Against the Tigers, the defensive line was effective at holding the point on blocks and making it difficult for Clemson to run up the middle. The Tigers’ longest run of the night was 12 yards.
Western Carolina also averaged 3.0 yards per carry, with a long of 16.
“Just everybody’s on the same page, everybody’s in their gaps doing their job,” linebacker Ayinde Eley said. “Taking up your gaps and making the play when it comes to you. So nobody’s out there chasing plays or chasing tackles or trying to pad stats. We’re trying to play sound defense.”
The challenge could be far greater Saturday. Ole Miss is averaging 249.5 rushing yards through two games and leaning 57/43 to the run. Tech likely needs to slow the pairing of Zach Evans and Quinshon Judkins (combined 187 rushing yards per game) to have a chance.
“They run hard, run smooth, run fluidly,” Eley said of Evans and Judkins. “They’re one-cut-and-go guys, and they can beat you.”
Trying to keep pace
Ole Miss’ offensive tempo has been a major concern for Tech this week. The Rebels play at a fast play-to-play pace, which will put a premium on Jackets defensive players being aware of play calls, recognizing adjustments to make and getting off the field via punt or turnover as frequently as possible.
“The pace of their offense and the multiplicity of their offense is a big challenge,” Tech coach Geoff Collins said. “It’s a big challenge to practice. Out at practice, we’re trying our best to simulate what it’s going to be on Saturday because it starts rolling. They know what they’re doing, they’re very fast in what they do and they execute at a high level.”
Where Collins had made a point to rely more heavily on starters this season than he had previously, he acknowledged that he’ll have to go into the bench to keep players fresh.
“We need to have at least 26 defensive guys that are ready to roll and play at a very high level and execute at a very high level,” he said.
Tech goes into its third game of the season with a compulsion to fix its mistakes from the first two games, such as pre-snap penalties, blocked punts, dropped passes, overeager pass rushing and poorly defended screen passes.
It probably is little comfort for the Jackets, but the Rebels have their own list of corrections to make.
“We’ll make really good plays, then we won’t do the little things,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said. “So there’s a lot of inconsistency there.”
Kiffin mentioned holding penalties as one of the problem areas. The Rebels have been called for offensive holding six times, although four of them were in the fourth quarter of the team’s 59-3 win over FCS Central Arkansas. Tackling and other defensive techniques were other concerns.
Another was the novelty of the first road trip with a team with 28 transfers.
“I’ve said all along with this transfer thing, there’s good and bad; everything’s new,” said Kiffin at his weekly news conference, wearing a red sweatshirt that read “Transfer to the Sip.” “So now I’ve got to go on the road with all these guys that have never been on the road with us and all the challenges that come with that. So it’ll be a very big test for us.”
By the numbers
Collins and his 10-man coaching staff will earn a total of $7 million this season, including Collins’ $3.3 million, according to contracts obtained through an open-records request. That total is less than the salary of Kiffin, whose 2022 salary is a reported $7.25 million. His staff as a whole (Kiffin included) will be paid $12.7 million.
Not surprisingly, Ole Miss’ spending on football far outpaces Tech’s. According to the Knight-Newhouse College Athletics Database, Ole Miss spent $38.3 million on football in 2021. Tech’s football spending was $19.9 million.
By the measure of 247Sports, Ole Miss has the 23rd most talented roster, including one player rated a five-star prospect in high school and 23 four-stars. Tech is 30th, with 17 four-stars.
Tech is tied for 44th in U.S. News & World Report’s rankings for national universities. Ole Miss is tied for 151st.
A history lesson
Tech and Ole Miss shared membership in the SEC from 1933-63, but the teams played only one regular-season game, at Grant Field in 1946. Going to Oxford, Miss., was not high on the list of the legendary Bobby Dodd.
“Whatever is there to go to Mississippi for?” he was quoted to have said. “We like to take our fans to exciting places, and Mississippi isn’t one.”
Tech altered its position on the excitement level of the Magnolia State decades after Dodd’s retirement. The Jackets played a home-and-home with Mississippi State from 2008-09 and now have their home-and-home with the Rebels. Tech will play at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford on Sept. 16, 2023.
The Oct. 12, 1946, game was a 24-7 win for the Jackets, a game they controlled from the outset. Among Tech’s stars that day was quarterback Frank Broyles, later to become the legendary Arkansas coach.
“Spectators got much more excited about the citizen who refused to throw the ball back onto the playing field after it was sliced into the stands than they did the last three quarters of the game,” read a report in the following day’s Atlanta Constitution.