Ole Miss’ attention to problem areas draws mixed reviews in opening win

Published 12:24 am Sunday, September 3, 2017

Ole Miss’ attempt at a turnaround from last fall means improving the problems areas that plagued the Rebels throughout their first losing season since 2011.

The Rebels’ first chance to start doing that yielded mixed results Saturday in a 47-27 win over South Alabama at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

Most of those issues were on defense as the unit finished last season ranked 120th nationally against the run and 97th in sacks while limiting explosive plays in the passing game was a focus throughout the spring and training camp.

In its first game under first-year defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, the Rebels consistently got multiple defenders to the ball yet still allowed 170 yards on the ground with the Jaguars averaging nearly 5 yards a carry. Coaches pointed to the same tackling issues the Rebels dealt with for much of last season as the main culprit.

“I haven’t sat down and looked at the tape, but you can clearly see that the first guy was in there and we were missing too many tackles,” McGriff said. “I thought we were populating the ball, but there were just too many yards after contact.”

But Ole Miss, which didn’t have linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes or cornerback Ken Webster because of their one-game suspensions stemming from offseason arrests, stiffened twice inside the 10-yard line to force South Alabama to settle for field goals. Josiah Coatney led that charge in his first game as a Rebel after redshirting last season with two of his five tackles coming in the backfield on back-to-back plays in the first half.

“Really happy to see our defense bow their neck down their in the red zone,” interim coach Matt Luke said.

Jamarius Way beat cornerback Jalen Julius for a 30-yard touchdown late in the second quarter, but the Rebels kept most everything else in the passing game in front of them. South Alabama quarterback Cole Garvin averaged 9.7 yards on his other 18 completions.

Offensively, getting more production on the ground has also been an emphasis after the Rebels finished 12th in the SEC in rushing a season ago. Ole Miss didn’t really need it Saturday with Shea Patterson shredding the Jaguars’ defense for 429 passing yards and four touchdowns, but first-year offensive coordinator Phil Longo knows the ground game, which averaged just 3.5 yards a carry despite the Rebels’ success through the air, will need to be better in the coming weeks.

“Not as efficient as we’d like it to be,” Longo said. “We probably planned on running the ball a little bit more, but they put seven or eight guys in the box and gave us some throws. That’s what we took. I’m never going to be unhappy if we make good decisions and take what they give us.”

Ole Miss hosts UT Martin next week before heading to Cal to begin a three-game road trip. There’s work to do before then.

“I think there’s a lot of things we’ve got to get clean up from Game 1 to Game 2, but it’s always better to make those corrections after a win,” Luke said.