Ole Miss Defense Gaining Confidence

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) _ Playing defense for Mississippi wasn't much fun for the first four weeks of the season, especially if you were a member of the secondary.

The Rebels were getting shredded by opposing quarterbacks on game day and then they would have to face defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach during the week.

``You know he was hard on us,'' safety Travis Blanchard said. ``All those yards piled up and everything started going over our heads.''

But since bottoming out in a 49-45 loss to Texas Tech, the Rebels have played much better defense. Ole Miss hasn't allowed a point in the last six quarters.

``It hasn't startled me,'' said Driesbach, who also coaches the defensive backs. ``I knew that we were a good defense.''

They certainly weren't showing it.

In the opening game, Vanderbilt passed the ball up and down the field on Ole Miss. Only turnovers and penalties kept the Commodores from scoring more and the Rebels rallied for a 24-21 victory.

Vanderbilt threw for 275 yards and three TDs. From there it got worse. Memphis threw for 389 and came from behind to beat the Rebels 44-35.

The next week, Ole Miss pounded Louisiana-Monroe, but the Indians still passed for 307 yards.

Then the Red Raiders came to Oxford and put Ole Miss on the receiving end of one of the most stunning performances in college football history. The Rebels permitted 661 yards passing _ the
third most ever in Division I-A _ to B.J. Symons and Texas Tech's Air Raid offense.

``Texas Tech was tough,'' said linebacker Justin Wade, shaking his head as if trying to shake out the bad memories.

For the secondary, it was soul searching time.

``We just sat down and talked it over as a group and said, 'We've got to do something,''' Blanchard said. ``We had to come up with something. We came up with we got to get it done in practice.
Coach (Driesbach) has been saying we've got to get it done in practice or it ain't going to get fixed.''

The turning point for the Rebels came in a most unlikely place for a team with pass defense deficiencies _ Gainesville.

They got a little help from Florida.

The Gators, with freshman quarterback Chris Leak, threw only 27 passes, including 10 in the second half as Ole Miss rallied to beat the Gators 20-17.

The Rebels had three interceptions, allowed 234 yards passing and shut out Florida in the second half.

They followed up that performance by shutting out Arkansas State.

While the Indians won't be mistaken for Miami _ or even Mississippi State _ any time soon, the shutout has given Ole Miss a confidence boost as it enters a pivotal three-game homestand
against Alabama, Arkansas and South Carolina.

``I knew it was going to come. I wasn't sure when it was going to show up,'' Driesbach said. ``I was getting a little bitimpatient with it not showing up.

``We continued to tell our players that we still had confidence in them that they were a defense that should show, and would show, improvement from last year. And it looks like we've finally got
back on track a little bit.''

(Copyright 2003 by The Associated Press.  All Rights Reserved.)