On Monday, Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said his defense missed 30 tackles in the Rebels’ 37-24 loss to Memphis. On Tuesday, Ole Miss went through four tackling drills, according to defensive coordinator Dave Wommack.
“We haven’t done tackling drills in a long time,” Wommack told reporters. “Sometimes, you don’t see the forest through the trees. We got out there and did some tackling circuits, pursuing the football and worked on some situations where they’re going tempo and getting our guys back to the hash. I think we looked a little better today.”
The Rebels’ defense came into the year with the highest of expectations after being among the conference leaders in every statistical category a year ago. But this year, things have not been the same.
Ole Miss is seventh in the SEC in total defense (359.4 yards per game), and 12th in passing defense (229.3 yards per game).
“Everything fixable,” Wommack said. “I thought our tackling cost us five first downs on third-down situations, which we were poor at. We had a couple issues at corner; it wasn’t played like we wanted it to be played. We just have to go out there and fight to get better out there on the field.”
Wommack said the biggest emphasis on Tuesday was taking better angles to cut down defenders.
One of the biggest head scratchers for Wommack, and his defensive staff, is figuring out the struggles Ole Miss is having on third down. The Rebels have allowed their opponents a 42.97 conversion rate on third down(12th in the SEC). Those numbers look even worse when you see that Ole Miss has been among the nation’s best on first and second down.
“It’s almost like it’s been a thorn in the side,” Wommack said. “I think part of it is experience. Everybody wants to compare this defense. I think we have a lot of talent on this defense, but I don’t think our eyes are seeing things quite as quickly as they need to. And we are missing a bunch of tackles on third downs.”
Ole Miss linebacker C.J. Johnson, who is recovering from a torn meniscus, practiced again Tuesday. Freeze said Monday that they would see how Johnson performs this week before deciding if he will play against Texas A&M Saturday.
“I thought he moved around well,” Wommack said. “I told him, ‘Do what you can do out there.’ He took a bunch of reps.”