Ole Miss Practice Report: Rebel Linebackers Preparing For Shifts and Motions in Razorback Offense

Ole Miss’ upcoming game against Arkansas in Little Rock on Saturday is an interesting one in the sense that it can swing the momentum pendulum fairly violently in either direction depending on the result. 

A win against a 1-5 Razorback team that is betting to find its offensive identity could put the Rebels at 5-2 through seven games, with two home games and a bye week upcoming. A loss and the outlook on the remaining five games would look pretty bleak. If  Ole Miss loses to what is perceived as the worst team in the SEC West, it will be hard to pinpoint a potential win in the remaining five games.

Ole Miss hit the practice field on Tuesday in preparation for its battle with Arkansas. Here are some news and notes from practice.

 

Secondary updates:

C.J. Miller and Myles Hartsfield were both at practice on Tuesday. The two suffered ankle injuries in the win over Louisiana-Monroe and could’ve potentially been two more losses to an already depleted secondary for the Rebels. Hartsfield has the ability to play safety and corner. His versatility is invaluable to a secondary in dire need of it. Hartsfield worked with the first team. Miller is C.J. Moore’s replacement at safety. Moore tore his pectoral muscle against LSU and will miss the remainder of the season. 

Having Miller and Hartsfield available on Saturday would help the defense immensely in terms of depth.

Miller did not return to the game last week and could be a game-time decision.

Sanogo leading linebackers as they face an arduous challenge:

In a lot of ways, Mohamed Sanogo is an old soul in the Ole Miss linebackers’ room, an odd title for a true sophomore. But Sanogo has felt that way for so long, he’s used to it. He’s been in charge of guiding true freshmen Kevontae’ Ruggs and Jacquez Jones through their first seasons of major college football — one in which they’ve been asked to be major contributors out of necessity.

“Ruggs’ mind has improved so much more,” Sanogo said. “He has been staying late with the coaches and trying to learn more. Jacquez’ body language has been more juiced up and ready to go each day. Not that he is not ready to go, but he is getting into that atmosphere of being a linebacker and taking control.”

Sanogo doesn’t mind being a mentor despite being only a year older.

“I’ve been doing it for so long now, I just forget I am a sophomore,” Sanogo said.

Sanogo played his most complete game against the Warhawks, playing both middle and outside linebacker. The staff has made a conscious effort to avoid putting two freshmen linebackers on the field at the same time, so Sanogo has been forced to adapt.

“He has made some really good plays from a production standpoint,” linebackers coach Jon Sumrall said. “Some really good tackles and critical plays. He has to play a little more disciplined at times. He wants to play so fast, you have to make sure he slows his feet down and make sure he is not overrunning some things.”

Being disciplined and slowing down will be of paramount importance going up against a Razorback offense that has really struggled fitting former head coach Bret Bielema’s pro-style personnel into Chad Morris’ spread system. 

But Arkansas put up 31 points and 407 yards of offense against Alabama last week and is beginning to find its identity.  The Razorbacks make a lot of pre-snap shifts and motions, have an intricate screen game and are creative in the ways they use their tight ends. Combatting the shifts and motions will be difficult for a defense that has consistently struggled in plugging the right gaps and being disciplined.

“That is what got us against Southern Illinois a little bit,” Sanogo said. “They were moving around and leaking guys out late. We have to really pin our eyes on who we got and make sure we are focused and ready to play. We have to communicate so everyone is on the same page.”

Sumrall said they’ll see motion on 50 percent of plays the Razorbacks run. How does this group slow down and read the different looks Arkansas will present? Footwork.

“You just work on the initial footwork,” Sumrall said. “I call it the read steps, not crossing over too soon. A lot of people think it is counter to what you are trying to teach, but as soon as you cross your feet over, you can only play in one direction and that is the direction you crossed over. The longer you stay square, you can play any direction you want to go.”

Matt Corral assess his play:

Matt Corral saw the most extensive playing time of his young Ole Miss career. He completed all 10 passes he attempted and broke a 61-yard touchdown run. Corral assessed his play, talked about a potential redshirt and his relationship with Jordan Ta’amu.