Reb defense just flat out confusing

By By Stan Torgeson / guest columnist
Sept. 23, 2002
Now let's see if I understand this. Last year Ole Miss finished eighth in the SEC in overall defense. They were last in defense against the run giving up an average of 214 yards per game. But they were second in pass defense efficiency, the only team in the league to hold opponents to under 50 percent in completions, 49.5% to be exact. The Rebels allowed only 1774 yards through the air.
But last against the run and eighth overall called for a change. Coach David Cutcliffe hired a new defensive coordinator and said he was certain the defense would be better in 2002. After all they had seven defensive starters returning.
This is where I get confused. After four games Ole Miss has given up 85 points, 76 of them in the last two games. They have certainly been tougher against the run. Opponents have gained only 432 yards on the ground, an average of 108, substantially below the 2001 average of 214 per game.
But maybe, just maybe, it might be because their opponents don't have to run against Ole Miss. Last year the opposition gained only 161 yards per game passing. This year they've has been able to rack up an average of 215 yards by the pass.
Now you know the reason for my confusion. In 2001 the Rebs were poor against the rush and good against the pass. This year with seven of those starters returning, they are good against the rush and poor against the pass. Ole Miss has given up six touchdowns by passing and only four on the ground. It is true that Eddie Strong has been injured and has played very little. But Strong is a linebacker and pass defense is not his number one responsibility. The obvious truth is that both of 2001s cornerbacks are gone, Justin Coleman and Syniker Taylor, and their replacements have not yet reached the Coleman-Syniker level.
Vanderbilt scored only 9 points in two games against major competition. Against Ole Miss they got 38.
This off-week is sorely needed. With Florida and Rex Grossman coming to Oxford on Oct. 5. someone is going to have to find a way to shore up a pass defense that has become a major problem for the Rebels. How many times can you expect your offense to score 45 points in order to win?
Pogo, the Bulldogs
and the Golden Eagles
Pogo, that little cartoon devil from the swamp was right. He's the one who created the now familiar saying, "We have met the enemy and they are us."
That's really about all you can say concerning the Mississippi State-Auburn game and the Southern Mississippi outing against Alabama.
They met the enemy and it was them.
Mississippi State had a day to forget. Auburn coach Tommy Tuberville rubbed salt in the Bulldog's many wounds when he commented post game, "I told my team we would need five turnovers to win and we got six."
Tiger quarterback Daniel Cobb started out 1-for-9 passing but because of the Bulldogs generosity had three touchdown passes and a 21-7 lead at halftime. If there was any way to lose the game, State found it. Four fumbles, all of them recovered by Auburn. Two intercepted passes. Six mistakes.
One of them was inexcusable. It's basic Football 101. When the other guy punts, if you can't catch it and run with it, get away from the ball and let the other team down it. When Auburn punted in the second quarter, the kid from State earned an F on his report card. He stayed close as a mother hen, the ball hit him on the foot, the Tigers recovered and in only a few plays earned an easy six.
But Pogo didn't reserve his magic spell for Mississippi State alone. He saved up enough to attend Southern's game with Alabama.
One of the Golden Eagles got one thing right when he said postgame, "Anything that could have went wrong, went wrong." That statement, while not grammatically perfect, was the closest thing to perfection Southern had all night.
Seven fumbles, four of them lost. An interception. A bad snap over the punter's head on fourth down that gave the Tide the ball. Let's not forget nine penalties for 67 yards. Quarterback Micky D'Angelo throws 27 passes and completes only eight of them, although six catchable balls were dropped by Golden Eagle receivers. If there was anything to smile about it was Bama coach Dennis Franchione's post game statement, "You have to give a lot of credit to the whole defensive unit."
And a thank you card to Southern Mississippi's offensive bunch.
That level of play was not the exclusive property of the Bulldogs and the Golden Eagles, however. Pogo somehow managed to get to Knoxville in time for the Florida-Tennessee game where he saw the Vols fumble eight times, seven in the first half, four of them in a row.
In answer to the age-old question, "Are football games won or lost," the answer is both.
Ask Pogo.

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