OXFORD • Signing day is often a time of celebration, and earlier this year Ole Miss cheered the addition of five wide receivers.
The Rebels needed to reload after losing 150 catches from A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge, plus 26 more in an abbreviated season from DK Metcalf.
Changes in latitudes
Spring football and August camp brought a change in philosophy. Add the growing pains of youth plus an injury to the Rebels’ most experienced returning receiver, and the position looks different.
Through six games, sophomore slot receiver Elijah Moore has 36 catches, 27 more than the next Ole Miss player.
Junior split end Braylon Sanders, who missed two games last season and was limited in others because of an ankle injury, has missed three games this season with a hamstring injury.
Sanders hurt it initially in the season opener against Memphis, then tweaked it against Alabama and missed the Vanderbilt game.
“I know everybody wants to compare them to AJ and DK. They took a while to become what they were,” wide receivers coach Jacob Peeler said.
Ole Miss ran the ball 71 percent of the time against Vanderbilt and has run it 62 percent of the time this season.
Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said Monday he wants to see the receivers become more involved.
With the run game clicking against the Commodores and a true freshman quarterback making only his second start, there were only 10 pass completions for Ole Miss in a 31-6 win.
“We want to run the football, but when people load the box and we have some one-on-ones we want to be able to make big plays down the field,” Luke said. “We have to try and capitalize on that.”
In Week 6 in 2018, Ole Miss led the SEC and had the No. 5-ranked passing offense in the country with 347.5 yards a game.
This week the Rebels, after a slow start in the season opener at Memphis when they rushed for only 80 yards, are No. 2 in the SEC and No. 16 nationally in rushing offense at 234.3 yards a game.
Ole Miss has rushed for 692 yards in the last two games.
Freshman Jonathan Mingo, one of two four-star signees, separated himself late in camp and has joined junior college transfer Dontario Drummond as the starters at the outside receiver spots.
Drummond began to earn coaches’ trust in spring practice. He has seven catches on the season but hasn’t had a catch in the last two games.
Mingo didn’t have a his first catch until Week 3, but has shown the physicality in his game more recently with a 30-yard catch against California and three catches for 74 yards – plus his first touchdown – at Alabama.
It’s the physicality – for Mingo and others – that Ole Miss coaches hope to see sooner rather than later.
“Coach Peeler, our receivers coach, has worked really hard at that, and we have some big, physical guys,” offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said. “We have to win some of those one-on-one battles, whether that’s a contested ball on the perimeter or getting off press coverage which we’re going to see in every game this year to win the route.”