One of the talking points at Ole Miss this week has been that teams often see their most improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
Let’s hope so for the Ole Miss offense.
The debut of two new coordinators was a split decision in a 15-10 season-opening loss at Memphis.
The defense was much improved. It was really good. I expected the Rebels to be better defensively, but I did not expect them to hold Memphis to 13 points. As stats go they’ll get tagged for the late safety, which Ole Miss coach Matt Luke attributed to a miscommunication between left tackle Michael Howard and running back Scottie Phillips.
It was not the only problem of the day for the offense which went three-and-out on its first three possessions, had minus-1 yard rushing at halftime and had only 52 snaps for the game.
I hesitate to write in extremes and say best ever or worst ever, but the Rebels’ first half might have been the worst offensive line performance I’ve seen.
What I thought I would see from a rebuilding offensive line with its best player at less than full strength was closer to what occurred in the second half. The Rebels held their own then, moved forward more than backward. They gained first downs and sustained drives. They scored 10-straight points and got back in the game.
Phillips, who had 3 net rushing yards at halftime, had 59 in the second half. Math has never been my strong suit, but that looks like a 118-yard pace had he managed 59 in the first half.
David Johnson of 247Sports watched a replay of the game and reports several of Phillips better runs came on plays that began with pre-snap motion.
We were told we would see a good amount of that from the Rich Rodriguez offense, but I’m struggling to remember any of it in the first half.
Luke said the lack of motion was because it’s harder to do that when you’re falling behind the chains with negative-yardage plays.
Clearly the offensive line has some issues and the promise to play a three-star recruit in the first half will not by itself produce great change. Nick Broeker, come on down.
As I mentioned in today’s column, improvement can come for this group, but RichRod’s going to have to help this line with play-calling … with motion, misdirection, etc. This isn’t a group that’s going to push the line of scrimmage 3 yards ahead and impose its will, but it can be a line that shields the guy in front and keeps him from getting a quick start to catch up with a jet sweep or screen pass.
RichRod has claimed responsibility for the offense’s poor performance multiple times since the Memphis game. So keep an eye on play-calling Saturday against Arkansas.
Ah, Arkansas …
For the Rebels this series has been like playing ghosts in recent seasons. Arkansas, whether a solid team as it was in 2015, or a rebuilding team like both it and Ole Miss are right now, has managed to pull impact plays from who knows where at important times against the Rebels.
Bo Wallace’s injury in 2014 boosted the Hogs’ cause though I think the Rebels’ frame of mind was doomed from the start in a 30-0 loss. There were the fumbles/muffs on special teams that allowed Arkansas to twice score touchdowns on its own kickoffs in 2002. There was Jordan Ta’amu’s fumble in an otherwise amazing first start as the Rebels were trying – unsuccessfully – to not give up a 31-7 lead in 2017.
These are just highlights. The series has had more than its share of weird.
Through all the weird it’s been clear that these teams are usually closely matched. The last four have been decided by an average margin of 2.5 points.
Ole Miss won 37-33 in Little Rock last year, and since then these teams are a combined 2-10. Arkansas has beaten Tulsa and last week Portland State – a four-win FCS team in 2018 – while Ole Miss has lost six straight.
I like Ole Miss to beat the Hogs Saturday night. That new student party section will be rocking.
I like the Rebels, because I believe RichRod is embarrassed and is determined to have a better personal showing in this game. I think play-calling will look different, that Jerrion Ealy will get more touches, will be productive with those touches, and that a receiver will emerge.
These are things I thought would happen with the offense this season, and I’m not ready to bail after one game.
Matt Corral’s accuracy was an issue in last week’s disastrous first half. Hopefully that was jitters behind a jittery front line. Corral, just 5 for 13 in the first half, was 4 for 6 in the second.
Maybe Corral’s first half was an isolated incident and not a trend. He missed open receivers when he had passing lanes more than once. Those are drive-killers.
Picking the Rebels has as much to do with Arkansas as it does Ole Miss.
The Razorbacks ran well against Portland State, but it was Portland State, and they really didn’t pass well. Numbers would suggest that Ben Hicks, 14 for 29, also missed an open receiver or two.
There were some drops figured in by the Arkansas receivers, but there usually are, and most quarterbacks find a way to complete 50 percent or better. Corral and Hicks were both a completion away from getting to 50 percent.
Arkansas held Portland State to 230 yards of offense, but Portland State had ball possession and a chance to drive for a winning touchdown before turning it over.
Keep an eye on Arkansas running back Rakeem Boyd. He rushed for 109 yards in about a quarter and a half against Ole Miss last year, most of that coming on a 69-yard touchdown run. I don’t have a replay in front of me, but I’d be willing to bet Boyd’s long run got started because someone was out of position.
Coaching staffs from both teams need this game to continue to sell hope to their fan bases.
If Week 2 on offense really is better than Week 1 the Rebels can pull this off.
Prediction: Ole Miss 26, Arkansas 23