Mack Brown with claps all around for his team's 45-0 performance over New Mexico. (Photo by Wesley Hitt/Getty Images)
I think this is where we are heading into Game 3 of this young 2012 season. What do I mean by that you ask? Well, to put it bluntly, the definition of the word is not consistent from one person to the next: From the players, coaches, and those closest to the program to the prognosticators, journos, bloggers, and all those die hard, know it all, fans (including me).
We (ie. the "collective") are having a hard time agreeing on how to exactly grade what we are seeing.
You'll see a lot of half-full/half-empty commentary. Much of this white noise has to do with state of mind, objectives, expectations, etcetera of whomever you are reading or listening to.
The problem is that the means are not jiving with the ways. And that is why we see the schism of perception.
A former sales executive I tutored under had a term for this phenomenon. He called it "gaposis". It is the delta between perception and reality. At this level, the sleight of hand magic fairy dust tends to dissipate against like talent. And this is what's disconcerting to many as they project the team's ceiling this season.
Bottom line, the way we should really be looking at the on-field results after two games, albeit against inferior talent on paper, is how to assess both team and individual performance on balance.
On balance...Field Leadership
I love how D.J. Monroe does work. Sure, could he use a little more grease in his hips? Absolutely. But I just think the way he plays should be put on a mantel. He executes to the best of his ability and bounces off the turf after tackle. He's definitely worked hard and upped his game. It shows. He will continue to be a very strong offensive asset as the season progresses. All the skill players should look to his attitude and follow his lead.
On balance...All Americans
That would be Alex Okafor and Jackson Jeffcoat to start. Enjoy watching them play as this will more than likely be their last season. I recognize Jackson said he would finish his education but the attraction of a first round draft slot will be too great to pass up. Jackson ended with 5 tackles, 1 sack, 1 PBU, 1 QBH, and 1 forced fumble. He was a one man wrecking crew. And Okafor had a great game against Wyoming. Both are valued assets.
And don't forget Kenny Vaccaro. He didn't have a highlight game but his energy and focus is infectious. I think the young guys really look to him for guidance and example.
It is served up like a four course dinner at a five star restaurant. It starts with speed, is laced with heart, and ends with power. No better examples are seen when opportunity meets preparation. And I'm not talking DKR luck, but seeing what hard work can do when it is backed by God given talent.
Let's start with Daje Johnson. Such an impressive young player. His top end cut at 90-degrees was breathtaking. Mykelle Thompson - He certainly seemed lost at times in the first game on defense with Turner stealing game two reps. But that didn't stop him from taking advantage of other opportunities. His blocked punt flipped the field in the 2nd quarter at a time the team needed a spark. And he was seen on many special team tackles. He did not bury his head but went back to work.
Finally, Dalton Santos. He's an old school football player. He's deceptively fast but that's not the right descriptor. A more apt tag would be explosive. He's not cut like a greek god but his 6' 3" 250 lb frame is built more like a Peterbilt semi-tractor rig. And yes, he's cut from the same cloth as some familiar names like Nobis, McMichael, and Hager. And his performance Saturday was emotion fueled having lost both his grandmother and grandfather earlier in the week.
It would have been very easy for the team to bury it's head after the first half but they responded to a Mack Brown plea at half "to finish this". They didn't quit and did not take one play off. That's a sign of good coaching and character. And they came out of the second game with no major injuries. Another good sign they are ready to weather the weekly grind of conference play.
Certainly there are areas for improvement. But team goals come first and must be placed above all others. In this sense only, the results from the first two games are head and shoulders where we were just a few games ago. And the good news is that there was hardly any drop off with execution and results when the second level players entered the game in the 4th quarter. That alone should be sufficient in answering the question of how far the team has progressed.
So, on balance, with each passing game the team results are only getting better.
This should be Mack's message as he reports on the state of the program today.
New Mexico Recap
Mack Brown Post Game Comments:
Anthony Fera (PK) continues to nurse a strained groin. No official word on when he will make an appearance in pads but probably not before conference play begins.
David Ash - Highest passing yardage output in only 8 starts. His one rushing touchdown and no interception performance was workmanlike. Improved his intermediate throwing and also his release mechanics. Was a bit jumpy in the pocket on some plays and got himself into trouble holding the ball too long on a few others.
Receivers - Whether it was yards after catch, blocking downfield, or climbing the ladder, this group out shone all others and was arguably the most influential squad in the team's overall performance. Up and down the roster you had, of course, the starters in Shipley, Davis, and Goodwin but others were involved as well. Bryant, Grant, McFarland, Harris, and Sanders. Can't say enough about how well they played.
