By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss fans looking for some “wild” in the Rebels’ offense haven’t seen it.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt made Dexter McCluster famous two years ago as the “Wild Rebel,” the change-of-pace back who would line up for a shotgun snap.
McCluster then scanned the defense, made a read and used his amazing quickness for what often turned into big gains.
The Rebels have been a very effective two-quarter football team, which would serve them well if they were playing 12 jamborees, but they’re not.
Ole Miss dropped its opener not because of limited play-calling on offense, but because of an inability to respond on defense once Jacksonville State hit a stride.
Still, play-calling has been vanilla with few sprinkles.
Asked about the absence of the “Wild Rebel,” Nutt answered, “Shhh …. ”
He reluctantly answered questions – and the formation, which has not been run in the first two games, was discussed around the edges.
The formation actually was less a factor in the second half of last season when it became necessary to ride McCluster most of the time, not just some of the time.
The biggest offensive play in the LSU game, though, came when McCluster rolled right and found Shay Hodge wide open for a 27-yard touchdown, the eventual winning points.
LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson was convinced McCluster would not throw the ball. He had not thrown it all season, because when Nutt experimented with McCluster’s judgement and arm in 2008, he was 0 for 5 with two interceptions.
Throwing to Hodge was a perfect call, perfect time, and the result was perfect, because it was the ultimate change of pace. Tendency was thrown out the window.
Now the question is, when you’ve got a mobile quarterback taking a shotgun snap on almost every play, do you really get a change of pace with the Wild Rebel?
Junior college transfer quarterback Randall Mackey would have given defenses a different look than Jeremiah Masoli because of his speed, and he would have presented a far better passing option than McCluster. Since Mackey did not figure into the top two quarterbacks, the plan is for him to redshirt.
The first names mentioned by Nutt to take the Wild Rebel snaps were Brandon Bolden and Jesse Grandy. It was an easy response, because opponents have seen those guys take the snaps before.
I suspect, though, that having not used the play in the first two games and with no indication when it will be used, that someone else could be a candidate as well, maybe Derrick Herman, who passed for 1,132 yards and 12 touchdowns as a high school senior. Herman is an athletic player, who hasn’t been able to get on the field at defensive back, running back or wide receiver.
The formation calls for a lot of ball-handling and decision-making, and Bolden is the safest bet.
It’s a play that’s been good to Nutt in the past, however, and Nutt needs some second-half goodness with this offense.
The stars may be aligning for a Wild Rebel comeback this week.
Ole Miss has been sleepy-eyed in the third quarter and needs a lift. The Rebels have a young offensive line with a revolving door at right guard – redshirt freshman Michael Brown will be the third starter in three games – and the formation is less demanding on the line. Vanderbilt, meanwhile, has given up an average of 211.5 rushing yards in its two games.
In a surprise development, the Ole Miss offense has been needed to carry a veteran defense.
Whether with the Wild Rebel or some other means, the offense needs to spice things up and finish drives in the second half the way it has the first two quarters.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about the Rebels at NEMS360.com.