OXFORD • Rich Rodriguez may be new to Mississippi, but he’s not new to Mike Norvell.
The Memphis coach, an old Pac-12 adversary, believes he has a keen understanding of what Rodriguez brings to the table as the Ole Miss offensive coordinator.
The Rebels and Tigers will kick off college football in the Mid-South on Saturday morning at 11 in a game that will have Western touches not only with the coaches.
A hour’s drive
The starting quarterbacks, Brady White for Memphis and Matt Corral for Ole Miss, played high school ball less than 60 miles from one another in suburban Los Angeles.
Norvell, the Memphis coach since 2016, was the offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach at Arizona State from 2012-2015 which coincides with most of Rodriguez’ tenure as head coach at Arizona.
“The No. 1 key is to stop the run when you play them,” Norvell said. “He was very multiple in what they did and how they presented it, but he’s going to try and establish the running game.”
Rodriguez reluctantly agrees with an assessment of his system as a run-based spread option. He describes it more as a take-what-the-defense gives approach to offense.
All Rodriguez observers agree that his offense will be played at a fast pace.
“They are going to play extremely fast,” Norvell said.
Rodriguez says he will try to emphasize not only speed in his tempo but changing speeds.
The Rebels ran the ball 48.7 percent of the time on 860 plays last season.
Rodriguez’ last Arizona team ran the ball 67.5 percent of the time on 908 plays in 2017.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo last season liked to take chances deep with a group of three wide receivers who are on NFL rosters today.
Through it all Scottie Phillips, then a first-year junior college transfer, rushed for 928 yards, a pace that would have had him near 1,200 yards if not for an ankle injury that caused him to miss all or most of the season’s last three games.
Norvell knows about Phillips but also backups Jarod “Snoop” Conner and Jerrion Ealy, true freshmen who will make their college debuts on Saturday.
Norvell built a strong recruiting relationship with Conner, who was a running quarterback at Hattiesburg High School last season.
“We know Snoop very well. He was committed here for a while,” Norvell said. “We got a chance to see him a little bit in their spring game. The Ealy kid was a five-star top recruit in the country. They have recruited at a high level.”