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Ole Miss adjusting to mentality change in running game

There is a good bit of unknown regarding what Ole Miss’ offense will actually look like under new coordinator Rich Rodriguez.

Last week, Rodriguez asked by a reporter if he has an idea of what the offense will look like.

“If I knew, why the hell would I tell you?,” he retorted with a grin, adding that it is too early to give an thorough answer.

Rodriguez arrived in Oxford in January seeking a fresh start after a messy exit at Arizona and spending a year out of coaching, bringing with him a run-first philosophy and a reputation as an innovator. What does that mean for Matt Corral? The redshirt freshman is expected to become the face of the program as he takes the reins to the offense. Rodriguez has coached likes of Pat White, Denard Robinson and Khalil Tate. He’s described Corral as a willing runner who can make all of the necessary throws required within the structure of the offense.

“Obviously, Matt is way ahead with the experience factor,” head coach Matt Luke said. “He connected on some deep balls today and looked good. He looks comfortable. He is a willing runner. He can run enough to hurt you.”

Ole Miss ranked 10th in the SEC in rushing in 2018, but Scottie Phillips was productive for the Rebels, rushing for 928 yards in essentially nine games. Phillips sprained an ankle early in the game against Texas A&M and essentially missed the final two games of the season, aside from four touches on a gimpy wheel in the Egg Bowl. Between Phillips and Isaiah Woullard, the Rebels had a sufficient running game within Phil Longo’s air raid system.

Luke views the change as more of change in mindset than anything else.

“There are no new plays, it is just a mentality of run first,” Matt Luke said. “The quarterback is incorporated into the running game, some new eye candy with some motion and things like that.”

Phillips sees the changes a more of a change in approach than scheme as well. He is familiar with some of he running and blocking schemes Rodriguez wants to implement. The bulk of the change will likely come in frequency of use. The Rebels will likely run more frequently and the backs will have a higher volume of carries. Phillips essentially served as the team’s bell cow a season ago, so a larger workload is fine by him.

“It is the same blocking schemes, with inside and outside zone, and the swings outside the backfield,” Phillips said. “It is just more of a physical approach.”

Phillips was a pleasant surprise for an offense that entered last season uncertain with how it would replace Jordan Wilkins and how well it would run the football. Phillips’ performance on the field validated his standing this offseason as the feature back, a title that breeds trust.

“He is just more confident,” Luke said. “You can see it. He made some nice cuts today. Maybe coming in knowing you are the guy as opposed to trying to earn the job is a little different.”

Where Ole Miss will be limited this spring is on the offensive line. Reinforcements are coming. Seven lineman that signed in the 2019 class will arrive in the fall, but for now, the coaching staff is a bit limited in numbers as it tries to retool a line that loses three starters and four major contributors.

“We are looking at a couple of different rotations with Chandler Tuitt running with the ones with Alex Givens and Royce Newman at tackle,” Luke said. “We have another one with Bryce Matthews at tackle, Royce Newman at guard and Givens at left tackle. We have looked good with both groups. There is some competition there.”

The Rebels will halt practice at the end of the week for spring break and reconvene 12 days later. There is a lot of unknown with this young team as it tries to gel as best it can heading into a year that will look drastically different than the last few.

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