Rebels’ offensive line knows it must improve

Laremy Tunsil and the rest of the Ole Miss offensive line know they must improve going forward. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

Laremy Tunsil and the rest of the Ole Miss offensive line know they must improve going forward. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis)

By Parrish Alford

Daily Journal

OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze didn’t call out his offensive line publicly this week, but he danced around the edges enough for Justin Bell to get the message.

Not that the Rebels’ offensive line didn’t already understand.

“We kind of had a sick feeling even though we won the game, at least at my position,” offensive line coach Matt Luke said.

Backfield depth and talent has been considered a string for Ole Miss, but the Rebels rushed for just 71 net yards, just 2.1 yards per attempt, in their 35-13 season-opening win over Boise State.

The offensive line was a different story in camp. While the Rebels have a left tackle with All-America potential in Laremy Tunsil, they had two players making their first college starts against Boise and had a left guard, Aaron Morris, playing for the first time since tearing knee ligaments a year ago.

The shifting and line calls of the Boise defensive front were things Ole Miss coaches had not seen on video, and thus the offensive line was not adequately prepared, Freeze said.

Boise’s movement was a contributing factor in a multitude of false starts by the Ole Miss offensive line in the first half.

“Regardless of that, we’ve got to listen to our quarterback and hone in on his voice. It’s our job to be focused,” Bell said.

Pass protection was better than the run blocking. Quarterback Bo Wallace was sacked twice but more often was able to stand in the pocket and make reads. A few of them were wrong and resulted in three first-half interceptions, but Wallace completed almost 70 percent of his pass attempts for 387 yards and four touchdowns on the night.

Boise’s defensive formations showed its intent to take away the run.

Tunsil graded the highest of the Rebels’ offensive linemen, but Luke said he was not unhappy with the first start of junior center Ben Still.

Even so, he said multi-position reserve Robert Conyers, with whom Still battled until the last week of camp, will see more playing time at center this week against Vanderbilt.

Freshman Rod Taylor is also expected to play more at guard. Luke said he wants to use more players because of the afternoon heat. The Rebels’ opener was inside the climate-controlled Georgia Dome.

Vanderbilt this week has been working to regroup from a 37-7 loss to Temple, a 2-10 team a year ago.

The 3-4 defense isn’t often seen in the SEC, and the Commodores, under new coach Derek Mason, allowed just 3.3 rushing yards per carry.

The Rebels ran the ball better later in the game against Boise with fresh reserve backs Mark Dodson and Jordan Wilkins.

Preparation, personnel and formations aside, Freeze thought the run game did not deliver the first lick.

“We didn’t play physical. We were tentative,” he said.

Words like that are like shots fired for most offensive linemen.

“We take pride in the run game,” Bell said. “We’ve adjusted where we need to adjust, and we’re fixing to get it clicking.”

parrish.alford@journalinc.com