Week 1 misery over, Ole Miss focuses on fixing mistakes as Arkansas awaits
When the Ole Miss Rebels walked off the Liberty Bowl Stadium turf last Saturday, it could feel happy the way its defense played. Conversely, it was a dreadful day on offense that contributed to the 15-10 loss to Memphis in the opening game of the season.
“We’ve got the right pieces in place but have a ton of new guys,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “Obviously, there were mistakes made, but I think we (the coaching staff) can put them into better positions to succeed.”
What went wrong? What can be fixed? Let’s take a look as the Rebs prepare for Saturday’s game against Arkansas.
The offensive line woes were evident
The OL, which employed 6 players all day, struggled against the Memphis defensive front in opening holes for the running game to pass protection. Luke pointed out that he will play more linemen against the Hogs, most notably freshman Nick Broeker.
“We have to get better, but there are things we have to do (as an offense) a better job. One thing is just playing more guys,” Luke added.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator Rich Rodrigues didn’t shy away from pointing the finger at himself, either. In his debut, the numbers were anything but good.
“It was a poor performance and it all centers on me,” he said. “I have to do a much better job.”
The second half provided more promise, mainly because the Rebels stayed away from negative plays. At the half, Ole Miss had (-1) rushing yards. It finished with 80 yards on the ground.
Ole Miss must stay ahead of the chains and avoid the negative plays against the Razorbacks or it will be another long night for the Rebels.
QB Matt Corral must improve
Corral did not have a banner day. I think many forget, he is a redshirt freshman, though as you look around college football and see what true freshman are doing, that’s much less of a crutch than it was a decade ago.
Corral showed flashes of what’s to come, primarily on the throw down the sideline to Elijah Moore for 36 yards. Unfortunately, those were not the norm.
Corral fled from the pocket all day and threw on the run for most of the day. Some of that was forced. He finished 9-for-19 for 172 yards. The good news, the staff knows he will improve.
“He made some good decisions and he made some poor decisions; it was his first start so there are some things we can do to help him,” Luke said. “It starts with the offensive line and the receivers.”
Luke is quick to point out, Corral shouldn’t shoulder all the blame in the ineffective offense. Rodriguez agreed.
“We just weren’t available to get him into a rhythm or get him comfortable (against Memphis),” Rodriguez said. “It was his first start and I know Matt (Corral) will get better and continue to improve.”
Turning the page to Arkansas
Luke knows this series better than anybody on the staff. To describe it as bonkers would be an understatement. The Hogs lead the Rebels 35-27-1, with the series tied 6-6 in Oxford, dating to 1908.
Dating to 2015, the total margin of victory has been only 8 points, including the 1-point Arkansas win in overtime in 2015, 53-52.
While Luke didn’t admit it was a must-win game, he understands the significance of opening SEC play at home.
“(We’re) looking forward to come home and open in SEC play. Arkansas is a good football team and I have a lot of respect for coach (Chad) Morris,” Luke said. “They’ve got a veteran defensive front, linebackers and two good running backs, its’s going to be a challenge for us.”
How important is this week for the Rebels?
I’ve been steadfast the Rebels had to start out 2-0 to secure itself a great position for a bowl berth. Now that Ole Miss is 0-1, the path becomes even smaller. Fall at home to Arkansas and the road becomes borderline impossible to get to 6 wins.
Unfortunately for the Rebels, the Hogs come into Oxford as hungry as any team in the conference. The next SEC win for Morris will be his first.
It’s a must-win situation for Ole Miss. I’m quite sure the Arkansas fans will say the same for their Razorbacks.