Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Day After: Ole Miss

I was talking to Poseur earlier today, and our best description for that game was that Ole Miss kept it close enough for it to remain exciting, without ever really threatening to win it. I think that's exactly right, and while I certainly am a little befuddled by the play of our defense, which gave up 466 yards, I simply cannot condone complaining heavily about a road win in the conference. And, like I said not once, but twice, Ole Miss is really not that bad of a team.

Our offense looked, in my opinion, just about the best its looked all year. We did almost no long passing, but all of our running backs were effective. We ran at will, and were a threat to break off a big one every time. While we did no long passing, we still averaged 6.7 yards per pass attempt, and Flynn finished the game with positive rushing yards, meaning sacks didn't hurt us that much.

For once, I can say our offense really carried us to victory.

But let's talk about the defense. Realize what we are dealing with here. One of our starting defensive tackles on opening day is injured and out for the year. Our best defensive tackle hasn't been 100% in a month. Our 3rd defensive tackle is also hurt. We've had to take the redshirt off a Drake Nevis in the middle of the season and play him significant minutes; not just in mop-up time either. For the last two games, our starting middle linebacker has been out. Our best cornerback reportedly still can't see right since injuring his eyes a month ago.

The point being, this is not the same defense that began the season. This is a defense that is seriously nicked up. And that's overlooking the fact that the guy we expected to be a starting defensive end has been suspended for the whole season so far for reasons unknown. In particular, the middle of our defense is hurting.

Also, it is no secret that athletic, running quarterbacks have given us fits for years, even when we're healthy. That certainly happened to us yesterday. Brent Shaeffah came into the game when we had gameplanned for a drop-back passer. We weren't ready for it, and we're vulnerable to it anyway. I don't really know why we've been so vulnerable to running quarterbacks, but it has certainly been an ongoing theme. Tyrod Taylor of Virginia Tech was able to move the ball the first time he ever played a college football game. Tim Tebow has hurt us for two years. Even Tulane's quarterback did a lot to us.

Last night's difficult performance by the defense is partially explained by that, but that certainly isn't the whole story. Shaeffer didn't complete a 40 yard pass on 3rd and 29 by running around. I think the problem is that our defense just isn't at athletic as advertised. We don't have a defensive lineman, or even a linebacker, capable of running down someone in the open field. Even Ali Highsmith seems to get outrun fairly easily. What's more, our safeties don't seem to have wide-receiver-calibre speed.

I know everyone says that we have athletes everywhere, and we do. We have good athletes everywhere, but our defense appears to have only one GREAT athlete, and he's not much help in chasing down a fast quarterback, because he plays in the middle of the field and weighs more than 300 pounds. Chad Jones is also a great athlete, I think, but he's only now getting regular playing time. Darry Beckwith may be our 3rd best athlete on defense, but of course he's been hurt.

Next week, we get a team with not just good, but GREAT running backs. I sure hope that we get Dorsey and Beckwith back for this, because we'll need them.

Did anyone notice Jarvis Jones, a true freshman, playing at right guard during key situations? He has been our backup left tackle, playing only in garbage time to this point. But when we needed a new right guard (for reasons unknown to me), we put in the true freshman instead of the normal backup (Max Holmes, I think).

This season is getting tenser again. We have a lot to lose, and a team ahead of us that isn't great, but sure is dangerous. There will be more on this later.

Later in the week: discussion of the Bama loss and discussion of how wide open the national championship still is.

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