A few football thoughts on a Sunday morning …
I don’t want to understate the loss of Aaron Morris. It’s a big deal. The most immediate problem, though, is the stress it puts on depth that was gradually building.
The six guys who comprised most of last year’s offensive line ranked No. 97 in the nation last year with 2.62 sacks allowed per game. Bo Wallace often made plays under duress.
The running game ranked fifth in the SEC, but short yardage was a problem. Last year’s line did some good things and became a group that blocked the run game on the edge pretty well.
Against Vanderbilt, running was spotty, and the line gave up four sacks, all of them in the first half.
Protection was better in the second when freshmen Laremy Tunsil and Austin Golson played more. That’s not saying they made it that way. There was also more rolling from the pocket and quicker releases by Bo Wallace.
Subtracting Morris from the lineup takes away a great deal of experience and pushes the freshmen into bigger roles with the hope that they’re ready rather than allowing them to grow.
But it’s hard to look at the offensive line right now and call any single player irreplaceable.
OL coach Matt Luke did a good job beginning to build depth in August, but the reliability of that depth is TBD. Recruiting rankings suggest that Tunsil and Golson can do big things. It they will, but it’s only been one game. Either Justin Bell or Patrick Junen will provide depth, but unless the current health of both of them improves it will take both to get through the season at one of the guard spots.
It’s possible that Emmanuel McCray or Pierce Burton could move inside to a guard spot.
Jared Duke did some good things in camp but didn’t play a whole lot against Vanderbilt.
Robert Conyers may become more important in this picture if any further injuries occur.
When talking offensive line, you’re not talking a complete second team. You’re trying to find about eight guys that you trust to put in the game at any time.
Morris’ injury takes one of those away. The impact on production remains to be seen.
Freeze told us the walk-on receiver would play, and he did. Holder was targeted several times and finished with three catches for 20 yards including one catch for 11 yards to the Vanderbilt 12.
Holder is going to catch the ball. He’s not going to run past or over anybody after he catches in, but the biggest thing to be said for any receiver is, “The guy has good hands.”
One receiver who did not have catch was freshman Quincy Adeboyejo. He did play in the game, but I’m struggling to remember how much.
Wallace’s 31 completions went to six different players, none to Adeboyejo or running backs Jaylen Walton or Kailo Moore.
Freeze did try to get Scott loose with a screen pass. That never worked for a huge gain. Scott finished with four catches for 25 yards to go along with 12 rushes for 138 yards. Have I mentioned that he scored the game-winner on a 75-yard run with 1:07 to play?
That run, by the way, included strong blocking on the edge by TE Evan Engram and WR Donte Moncrief.
The Rebels had 49 yards on four flags against Vanderbilt. That’s not terrible, but it’s about 13 yards more than the 36.9 they averaged last year which ranked 12th best in the nation.
What you don’t want here are a lot of false starts and motion penalties, and Ole Miss didn’t have that. It suggests a lack of chemistry on offense when you have that.
The personal foul by Denzel Nkemdiche on Vanderbilt’s final kick return was snake-bite timing, and fortunately the Rebels were able to overcome that Cody Prewitt’s interception at the Ole Miss 27 of a ball tipped by Jordan Matthews. That might have been the only time in the game the Rebels stopped Mattews.