Line of scrimmage - This was a game where we had a chance to dominate from the opening whistle to Eyes of Texas. That did not happen and, imo, may portend for more problems down the line. Whether it was block assignments on offense or run fits on defense, more work is needed for us to sniff double digit wins for the season.
Kendall Thompson - While Jordan Hicks led the team in tackles with nine, Thompson playing back up MLB finished with 7. He made the most of his opportunity spelling Edmonds and was strong on special teams kick coverage units.
Defense - Our team was not ready for an option attack. Very poor eye discipline but that is because their formative training is defending against a 7-on-7 spread look. The team is not built to defend this type of offense and it is a good thing they will not see it again on their schedule for remainder of season.
Offense - MVP was the team, as PB stated. But Marquise Goodwin wins the award in week 2 for his unselfish play downfield. Coach Brown said he had never seen a wide receiver lay it on the line blocking for teammates the way Quise did. I don't remember a game where so many different skill players had great games. I suppose if you had to give it to someone you'd have to say David Ash. I'm going with Trey Hopkins as "Bevo Beast" (top OL). Dude was all over the field.
Defense - MVP was Kenny Vaccaro. KVII was in on many plays, recovered a fumble and kept his teammates in the proper alignment. Jackson Jeffcoat deserves the award, imo. Quandre Diggs should get "Ball Hawk" award for his interception.
Special Teams Co-MVP's - No brainer here with Dalton Santos (3 kick coverage tackles) and Mykkele Thompson (textbook blocked punt). I think Kendall Thompson deserved a gold star as well.
All Eyes turn to the most important game this season. The next one.
Head Coach: Hugh Freeze (1st year)
2011 Season: 2-10
Bowl Game: None
2012 Season: 2-0
Returning Starters: 16 (8 defense; 8 offense)
Ole Miss players to watch:
Bo Wallace - QB (sophomore). First year JUCO All-American set NJCAA single season record last year with 4,810 passing yards and 53 touchdowns at East Mississippi CC. The name may sound familiar as he was set to visit the 40 Acres last January before eventually retreating plan when mutual interest evaporated. Has shown an ability to pick up where he left off averaging 219 passing yards at 76.9% completion ratio. He's thrown 5 TD's and ran for 2 more. He leads the team in rushing 67.5 yds/game. He's the real deal and better than anything our defense has seen in the first two games because this guy can throw the ball to a wide array of weapons.
Jeff Scott - RB (junior). Led the Rebels with a 4.56 yards per carry in 2011. Saw first action of the season against UTEP and gained over a hundred. He is the backfield work horse.
Donte Moncrief - WR (sophomore). Returning starter who averaged over 14 yards per catch on 31 receptions in 2011. After only two games, he is on pace to better those numbers by a ton averaging 16 yards per catch on 11 receptions.
Mike Marry - LB (junior). Led the team with 6.75 tackles per game in 2011. Over two games he is a little under that at 5.5 per game but sharing with his two counterparts.
Denzel Nkemdiche - LB (RS freshman). Older brother of top 2013 recruit Robert Nkemdiche. Leads team with 3 tackles for loss.
TXs Keys to the Game
Time of possession will be at a premium against the Rebs. I'll be looking for the offense to build on its rhythm they found in the 2nd half against New Mexico. Start fast but be methodical in execution. The longer the offense stays on the field the better. I'd like to see five and a half minute drives on average. It all starts up front with our offensive line. They must make a dramatic improvement as they face a defense which has posted 9 sacks from 11 players (tied for 2nd nationally) and 20 tackles for loss from 17 players (7th nationally) in two games. The Ole Miss defensive backfield is susceptible to the pass. Our screen game is coming on and when used in tactical combination with our running game may exploit this.
Through the 2nd game of the season, the Rebels lead the SEC in total offense, rushing offense, first downs, and 3rd down conversions. Their offense has given up 2 sacks per game and a total of 15 tackles for loss. Sure they haven't faced a conference opponent, but nonetheless the numbers don't lie. Pressure must be exerted early and often. Our defensive tackles need to narrow the throwing pocket and disrupt passing lanes. Linebackers must avoid getting caught in no-man's land and show good eye discipline. While it is now only a few years removed, and a new coaching regime has taken control of the helm, it helps that Manny Diaz has coached against this program.
Special Teams -
Do what you do. Special teams appear to be the biggest Ole Miss weakness early in the season.
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