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OXFORD, Miss. – In Saturday’s Grove Bowl, the Ole Miss defense did not give up many explosive plays. And outside of D.K. Metcalf’s 53-yard touchdown catch, the defense held its own against an offense that’s destined to be one of the best in the nation in 2018.
That is a sign the Rebels’ defense is headed in the right direction, as the unit was mostly on point fitting the run gaps in the spring game, en route to defeating the offense, 27-21. The defense held the offense to just one rushing touchdown, which came from senior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu.
As a group, the running backs were held to a total of 133 rushing yards on 30 carries, an average of 4.3 yards per carry.
“I think the guys did a tremendous job of taking ownership and making sure they secure that gap, do their job and do their responsibility eliminating the big plays in the running game,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said afterward.
The linebacker corps, one of the most-scrutinized groups on the team, did exactly what McGriff had hoped for in the spring game by limiting the running backs’ success.
“We saw some marked improvement,” McGriff said.
“We’re fortunate to have Coach (Jon) Sumrall in the room with those guys, coaching them up. His attention to detail, his energy. He has brought a lot to that group. You can visibly see that (Detric) Bing-Dukes got better. I like his tempo; I like his attention to detail. His communication skills have really improved. So I think as a group, the linebacker group has gotten better.”
Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff on the linebackers
In order for Ole Miss to have success on defense, McGriff needs everyone to communicate, and he wants his linebackers to set the tone—both of which he feels happened over the course of spring camp.
Sophomore linebacker Mohamed Sanogo led the defense with five tackles in the Grove Bowl, while Josh Clarke notched 3.5 tackles and Bing-Dukes tallied two. Willie Hibbler added 1.5 tackles and one sack.
In addition to the linebackers, the secondary showed promise in the spring game with some key interceptions on two deep passes from freshman quarterback Matt Corral. He was picked off by junior defensive back Art Mitchell and redshirt freshman Kam White.
On the play when D.K. Metcalf caught his 53-yard TD, the talented wideout initially thought Ta’amu was going to senior wide receiver Alex Weber, which prompted Metcalf to slow down. Sophomore cornerback D.D. Bowie decided to stop on the play as well—before being burned by Metcalf for the 53-yard touchdown once Metcalf realized the football was coming his way.
“The thing we told him (Bowie) on the sideline was: ‘Be aggressive and finish with Metcalf out of bounds. Don’t assume the play is over,’” McGriff said.
“So it’s going to be great to get that on video. It’s great it happened in practice and not in a (real) game, and we can teach that,” McGriff explained.
“The play is not over until you hear a whistle. When a receiver goes vertical, it’s that corner’s job to get him out of bounds. The play isn’t over until he’s out of bounds or you hear a whistle. We have to eliminate those type of plays.”
McGriff on Metcalf’s TD
C.J. Moore was named this year’s recipient of the Chucky Mullins Courage Award, the highest honor a Rebel football player can receive.
“You can’t have enough kids on your roster who have the makeup like a C.J. Moore,” McGriff said.
“He’s a high character kid, a ‘yes sir, no sir’ kid. He cares about other people on the roster. He’s an unselfish young man. You can ask him to play any position, he will try his best to do it, and he just goes out and plays his hardest,” McGriff added.
“He embodies what you want in a football player. He embodies the type of person you want in your program. It was a very easy selection when you’re talking about who you want to represent the Chucky Mullins Award.”
Courtney is from Memphis and received his Bachelor’s Degree in Fine Arts from the University of Memphis in May of 2014. He began his journalism career covering the Memphis Tigers Men’s basketball team, which landed him an intern position on 730 Yahoo Sports Radio and a position with Rivals.com. A freelance writer for the Associated Press, Courtney is also a member of The Rebel Walk team and reports regularly on Ole Miss football and basketball. Courtney, the father of a six-year old girl named Soniyah, prefers to cover NCAA basketball and football, but is happy to report on any other sport that comes his way.