O-line improvement leads to Rebels’ strong offensive showing against Arkansas
OXFORD, Miss. — After the Ole Miss offense struggled against Memphis in the Liberty Bowl in the season opener, the Rebels responded by scoring four touchdowns and a field goal for a 31-17 victory over SEC-West division rival Arkansas last Saturday.
By early in the second quarter against the Razorbacks, Ole Miss had already posted more total offense than in the entirety of the game against the Tigers (173 yards).
The Rebels finished the win over the Hogs with 483 yards of total offense, 246 through the air and 237 on the ground.
“Even the first drive, we looked much more comfortable,” began head coach Matt Luke when asked about his team’s improvement from Week 1 to Week 2.
“We didn’t look out of sync…I just felt like we looked more comfortable,” Luke explained.
“In the red zone, we had an offensive pass interference and a hold, but we seemed much more comfortable. The ball was coming out faster and to the right spots. I’m happy to see that. It’s a big jump for (quarterback) Matt (Corral) from Week One to Week Two,” said Luke.
One of the most noticeable improvements came up front on the Rebels’ offensive line.
During pregame, I watched a fired up Coach Luke make his way over to the offensive linemen and excitedly tell them, “Big men lead the way! Let’s go!”
It was clear Coach Luke was counting on the unit to step up — and they did just that.
The offensive line provided excellent running lanes and pass protection all night long. The Rebels only gave up only one sack and four tackles for loss against the Razorbacks — compared to the three sacks and ten tackles for loss against the Tigers.
After the game, Coach Luke assessed his O-line’s performance.
“…They got in there and they battled. Alex (Givens) didn’t play much in the second half. Bryce Mathews was playing, Michael Howard was playing, Eli Johnson battled. They responded and they played much better in the second half. When we needed to run it, we did,” Coach Luke said.
In the weekly game notes from Ole Miss football, linemen Royce Newman and Eli Johnson received praise. “Both pitched a shutout, allowing zero pressures in pass protection, while participating in each passing snap,” the press release reads.
“Left tackle Michael Howard was also significantly better than he showed in Week 1. Howard played just 12 pass blocking snaps, but he was perfect on them, allowing zero QB pressures,” the release notes.
Nick Broeker makes debut at LT
Another difference between Week 1 and Week 2 is the number of snaps true freshman Nick Broeker took at left tackle. The 6-foot-6, 305-pound tackle out of Springfield, Illinois alternated series with Michael Howard at left tackle throughout the game.
In fact, on all four of the Rebels’ touchdown drives, Broeker was in at left tackle, giving a glimpse as to how well the young player was performing against the talented front seven of Arkansas.
Offensive Coordinator Rich Rodriguez addressed the play of his offensive line after the game.
“That’s a hard working group,” Rodriguez began.
“You know, Nick Broeker played as a true freshman. We rolled some guys in there, and they got some difficult fronts. They got some bare fronts and some guys jumping down in the box,” Coach Rod added.
Ole Miss ground game takes off
Against, Arkansas, the offensive line succeeded in generating holes up front for the running backs–to the tune of 237 total yards on the ground.
Senior Scottie Phillips led the way for the running backs with 145 yards and two touchdowns on 26 carries for an impressive 5.5 yards per carry.
In the fourth quarter, Phillips was pursed by two Razorbacks as he ran towards the goal-line, and it looked like he might be taken down short of the end zone, but he powered through both defenders and gave the Rebels a 31-10 lead that effectively sealed the Razorbacks’ fate.
Running back Snoop Conner rushed for an impressive 5.2 yards per carry for a total of 42 yards on 8 carries. At 5-foot-10, 215-pounds, the true freshman does a very good job of running between the tackles. The option to have Conner enter the game and still pound the rock inside when Phillips needs a breather is huge for this offense.
Coach Rod was pleased with his team’s ability to run the ball effectively.
“You know, the good part is when you can run when everybody knows you’re going to run. You know when the score dictates it in the fourth quarter, and the defense knows you can run and you can still get some first downs—that’s pretty good.”
Coach Rich Rodriguez
Coach Rod also credits running backs Coach Derrick Nix on having his talented group of guys ready each week for gameday.
“Derrick Nix does a good job,” Rodriguez said. “We wanted to get (Jerrion) Ealy some touches. You know he’s a dynamic guy. We tried to get some different ways to get him touches, and then Snoop has got a great future. He reminds me a lot of Scottie. He’s a strong powerful guy, and you know Scottie runs really hard. So, we wanted to get all three of those guys in,” he explained.
“Derrick does a good job of rolling them in there. And Ealy, he and Snoop are just freshmen, and so as they learn they’ll be bigger roles for them as well,” Coach Rod added.
Corral excels against Hogs
Behind a much more dependable offensive line, starting quarterback Matt Corral finished 16-of-24 for 246 yards, two touchdowns, and not interceptions against Arkansas.
He ran for another 46 yards on 10 rushing attempts, and his performance against the Razorbacks earned him the SEC Freshman of the Week honors Monday morning.
One of the big differences in Corral’s performance this week was his ability to get the ball out of his hands quickly on passing attempts so the offensive line was not forced to block for as long on passing downs.
“When you play in this league, you’ve got to get rid of the ball on time, and the ball’s got to go to the right spots,” explained Coach Luke.
“I thought Rich (Rod) did a great job with the game plan this week, simplifying, and I thought Matt looked really good in the offense and the ball came out,” said Luke.
If the Ole Miss offense continues to improve behind an O-line that is becoming more and more confident with each snap of the football, there’s a lot of optimism this team could upset a few opponents they might not have been picked to beat earlier in the preseason.
Coach Luke and his staff are working hard to ensure their players continue to get better in practice every week. It’s a long season, and the Rebels are just getting started!
Derrell has covered Ole Miss athletics in the past for Rebels247 at 247Sports. He attended Delta State University where he graduated with a B.S. in Biology. He is currently pursuing his Pharm.D. at the University of Mississippi School of Pharmacy with an expected graduation of May, 2020.