OXFORD • After a Football Championship Subdivision defense posted three sacks and 11 tackles for loss against Ole Miss, the response is simple.
As in, make the offense simpler.
Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said he will consider some tweaks as No. 23 California visits the Rebels on Saturday.
The Bears’ experienced secondary has them ranked No. 14 nationally in pass defense efficiency, and Rodriguez wants to be careful in what calls he subtracts and what remains.
The Rebels have three new starters on the offensive line. They’re basically getting through games with six offensive linemen. The sixth, true freshman Nick Broeker, is rotating at left tackle with senior Michael Howard.
Fourth-year juniors Royce Newman at left guard and Eli Johnson at center began the season with an abundance of experience in the program, but not so much experience in games.
Rodriguez says the offensive line has responded “pretty good” to what he’s asked them to do in three games.
“There are certain things (in the playbook) you’ve got to have to have success,” Rodriguez said. “It’s a balance. We don’t want to confuse our guys, but at the same time we’ve got to find a way to create more explosive plays.”
The Rebels are averaging 179 yards a game, eighth in the SEC, but the figure is a bit misleading compared to what they’ve shown the last two weeks.
They were held to 80 yards on 33 carries in the season opener at Memphis but made big strides in Weeks 2 and 3 with 237 yards against Arkansas and 220 against Southeastern.
Starting running back Scottie Phillips is averaging 102.7 rushing yards a game, third in the SEC, and freshman Jerrion Ealy had a breakout game against Southeastern with a 30-yard touchdown run and a 53-yard run as part of his 95-yard day.
“The O-line did a very good job when I was in of getting on their blocks and staying on their tracks. That’s all I can ask for. When they do that, it’s up to me to make the right decision at the hole and get loose,” Ealy said.
There have been too many struggles amid the successes for Rodriguez’ tastes.
Lost rushing yardage against Southeastern totaled 29 yards. The Lions gave the Rebels trouble with shifting fronts – unlike Arkansas, which shifted less, blitzed more and had just four tackles for loss.
“I think we’ll see quite a bit of that the rest of the year. Very few people will play us straight-up,” Rodriguez said.
Recognition of blitzes and pre-snap movement is something the Rebels worked on throughout August camp and will continue to emphasize this week.
In addition to the Bears’ talented secondary, Cal inside linebacker Evan Weaver was recognized by multiple outlets as the national defensive player of the week after his 18-tackle performance in a 20-19 win at then-No. 14 Washington.
Rodriguez, having coached in the Pac-12 at Arizona, has familiarity with Cal and coach Justin Wilcox, but says he expects to see things this week that he hasn’t seen from the Bears before.
“Familiarity works both ways. After a few days of watching film everybody knows everybody. There’s something different each year, and we’ve got to get ready for that too.”