Ole Miss has been a pass-first team for the better part of a decade. The Rebels have led the SEC in passing yards per game four years straight, and finished in the top five in the league every year since 2012.
While new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez installs his run-based spread option behind closed doors during Ole Miss spring drills, what the Rebels’ offense might look like Aug. 31 in the season opener at Memphis is anybody’s guess.
Rodriguez stresses that he’ll run his offense to fit the skill sets of available players.
Along those lines quarterback Matt Corral, a redshirt freshman, has been described as an athletic “willing” runner.
Head coach Matt Luke says the new offense is not about flashy new plays but about new determination on the ground.
“It’s more a mentality than a play,” Luke said. “It’s a little bit of run first, the quarterback incorporated into the run game and then some wrinkles off that.”
Last season Ole Miss ran the football on 48.7 percent of 860 plays.
Rodriguez’ last Arizona team, the 2017 season, ran 67.5 percent of the team on 908 plays.
Ole Miss was often successful when it did run last season, ranking No. 72 nationally with 164.1 yards a game. The Rebels played most of the last three games without their starting running back, Scottie Phillips, who narrowly missed 1,000 yards for the season.
The Rebels are off for spring break this week.
There are five primary running backs receiving the early reps this spring, led by Phillips as the first-team guy. The Rebels signed a five-star running back in Jerrion Ealy, even though he might play baseball instead of football.
Returning from injury, D’Vaughn Pennamon has received a lot of the second-team reps with the trio of Tylan Knight, Isaiah Woullard and Snoop Conner rotating between the third, fourth and fifth slot.
Pennamon missed the entire 2018 season with injury, so his return could be a long time coming. If he emerges as a standout in the backfield for 2019, Ole Miss’ new run-first offense could be injected with the brand of physicality Rodriguez’s teams tend to play with.
According to Luke, Rodriguez’s approach is a state of mind. However vague that may sound, the players seem to be embracing it. It’s not hard to convince offensive linemen to enjoy increased physicality, so this shouldn’t come as a surprise, but offensive tackle Alex Givens said he loves the physical attitude Rodriguez is instilling in the offense.