By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Bobby Massie says Ole Miss fans should expect big things from their offensive line in spite of a slow start for a group regarded by one preseason analyst as the second-best unit in the nation.
After two Saturdays, the passing game has shown promise, the defense mixed results.
The road to recovery for Ole Miss, however, was to be grounded in the strength of its offensive line, the consistency of its running game.
Tailback Brandon Bolden narrowly missed 1,000 yards last season, but he’s missed time with a slight ankle fracture. He was back at practice Tuesday with a heavily wrapped left ankle and should be available for some duty Saturday morning at Vanderbilt.
Same for Enrique Davis, who also missed last week.
The fact of the matter is the strength of this offense was to be its line, more than its backs. A group with a great deal of experience at three of its five positions – much less so at the guards – is expected to move people around for everyone, not just Bolden and Davis.
“Regardless of who carries the football we have to do a better job of opening holes, picking up stunts and twists and being more physical,” offensive line coach Mike Markuson said after the loss to BYU. Bolden was injured early in the second quarter, and the Rebels didn’t reach 100 yards on the ground.
Ole Miss rushed for 179 yards – 118 from Jeff Scott, usually the speed back role player – against FCS opponent Southern Illinois last week. Overall the performance was far from celebration, as 64 of those yards came on the Rebels’ last drive, which began with 4 minutes, 3 seconds on the clock.
The Salukis posted nine tackles for loss and got pressure from their defensive line interior with two sacks early in the game. That’s two more sacks than BYU had against Ole Miss.
In their first two games the Rebels have seen three-man fronts – not what most SEC teams employ in their base sets – with lots of stunts and movement. While SEC teams may not use those fronts as a rule, they’ll be smart enough to exploit the Ole Miss line if it can’t adjust.
The absence of Bolden and Davis complicated matters last week, and the drop-off from the top-line backs to the reserves was clear. Scott’s ability to make consistent gains is a reminder that a solid rushing effort is not only about the line.
“We have two good quarterbacks and some great young receivers. If our O-line can get that pass protection that our quarterbacks need, I definitely think we’ll be able to put up more points, and that will take off more of the load from us running backs,” Scott said.
Massie, the Rebels’ junior right tackle, believes change is coming soon. It apparently will not include much in the way of personnel change beyond the possibility of more playing time for freshman Aaron Morris who is being groomed for both guard and tackle.
Massie offered no specifics. If he had, he’d have joined an extreme minority among football players and coaches.
“It’s going to be a different show come Saturday at Vandy,” he said.
If it is, Ole Miss fans will be glad to see it.
Parrish Alford (parrish.alford@ journalinc.com) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at NEMS360.com.