The second year of OC Phil Longo’s system at Ole Miss could be even better than the first
In his second year as offensive coordinator, Phil Longo has watched his players become even more familiar with his scheme, and this experience in the system means the Rebels could have an even more productive offense than last season’s explosive unit.
OXFORD, Miss. — The hiring of Phil Longo in 2016 created a lot of buzz around the Ole Miss football program. All eyes were on the highly coveted coordinator to see if he could bring Ole Miss the same success he experienced at Sam Houston State.
The numbers Coach Longo’s offense produced at Sam Houston were staggering, to say the least. In his three seasons there, Longo’s offenses traveled 22,243 yards.
In his final season, the Bearkats tallied 7,975 yards–good enough for third all-time in FCS history. Another characteristic of Longo’s offenses at Sam Houston is how balanced they were. Of those 22,243 yards his offenses amassed in his tenure, 12,233 were passing and 10,010 were rushing.
Longo brought such a level of offensive success with him to Oxford that it was hard for fans not to become a little giddy at the thought of that offense fitted with the talented players he would have at his disposal at Ole Miss.
In the early part of last season, the Rebs were still learning Longo’s system, so it’s no surprise they struggled a bit to find the balance they would later achieve. Against South Alabama in the season-opener, the Rebels finished with 102 yards rushing and 429 through the air in a 47-27 win.
Against UT-Martin, Ole Miss actually trailed, 16-7, in the first half before going on to win 45-23. The balance still wasn’t there, though, as the Rebels netted 53 yards rushing and 489 passing. While the offense continued to have some growing pains as everyone adjusted to the new scheme, the Rebels dropped games to Cal and to Alabama, last season’s eventual national champion.
But in the second half of the Auburn game, things began to change, and fans started to get a glimpse of just what this new system could produce.
Longo’s offense really started firing on all cylinders as the Rebels gained 426 yards and clawed their way back from a 38-3 deficit. Though Ole Miss still fell to the Tigers, the offense was really clicking and Longo’s bunch outscored Auburn 20-9 in the second half.
One could say it was in that second half of the Auburn game and in the ensuing game with Vanderbilt where Longo’s system began to really find its groove. The offense scored 20 points in the second half of the Auburn game, exhibiting the balance it needed to become as good as it was the back half of the season.
The Rebels then stormed into the Vanderbilt game and posted a jaw-dropping 603 yards of offense and 57 points. A performance like that is few and far between in college football–especially against an SEC team.
So what gave this offense the sudden prowess to score 57 points against a conference opponent?
It had a lot to do with running the ball–and running the ball well–as senior running back Jordan Wilkins rushed for 120 yards, helping keep Vanderbilt’s defense honest. This allowed a more-balanced attack for the offense between run and pass, something Ole Miss fans were overjoyed to see.
Increased balance leads to strong finish
When the Magnolia Bowl against LSU rolled around, the Rebs were riding high offensively, but then-quarterback Shea Patterson went down in the third quarter with a knee injury, leaving the game after having thrown three interceptions against LSU’s outstanding secondary.
Backup QB Jordan Ta’amu took over and played well, finishing 7-for-11 for 78 yards through the air and adding 20 more yards on the ground. The offense tallied 347 total yards (153 on the ground and 194 through the air) in the 40-24 loss to LSU.
With Ta’amu at the helm, the Rebels’ offense took its newfound balance and rolled throughout the rest of the season, averaging a whopping 485 yards per game behind Ta’amu’s strong performances through the air and Wilkins’ consistency on the ground.
Once Ole Miss achieved that balance, Coach Longo’s offense became as dominant as it was at Sam Houston State, giving the Rebels one of the most productive units in the country.
Why we should expect an even better year from Ole Miss’ offense in 2018
Ole Miss finished third in the SEC West in total offense last year–pretty good, if you ask me. When Coach Longo’s scheme took hold in 2017, it was an absolute spectacle to watch.
The Rebels finished second in the conference (only to Missouri) in in total yards per game (462.33) and finished first in that same category in the SEC West Division.
Ole Miss led the entire league in passing yards per game (328.42), and this number could get even better in 2018.
Ta’amu returns at quarterback and has now had a full spring and fall camp under his belt as the starter. The Rebels return the best wide receiver corps in the nation. First-team All-American A.J. Brown is back and joined by standout wide receivers D.K. Metcalf and DaMarkus Lodge. Tight end Dawson Knox is healthy and expected to make a huge contribution to the offense.
The O-line is bursting with talent as the returnees have a combined 103 starts between them. Senior center Sean Rawlings anchors the line and is joined by second team All-American Greg Little, returning starters Javon Patterson, Alex Givens, Jordan Sims, and new talent, such as sophomore Ben Brown who will start at right guard. That’s a lot of guys coming back–and all of them have had a year in Longo’s system.
Having that year to learn Longo’s style and playbook will work in favor of all the returning Rebels. In a post-practice interview during fall camp, D.K. Metcalf explained what it means to the offense.
“We had a year to prepare for the offense… getting to know it. This year we’re just solidifying everything and knocking out any wrinkles we had last year.”
Ole Miss WR D.K. Metcalf
With a returning veteran quarterback, offensive line and receivers, the only question mark entering the 2018 campaign is finding Jordan Wilkins’ replacement.
Coach Luke said in Monday’s first weekly press conference of the season that Scottie Philips will be the starting back, and that Eric Swinney and Isaiah Woullard will also see time at the position as circumstances dictate. (Update: Ole Miss has announced that Swinney has been diagnosed with mono and will be out for three weeks.)
If Phillips and company can come close to replacing Wilkins–the first 1,000 yard rusher for Ole Miss since Dexter McCluster — this offense will continue to be balanced and very hard to stop.
Here’s to a great season! Go Rebs!