OXFORD • In the chess game that is college football, Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez has made some big moves in recent weeks.
The moves made without the football may have been the biggest.
Rodriguez has given defenses some different looks, not so much with pre-snap movement but with formations, some empty backfields and other things.
If doing so can cause a defender to line up incorrectly or move just a step or two in the direction opposite from where the ball will eventually go Ole Miss can gain a big advantage.
Such was the case against No. 1 LSU when the Rebels surpassed the 400-yard rushing mark for the third time this season, their 402 yards on the ground the most allowed by an LSU defense since at least 1960.
“I always try to be multi-formational. We had a couple of new ones in the last game, a couple more that we’ve worked on during the season,” Rodriguez said.
The Tigers went into the game ranked No. 2 in the SEC and No. 13 overall in rushing defense, allowing barely a hundred yards a game.
“Rich had an outstanding game plan and had the right way to attack it,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “Unfortunately it took us a little while to get on track.”
The Rebels trailed 31-7 less than a minute into the third quarter when quarterback John Rhys Plumlee – who would run for 212 yards and four touchdowns – broke free on a 60-yard touchdown run.
LSU had six defenders that were lined up with the center or split wide to the Rebels’ left side when Plumlee faked to Jerrion Ealy, the lone back, who ran to the left. Right guard Ben Brown pulled on the play, running with Ealy.
When Plumlee kept the ball and ran right, the Tigers had no one to set the edge on that side of the field. Their farthest player on that side was defensive end Glen Logan who took a step the wrong way. Plumlee easily turned the corner, and Logan had no chance to recover.
Cornerback Kristian Fulton had taken a couple of steps with Ealy and stumbled when trying to reverse his field. Middle linebacker Jacob Phillips tried to join the chase, but he was all the way up at the line of scrimmage – and on the wrong side of the field – before he realized what was going on.
“We are doing a lot of really good things there, making people defense all 11 but also making people defense the whole field,” Luke said. “When you have fast guys going both ways it puts a lot of pressure on the defense.”
Throughout the game the Rebels had success with counters and misdirection.
It was the second-straight game in which Ole Miss totaled more than 600 yards of offense and more than 400 rushing yards.
Ole Miss this week leads the SEC in rushing by 30 yards over Kentucky and ranks No. 9 nationally.
Rodriguez believes the Rebels’ passing game will improve as Plumlee, Ealy and other key freshmen continue to gain experience.
“Right now you might have a window that looks like a guy’s open, but at this level those windows close pretty quickly,” Rodriquez said. When you think he’s open he’s not really open, so you have to really be on time, your timing of the route, your accuracy and velocity of throws.
All the guys, all the quarterbacks will be better with that.”