There are multiple Tigers in the SEC, so precedent is established for multiple mascots. Mississippi Razorbacks. Is there a ring to it? Maybe not.
The only reason the Razorbacks might have worked for Ole Miss is because coach Houston Nutt is building an offense that resembles some of his more successful Razorbacks teams at Arkansas.
Running the football is Nutt’s preference. He’s willing to adapt to the talent on hand to win, but he likes a a dynamic rushing offense, and when he passes he wants to play off the run game with play-action.
New offensive coordinator David Lee coached with Nutt two different stints at Arkansas covering three seasons: 2001-2002 and 2007, Nutt’s last season in Fayetteville. Arkansas was 24-14 during those seasons, winning the SEC Western Division once and twice reaching the Cotton Bowl. Two of those three seasons Arkansas led the SEC in rushing.
In hiring Lee, Nutt is banking that history will repeat itself and catapult Ole Miss from the SEC West cellar where it held a firm grip in 2010.
Lee is clear in his belief that the Rebels are a better rushing team than a passing team right now. That’s not likely to change, because the sets used in the spring and Lee’s own comments clearly define the run game preference.
“Our guys know what kind of personality we want to have based on how we practiced, and that’s to be a tough, physical run first football team,” Lee said.
The Rebels were third in the SEC in rushing last year, at 207.6 yards a game, one of just three teams to average better than 200 yards. The running game did disappear at key times in some games, and there is room for improvement.
That’s why there’s a sense of excitement for this offensive line.
There’s experience at each edge in tackles Bradley Sowell, a fifth-year senior, and Bobby Massie, a junior, who have combined for 41 starts.
There’s a returning starter at center in junior A.J. Hawkins.
And there’s an intriguing addition in Matt Hall, a transfer from Arkansas, who gave up a year of eligibility to join Nutt, with whom he developed a strong relationship during recruiting but ultimately followed his heart to Arkansas.
With the tackle positions set, Hall won a job at right guard this spring, and with his 6-foot-10, 341-pound frame on the interior, the Rebels get much bigger and potentially more physical.
Freshmen thrown into the fire because of injury and indiscretion last year help make this a line better suited to withstand injury this time around.
The Rebels ran with more success later in spring drills than they did at the beginning as pieces and parts were moved around.
There’s been a great deal of focus on the quarterback race in the spring, but if Nutt has truly amassed an offensive line to match a deep stable of running backs, whoever takes the snaps just might start the game with a big advantage.
Parrish Alford covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily about Ole Miss athletics at NEMS360.com.