OXFORD • Sometimes showing up is half the battle.
As long as you show up in the right place.
One of the issues with the Ole Miss defense in recent seasons was lining up correctly for the play call. Getting the right “fits,” as players and coaches like to call it. Being just a little bit out of position can make the difference in a lot of yards given up.
In what was widely hailed as a successful debut for the new 3-4 defense, the Rebels gave up 192 rushing yards but 34 came on the Tigers’ final drive when fatigue was a factor. That’s when Memphis took possession with 6 minutes, 21 seconds left and ran out the clock to protect a 15-10 lead.
“We played hard. It’s just really disappointing that we didn’t get them out of there on that last drive,” defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said. “We had a couple of opportunities to make plays but didn’t quite get it done like we’d like to.”
One of those opportunities was a fourth-and-2 from the Ole Miss 47 when Memphis quarterback Brady White pushed a shovel pass to running back Kenneth Gainwell. The play went for 4 yards, and Memphis kept the ball.
“We were looking for a quarterback sneak again like we’d had earlier. We thought wrong on that and that shovel pass killed us,” nose tackle Benito Jones said.
The shovel pass was a big play in the game, but much of the day the Rebels showed improvement from a team that ranked No. 121 in total defense (483.4 ypg) and No. 113 in scoring defense (36.2 ppg) last season.
“We played together like a defense, the way it’s supposed to be played. We fit everything up,” Jones said.
In 2018 Memphis finished No. 4 nationally in total offense, No. 7 in scoring offense and returned experienced players at the skill positions including White at quarterback.
The Rebels executed MacIntyre’s game plan for the Memphis short passing game, and defensive backs showed improved tackling on the edge.
White was 23 for 31 passing but finished with just 172 yards. He threw an interception – to Jones on a screen pass – but not a touchdown.
MacIntyre doesn’t feel like the Rebels have “arrived,” so to speak, but watching the game video confirmed much of what he thought as he watched from the Liberty Bowl press box.
“We might not have been picture-perfect assignment-sound, but we were in the right area. There weren’t a lot of busts,” he said. “We’ve got to be better in technique, the type of thing you hope to improve from game to game.”