeze noted that there were not any significant injuries coming out of the Arkansas game.

Evan Engram has a sore shoulder after landing hard when trying to snag a ball in the end zone but was at practice on Sunday. Defensive lineman D.J. Jones suffered a bruised elbow, causing him to miss most of the second half, but an MRI was negative and he also attended practice on Sunday. Running back De’Vaughn Pennamon dressed out in Fayetteville but did not play. Freeze expects the freshman to be ready for LSU.