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October 9, 2013Ole Miss' offensive output was prodigious earlier this season. After a 44-23 win over Texas, the Rebels were averaging 38 points a game and it wasn't like they had feasted on a schedule of FBS nobodies their victims included Vanderbilt and Texas. There was talk that their offense was on par with that of Texas A&M which was considered the gold standard as far as offenses go in the Southeastern Conference.
However, since that point in time, Ole Miss has been shut out by Alabama and struggled to put 22 points on the board in a loss at Auburn. As a result, their offensive rankings have plummeted and they now rank in the bottom half of the SEC in all major offensive categories. In their last two games, the lack of productivity can be traced directly to Ole Miss' inability to run the ball. Many spread teams employ the quarterback as another ball carrier in order to outnumber the defense at the point of attack and junior Bo Wallace had been used extensively in this role earlier in the year. However, as the Rebels have faced better defenses, his numbers have gone down. While part of that is due to Ole Miss falling behind early and having to throw the ball more (and him taking sacks), there's been issues with their offensive line that have manifested themselves against more experienced front fours.
Ole Miss runs the spread but it's far different than what A&M runs. They are not very up tempo at all and essentially use power concepts with spread formations. They'll reduce their formations most of the time with receivers in tight and they will use a fullback or a tight end. They pull their guards on power and run zone read off of that with the guards continuing onto the outside while the quarterback reads the defensive end. They will often pull linemen one way and send the fullback/tight end the other way as if he was a trapping lineman himself.
The Rebels are starting freshman Laremy Tunsil at left tackle and Justin Bell at right guard. However, the lack of experience has little to do with their issues up front. However, all of their linemen are much like Arkansas' in terms of size and height (300 pounds plus across the board). That means when they do down block rather than zone block, they often have issues dealing with penetration because they can't step and quickly enough in front of the defender. They also cut block and do other things based on movement that as a group they are not built to do. This is one thing that explains their lack of success versus quicker defenses that they've faced the past two weeks.
Quarterback Bo Wallace is used almost as an every down ball carrier due to the size of tailback Jeff Scott much like Colin Klein at Kansas State. Scott is only 5 foot 7 and 175 pounds and although a big play back he is not built to run inside or take that many hits. He only averages about ten carries a game although he also averages close to ten yards a carry. Wallace is good at running the zone read but they run it differently; instead of using Scott to run inside as most teams use their running backs via inside zone, they bring him outside and Wallace basically runs to the inside. They will run Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers inside but Walton is only 165 pounds and Walton is under 200 pounds. Backup quarterback Barry Brunelli is used as a changeup to Wallace.
In the passing game, Ole Miss will run play action off of its pulling actions and they will also roll the pocket and use the tight end/fullback and running back to help block edge rushers to the play side. They struggle in protection not just with edge rushers but interior linemen as well and because they down block and pull in play action they have to roll Wallace out to avoid rushers. He's often throwing on the run which impairs his accuracy and also doesn't allow him to get the ball down the field. They like to throw bubble screens and also screens where one receiver is behind the other. They'll run a back or inside slot to the flat, have the outside slot run a stop, and clear out with the outside receiver. They'll throw go and post routes down the field.
Their receiving corps has good size and they can be physical in the screen game and after the catch. Donte Moncrief is main guy at receiver and he's got good speed. Freshman Loquon Treadwell has been productive. Their biggest problem is running routes in that they're aren't very precise and tend not to run them at full speed. They also had a problem catching the ball. Due to these issues and their youth, they keep things simple in the passing game and try to throw the ball off of play action.
Teams that have stopped or slowed down Ole Miss have athletic fronts that can beat down blocks and pass protections. A&M's Isaiah Golden may be an upgrade in that regard as he has demonstrated an ability to get push and play on someone else's side of the ball. In addition, defensive ends that get upfield play havoc the mesh on the zone read. If A&M can't capitalize on these vulnerabilities, then the Rebels will be able to run the ball and go play action off of that. A&M's corners have to be able to match the Rebels physically in order to jam blockers for screens and also be able to keep them in front of them to stop big plays. However, if A&M plays off those receivers, that may mean that Ole Miss can move the chains with shorter passes.
A&M's defense has been able to force turnovers this season and the Aggies probably need to keep doing that because they've been unable to stop teams consistently. That probably won't change Saturday night but A&M can probably keep Ole Miss in the 30's and that should be enough to win, especially if A&M avoids the turnover issues from last year.
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