With FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana making the trip up to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this weekend, the Ole Miss football team will have an opportunity to shore up some of the questions still surrounding the team early this season.
While the Rebels’ defense showed improvement from the first snap, the offensive side of the ball took longer to come along, being held to 10 points against Memphis but exploding in a 31-17 win over Arkansas last weekend.
The matchup with the Lions on Saturday will give Matt Luke and Rich Rodriguez a chance to monitor Matt Corral’s comfort in the system, feed all the running backs in the stable and give the young group of receivers a chance to claim a primary role in the absence of Braylon Sanders.
Most importantly, that offensive line that looked abysmal against Memphis, but improved against Arkansas, has another opportunity to perform in a game situation as a unit.
O-line coach Jack Bicknell included freshman Nick Broeker into the rotation against the Razorbacks in an effort to build depth up front. The Rebels will continue to throw him in throughout the game to maximize reps since it is only his second college game.
“Nick is a guy where you are never going to have to worry about his effort,” head coach Matt Luke said. “He plays the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Again, a lot of room for improvement, but I like the energy and obviously helped keep us fresh and made Michael Howard play better because he was more rested in the fourth quarter.”
The offensive line’s improved play last week paved way for Matt Corral, who will look to grasp the offense even more against SELA. Corral’s 246 yards through the air and 46 yards on the ground won him SEC Freshman of the Week honors.
Corral’s performance in the home opener was a welcome sight for fans worried after a poor outing against Memphis, but Rich Rodriguez is still not satisfied.
“He played a little better, but he can play a lot better than what he did,” Rodriguez said. “The good thing about Matt, he knows right away when there’s a mistake like a missed read or something that he could do better. It was a little better than the first game but there’s still a lot of improvement to be done.”
Corral will be looking for more production from his receiving corps this weekend. The quarterback connected with Elijah Moore for 130 yard and two touchdowns, but no other receiver beside Dontario Drummond caught a pass with Jerrion Ealy grabbing three and Octavious Cooley and Jason Pellerin catching two each.
The Rebels are feeling primary receiver Braylon Sanders’ hamstring injury, and none of the young receivers have stepped into his role. When asked who he was looking to step up, Rodriguez simply said “all the other ones.” Jonathan Mingo, Demarcus Gregory, Miles Battle and others will be challenged to show something against SELA.
“Every wide receiver, I think there were moments coach (Jacob) Peeler agreed we were kind of getting it and then there’s other moments like ‘gosh we’ve still got a lot of work to do,” Rodriguez said. “It was good to see Elijah because he’s probably the most dynamic of the group.”
Rodriguez’s offense will focus on establishing the run in order to get those receivers isolated on the perimeter, and the Rebels have no shortage of able ball carriers. Scottie Phillips’s spectacular all-around performance a week ago, tallying 143 yards and two touchdowns, led to limited snaps for Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy, but the two could finally get equal involvement in the offense this week.
The game this weekend will serve as practice before the Rebels’ tough stretch against a tough California defense and No. 2 Alabama.
“I think it’s important to keep building and getting better every week. That’s what we’ve been preaching. The confidence is growing,” Luke said. “They believe in the system and they have confidence in it, but it’s important to keep improving on that every week because we’re not perfect on either side of the ball. There are a lot of things we need to get corrected and have a sense of urgency to go get it fixed.”