MEMPHIS • Ole Miss assistant coach Tyrone Nix is a contradiction of joy as Game Day arrives.
Nix, a former Rebels defensive coordinator, has returned to coach outside linebackers, one of the most important positions in the new 3-4 scheme.
As Ole Miss takes on Memphis at 11 at Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium, Nix says he has five or six players he trusts in his two outside backer spots.
But there’s one player he’s reluctant to take off the field – Sam Williams.
“I think he’s a guy that’s going to show up a lot if he does what he’s done on the practice field,” Nix said.
Williams, 6-foot-3, 258 pounds, will likely remain on the field in nickel packages when the Rebels call for extra pass coverage help.
“We’ll try to keep him on the field as much as possible. In all our packages he’s involved and will be on the field,” Nix said.
Williams signed with Ole Miss in December after two stellar seasons with Northeast Mississippi Community College.
The game is still new to Williams, who was a basketball- only athlete until his senior year of high school in Montgomery, Alabama.
He earned a name for himself in Booneville as a pass-rushing playmaker, sharing the national lead in sacks last season with 17½.
Nix wants to see that type of quarterback harassment from Williams today, but he’ll be called on to drop and cover too.
That was a big adjustment for Williams in spring drills. “My football IQ has risen a lot,” he said then.
Confident of improvement
Williams could be a big part of an Ole Miss defense trying to shed the memories of recent seasons when opponents gashed the Rebels for huge chunks of yardage in the run game.
Ole Miss has given up at least 220 rushing yards a game in each of the last three seasons.
The Tigers will challenge the Rebels with Patrick Taylor, a 6-3, 225-pound senior who rushed for 1,122 yards and 16 touchdowns last year.
The awareness of Taylor makes the Tigers’ run-pass option game that much more difficult to defense with an experienced quarterback like Brady White.
“We’re pretty confident in ourselves,” inside linebacker Mohamed Sanogo said. “We have these outside edge guys that are holding it off. The quarterback’s going to have to make a tough decision. We’ll see if he’s ready to play outside linebackers with our athleticism. Those guys are athletic out there.”