OXFORD, Miss. — The Ole Miss offense got off to a rocky start against Memphis last Saturday at the Liberty Bowl as the Rebels were unable to generate much push up front in the first half. In the first five offensive series, Ole Miss ran the ball for negative yards on all but one of the series—and that resulted in no gain on the play.
Ole Miss offensive line coach Jack Bicknell knows there is no substitute for game experience, and he believes his players learned a lot from the matchup with the Tigers and will be better against Arkansas this Saturday.
After practice Tuesday, Coach Bicknell gave his assessment on the offensive line from last week against Memphis. “We didn’t have the ball much in the first half,” he began.
“Obviously, we didn’t do well enough. They blitzed us, they gave us some tough things, I’ll give them that. We just didn’t do well picking it up. So, we need to improve with that…obviously, there’s a lot to learn from, a lot to get better with and that’s what we’re planning on doing this week.”
Offensive line coach Jack Bicknell, Jr.
Second half improvement vs. Memphis
Everything starts up front with the offensive line pushing defenders off the block and creating running lanes. In the second half against Memphis, the o-line improved as each of the first plays on Ole Miss’ first three series resulted in positive yardage—with Phillips running for two first downs and Corral picking up a nice five-yard gain as well.
Coach Bicknell explained why he thought the offensive line improved so much between the two halves. “Part of it was maybe just adjusting to the speed of the game a little bit,” he said.
“We did a couple of scheme things a little bit differently. I think part of it was we figured out what they were doing to us and made some adjustments to that at halftime and in the second half. That’s probably the biggest thing. But more than anything, it was just ‘Hey, this is the speed of the game; we know what they’re doing now, so let’s do this,’ and it ended up working pretty well.”
Coach Jack Bicknell, Jr.
Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez also started utilizing two tight end sets more in the second half, and that also helped the inexperienced offensive line create some more push up front.
True freshman Nick Broeker played some on special teams last week against Memphis; however, the 6-foot-6, 305-pound tackle out of Springfield, Illinois will get reps at tackle during the upcoming game against the Hogs.
At his Monday press conference, head coach Matt Luke was asked about ways to help fix some of the issues on offense. “Nick Broeker will see some time this week,” Luke said.
On Tuesday, Coach Bicknell spoke about preparing the talented true freshman for Arkansas. “He’s going to get some snaps this week, no question,” he stated.
“It’s hard to make any real predictions as to the number of snaps, but he (Broeker) will be in there in the first half. If he’s playing well, he’ll get more snaps. I think he’s ready to go, there’s no question about it, and I’m excited to watch him play on Saturday.”
Coach Bicknell on Nick Broeker
Since Broeker signed with Ole Miss back in December, I’ve been waiting for him to get some serious reps in at tackle. Now, in Week 2, it looks like he’s going to have that opportunity. His weight should help make it a little easier to contain the edge on the offensive line against larger defensive linemen in the SEC. If he’s able to hold his own this weekend against Arkansas, it would not shock me to see Broeker end up being the starter at left tackle as the season progresses.
Coach Bicknell was asked how he will divvy up the reps during practice this week to ensure Broeker gets some time with the ones. “Basically, we have different combinations of guys, and he (Nick Broeker) will take some of the first team reps,” Bicknell explained.
“We might put Bryce (Mathews) at right guard sometimes when we play Ben (Brown) at center, and then we can we throw Nick in there,” he continued. “So we have a bunch of different combinations of guys. Ben plays center and guard, Bryce plays guard and tackle. Usually Mike (Howard) and Nick will rotate in at left tackle. There are really seven guys we are working with, with Alex (Givens).
“We’re waiting for an 8th guy to come up, but until they do we’re going to find the best combination of those seven guys and play them.”
Coach Jack Bicknell
Alex Givens, who has been recovering from back surgery, is fully able to participate in practice now after being somewhat limited last week. He came out of the Memphis game injury free and looks to be a full go now. The Rebels have a strong right side of the line with Brown at right guard and Givens at right tackle. If Broeker can step up and help at left tackle role, and if another lineman can step up and help out at guard, the unit will be better able to keep bodies fresh throughout the season.
Bicknell looking for 8th lineman to emerge
Bicknell mentioned a few names that could possibly be emerging as the 8th lineman to help fill in at guard. “You’ve got Chandler Tuitt who’s out there, and Jalen Cunningham,” he said. “Those two guys are guards who just come to mind right now. We could use a guard to come through, and if they can just continue to improve then we’d be in good shape there. It’s not that they aren’t good players. They are good players, but they have to be the best. They have to be one of the seven best, and right now we feel like they haven’t beaten those other guys out.”
What should we expect from Arkansas’ defensive front?
Coach Bicknell was asked about the Hogs on Tuesday and what his unit should expect to see. “They’re a very good defensive football team,” Bicknell began.
“They have a great scheme. They give you multiple fronts. They’ll play odd and what we call ‘under and over wide’ and four down, so they present you a lot of scheme issues and I think that they have good personnel. They’ve got guys who’ve played some football and can run around, so it’ll be a big challenge, but that’s what it’s all about in this league and we’re excited about meeting it.”
Coach Bicknell on Arkansas defense
This game is going to go a long way in determining the amount of success the Rebels have the rest of the season, and all eyes are going to be focused on the offensive line to see if they’ll be able to hold back the talented front seven of the Razorbacks.
We’ll find out soon enough. Kickoff for the game against the Hogs is set for 6:30 p.m.