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How the Ole Miss offense can improve quickly going into Arkansas

The Ole Miss offense left little to be desired Saturday at the Liberty Bowl – Matt Luke owned it, Rich Rodriguez owned it and Matt Corral owned it.

After one week, Ole Miss ranked No. 127 in the nation in total yards, No. 113 in rushing and No. 123 in passing. There are 130 FBS teams that qualify. It’s bad, but there’s actually good reason to believe Ole Miss can turn things around in a hurry offensively.

This position is a foreign one for Rich Rodriguez. When Rodriguez took over West Virginia in 2001, the team scored just 10 points in their first game and ran for just 76 yards. Sound familiar? Ole Miss scored 10 points on Saturday, rushing for 80 yards. In Rodriguez’s second game with WVU in 2001, they ran for 211 yards. The same general trend held true when Rodriguez took over Michigan from game one to game two.

There’s reason to believe the offense can get better, and do so quickly.

“I think you make your biggest improvement from week one to week two. Especially with a young team like we’ve got, I think that will be very important,” Luke said. “Obviously there were some mistakes made, but we can put them in a better position, too… we can get better on (offense) in a hurry.”

Corral made his first start on Saturday. Rodriguez didn’t do a great job setting him up early to be successful.

Corral went 9 for 19 in the loss for just 93 yards and an interception. There wasn’t a single time in the game that Corral went back-to-back plays while completing a pass, and just one time that he completed two passes in a row with runs in between. He’s a young, inexperienced quarterback who was never able to find a groove. For Ole Miss entering week two, that’s the main goal offensively.

“We really weren’t able to get him in a rhythm or comfortable. And any quarterback is like that,” Rodriguez said. “Matt (Corral) can make all the throws and he was really sharp in camp leading up to the game. Then in the game, a few things happened and it went downhill. But he’s a competitive guy… I have a lot of confidence in him. He’ll play well.”

A good place to start with Corral is to not have him backed up behind the chains so much. Ole Miss ran the ball on 18 of 24 first down snaps against Memphis – 11 of which went for 2 yards or less. At the same time, the 5 times Corral threw the ball on first down, he completed 60% of them for an average of 7.2 yards per attempt.

“Anytime you play offense, you have to stay away from negative plays, whether it be sacks or negative yards on first down,” Luke said. “And that’s even more critical, because when you lose yards on first down, that puts you in third and longs and those lead to sacks. We need to stay ahead of the chains.”

Ole Miss needs to not be so predictable in running the ball on just about every first down. It’s a time the team could use to get Corral easy completions for short gains. Plays like running back swing passes work essentially as an extension of the running game, but at the same time get Corral in a rhythm.

But as inefficient as Corral was, the offensive line was arguably the bigger problem. Luke said they’re going to play a handful of more guys against Arkansas, namely true freshman Nick Broeker.

“It doesn’t all fall on the offensive line,” Luke said. “But there are some things that we can do better, and I think playing a few more guys is one of those things.”

With a line as bad as it was on Saturday, fresh blood helps. Ole Miss will continue to tinker with that aspect, doing anything it can to find the best grouping of five while at the same time having enough reserves available so those best five are fresh when the fourth quarter starts.

Ultimately, it’s better the defense to show up and the offense to sputter early than the other way around. Ole Miss showed improvement as a team, and the offense has a lot of reason to believe they can be significantly improved in week two.


Nathanael Gabler covers Ole Miss and high school sports for the Oxford Eagle. You can reach him at nathanael.gabler@oxfordeagle.com with news tips, suggestions or comments. Follow @nategabler on Twitter.