It was seven o'clock, and after pontificating on the lyrical poet known as Hank Williams Jr., I was indeed ready for some football. I had gathered with some friends and some bourbon in the Tarheel state and was prepared for whatever was coming next. I was ready to have my questions answered, to know what to expect in the coming season. Then the first half happened.
When the score was 20-14 with Central Arkansas in the lead, I finally realized just how far I had dropped in my fandom. I still wasn't really upset. Sure, I was rethinking plans to travel home for games, but I still just thought it slightly funny. I wasn't emotionally invested in this team and hadn't been for a couple of years. The hiring of Hugh Freeze (with whom I am overall pleased) hadn't remedied my lackadaisical attitude towards the football team. I remember walking away from the crowd to usar el baño and hearing someone say, "someone go check on [Juco]." What they didn't know at the time is that I honestly just didn't care. I wasn't sad. I wasn't anything.
Then the second half began. I saw a team that would fight against adversity, a team that wouldn't quit when the unthinkable happened. I was ready to buy in because I saw that they had. From there on out, I was incredibly excited. I didn't write a post-game at the time because, well, bourbon.
Having had time to re-watch and digest the game from yesterday, I share my thoughts in bullet-point form after the jump.
- Our defense is very complex. We blitz from a lot of different positions and drop defensive ends into coverage. Depending on the situation, we could have three down linemen in a 3-3-5 or run a 4-3 or 4-2-5. It's nice to be versatile, and I think we have the personnel to make that work. Our defense is really full of hybrid platyers.
- Obviously the defense didn't have it together in the first half. Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said it was the problem of the defensive line being too successful and overpursuing once they got through UCA's offensive line. There's a little bit of that, but more than anything, the problem was in playing the gaps. Our linebacker play struggled for much of the half, with linebackers being caught out of position.
- We made an effort to push a lot of their plays to the outside where our outside safeties can be helpful to the effort. Often, linebackers would pursue runners outside allowing Denzel Nkemdiche or Dehendret Collins to make plays. It's really how the defense is supposed to work.
- We pressured the quarterback well. His completion percentage was good, but I honestly think it's because he's a decent quarterback. He made some beautiful throws at times and was very good at taking what we gave him. We still pressured him with five sacks on the day.
- Isaac Gross and CJ Johnson are the future of the Ole Miss defense. Even against division one competition (albeit 1-AA), Gross' first step is unreal. When he went out of the game with an apparent calf injury, interior pressure went with him. Johnson on the other hand was a force for the entire game. While he only registered one sack, he did a lot more damage than that in how he affected plays.
- Dehendret Collins is a good tackler. He missed one tackle that i know of, but in general he was solid when he met the ball carrier. It's interesting that his tackling form is so strong considering he was a cornerback until four weeks ago.
- In the second half, the light came on for the linebackers. They filled their gaps and played responsible football. I've heard people suggest that Freeze must have really "inspired" them with the half time speech. Why is it that people always run to this cliche? It's obvious that the playcalling was different and emphasis was placed on assignments instead of making big plays. I just don't understand why people must cower behind an unquantifiable ethos of "the inspirational half-time speech." It's played out.
- On to the offense.... that was neat. I think that Bo Wallace secured the starting job, but Brunetti is carving out a niche role because he's so different than Wallace. I think that Wallace has a high ceiling as a passer and runs with good vision. Brunetti on the other hand can hit open receivers short and runs like a halfback. There's a place for a quarterback like that, particularly in a dink and dunk up-tempo offense.
- Wallace can make great throws even when he's about to get drilled. He did it several time, and his deep passes were spot on all night.
- Donte Moncrief is a freak. I was honestly more surprised by his ability to work after screens than anything. I've always thought of him as a sure-handed, strong route runner. I don't view him as a YAC guy yet, and I'll wait to see him produce yards after the catch against an SEC defense before anointing him as such.
- Korvic Neat has a role in this offense. I knew he would as soon as we hired Freeze. Neat can make things happen underneath as a receiver. I like his potential as a slot receiver.
- Randall Mackey is a competent runner who gets a little more than what's blocked for him. I'll be looking for a next step from him though moving forward. He needs to produce a few big runs before I'm ready to say he's a great player.
- The freshman running backs didn't do much, but I liked their limited carries. Both look competent at following blocking, something imperative for young backs.
- Woah-- we used tight ends in the slot, and it actually worked. Jamal Mosley had three circus catches, all of which made his quarterbacks look good. I'm so happy he wasn't suspended for peeing on a wall.
- Our offensive line is just not good. Don't buy the hype that they're better than people think. They struggle a lot in pass protection (which is a tough thing to be bad at in a spread offense). It will only get worse.
- Overall, I like what we did. I particularly like that we were challenged and overcame the challenge. From re-watching the tape, I must warn you though. Don't get too excited. UCA left a lot of points on the field, and we had some crazy things go our way. This won't happen against Alabama, but it's a start.