OXFORD • If Ole Miss continues along the path of defensive improvement, the real credit may need to go to Bill Parcells.
It’s been a while since energy, productivity and even joy have all combined for the Rebels.
Ole Miss allowed just 127.1 rushing yards per game and 3.3 yards per carry in its 10-3 Sugar Bowl-winning 2015 season.
Since then teams have found the defense much less challenging against the run. The Rebels gave up 246.4 rushing yards a game in 2016, 245.3 in 2017 – only two FBS teams allowed more that season – and 221.8 yards per game last year.
The Rebels have allowed at least 34.2 points a game the last three seasons including 36.2 last year.
Parcells won two Super Bowl with the New York Giants and led teams to the NFL playoffs in 10 of his 19 seasons as a head coach.
Now new Ole Miss defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre says confidence is helping drive his players to succeed. That confidence from a group of newcomers and returning players who have experienced little success comes from what MacIntyre learned as an assistant coach on Parcells’ Dallas Cowboys staff.
“Something I learned from Bill Parcells was knowledge equals confidence equals playing fast. They have a great understanding of our defense and why we’re doing what we’re doing. That gives them great confidence, and they play faster, and they play freer,” MacIntyre said.
MacIntyre was an Ole Miss assistant under David Cutcliffe before joining the Cowboys for the 2003 season.
In two games this season in MacIntyre’s 3-4 the Rebels have made noteworthy gains. They held a Memphis offense with key returning players that averaged 42.9 points in 2018 to 364 yards and 13 points.
Last week the Rebels held Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd – who gained 107 yards against them in only one half of play in 2018 – to 67 yards on 16 carries.
“Hit No. 5. That was our main job, hit No. 5 and try to contain him,” inside linebacker Jacquez Jones said.
Defensive end Austrian Robinson hit Boyd in the third quarter, fighting off a block to hold him to a 1-yard gain on fourth-and-2 at the Ole Miss 30. It was a 10-3 Rebels lead at the time. Robinson made the initial contact, and strong safety Jonathan Haynes came in to help finish the job.
Through two games the Rebels are allowing 16.0 points a game – less when you factor in a safety by Memphis and a defensive touchdown by Arkansas – and 158.5 rushing yards a game.
It’s a good start, MacIntyre says. He wants to see quick improvement in the secondary. He felt like defensive backs were in position to make plays against Arkansas in the second half but didn’t complete the job.
Razorbacks quarterback Nick Starkel threw for 201 yards in the second half. Seventy-five of those came when Arkansas took possession with 3 minutes, 27 seconds left and drove to punch in a final touchdown.
“We’ve still got a long way to go,” MacIntyre said.
Indeed. For now there’s joy at the beginning for Ole Miss. Where it leads remains to be seen.
“I can’t really say, but I know this feeling feels great. I don’t really know why, but I’m happy,” outside linebacker Sam Williams said.