The first day of preparing for Ole Miss was started a bit unconventionally. Rather than squaring off with the scout team, the Cougars simply took a much needed day off.
“I just hung out and took the day off and kind of relaxed,” said a refreshed Richard Wilson. “I came in and watched film for a little bit for an hour and a half, but that was about it. Most of the day I was just sleeping in and relaxing my body by getting some rest.”
The reason behind the day off was due to the team’s progress.
“Coach Doman told us that Coach Mendenhall felt like we were ready as a total team to move forward and finish camp a little early,” Wilson said. “We got the day off while coaches went over film all day yesterday, and so we started prepping for Ole Miss with today being day one.”
Refreshed and ready, a rejuvenated Cougar team threw themselves headlong into Ole Miss preparation.
“We got some looks at what kind of things we’ll be seeing from Ole Miss and their defense from an offensive perspective,” Wilson said. “We got different looks and different fronts and went over plays to get a script that we feel comfortable with over the week and just go from there …
“We’ve just been watching a lot of film on Ole Miss to get an idea of the type of personnel they have and they have some good players. Now we’re watching film a lot and it’s nice with the film technology that we have to know what types of coverages they run the most in certain situations. We’re getting a really good feel for that.”
While SEC defenses are known for being strong, fast and physical, the Ole Miss defense last year wasn’t something to gloat about. Its red zone – or blue zone among Cougar fans – defense was ranked dead last in the nation. What is surprising is the Rebel defense started six seniors and three juniors last year. Still, the Cougars know this an SEC team in possession of SEC talent.
“They have good athletes,” Wilson said. “It’s going to be a battle. They’re going to try and man us up, but I don’t think they’re going to know what’s going to be coming for them.”
Ole Miss lost last year’s team-leading tackler (84 on the season), free safety Kendric Lewis, to graduation. Lewis was a fifth-round draft pick in the NFL this year. So, a first-year starter at the Division I level will be manning the free safety spot this year.
Reports indicate that 5-foot-11-inch, 200-pound sophomore Brishen Mathews is slated to play the strong safety position. He has one year of playing experience.
“With Ole miss, generally we’ll be covered by their safeties and outside linebacker, usually the stud outside linebacker,” Wilson said. “We’ve been really focusing on that, and really I think they’re just going to try and focus on going man-to-man and try and out-athlete us.”
The Cougars are expecting the Ole Miss secondary to trust that their speed and athleticism will be enough to corral BYU’s young tight ends.
“They like to play cover-one, which is man-to-man coverage,” Wilson said. “It’s when you have the free safety covering the middle of the field kind of like a rover. As of right now that’s what they’ve done in the past. Coach Reynolds has been working a lot with us in man-to-man routes and getting off press coverage.”
In comparison to last season, Wilson said he feels much more prepared and developed to face a defense the likes of which he’ll see from Ole Miss.
“I do, and I think it’s going to be really good,” he said. “We have some really good athletes and we’re physical, so I think that’s going to help us. I think Coach Reynolds has taught us the fundamentals of route running and I think that’s going to help us get open in man-to-man coverage.”
Prior to suffering an ACL tear this past spring, 6-foot-1-inch, 244-pound D.T. Shackelford was at the top of the Ole Miss depth chart for the Sam – or field side – linebacker position. Shackelford was considered a strong defensive leader for the Rebels.
So, sophomore Clarence Jackson, redshirt freshman Ralph Williams or five-star true freshman C.J. Johnson will be asked to defend BYU’s tight ends.
One player the Cougar tight ends likely won’t be facing is cornerback Wesley Pendleton, a Copiah-Lincoln Junior College transfer that earned the MACJC’s most valuable defensive back honor and was a first-team all-state selection. Although it’s BYU’s receivers that will be facing Pendleton, the tight ends were nevertheless put on notice.
“They have a good JUCO cornerback transfer that’s supposed to be really good,” Wilson said. “Coaches told us about him today.”
At 5 feet 11 inches and 180 pounds, Pendleton boasts a 10.49 in the 100 meters and a 21.03 in the 200 meters.
“I think as far as a difference, the speed of their defensive backs might be a bit different,” said Wilson. “As far as physicality, I don’t think they’ll be any more physical than our safeties here. During fall camp, we got a great look from our safeties and they’ve really come a long way and [have been] getting us prepared for this first game against Ole Miss.”