The bye week allowed Ole Miss to nurse the few short-term injuries it has littered across the roster and the team returned to practice on Tuesday a bit healthier. The Rebels have their penultimate home game against a South Carolina team whose season has mirrored Ole Miss’ in the sense that it has been consistently inconsistent.
Here are some observations from Tuesday’s practice.
— C.J. Miller was a full participant in practice. The sophomore safety has missed the last two games with a sprained ankle. He practice last week as well and is full go for Saturday’s game.
— Linebacker Josh Clarke was a limited participant in practice. He is nursing a sprained ankle and did some individual drills on the side as well as some team drills that didn’t require contact. His status for this weekend’s game is unknown, but it seems unlikely he will play.
— Austrian Robinson was back at practice and is probable this weekend. He too practiced last week.
— Victor Evans practiced. He is thought to be available in a limited capacity as he deals with a chronic knee injury.
Miller’s return gives secondary flexibility:
The Ole Miss secondary was once thought to be the deepest portion of its defense, but has been ravaged by injuries through the first eight games of the season. Getting Miller back not only gives the team another able body, but also allows Myles Hartsfield to move around the secondary.
“Myles does a lot for us,” secondary coach Jason Jones said. “He can play strong safety, free safety, nickel and corner. It frees us up. If a guy needs a blow at a certain spot, we can plug Myles in. Getting C.J. back is huge for us.”
Hartsfield is the unit’s Swiss Army Knife, so to speak, and had been limited to playing safety primarily in Miller’s absence due to the lack of depth the team has at the position, a slot where they’ve already been forced to move Armani Linton back to after Linton moved to running back int the offseason.
South Carolina’s passing game is capable, but has been inconsistent at times due to junior quarterback Jake Bentley being erratic throwing the football. Bentley has plateaued in a season that has seen his completion percentage drop by four percent from his freshman year mark of 65 percent. Bentley threw for 2,794 yards in his sophomore season with 18 touchdowns and 12 interceptions. He has 11 touchdown passes and eight interceptions in six games this season. Bentley missed a game due to injury and South Carolina had its second game of the year canceled due to inclement weather.
The Gamecocks use the middle of the field heavily and have a more than capable set of receivers in Bryan Edwards and Shi Smith, and then of course are highlighted by Deebo Samuel. Bentley built a reputation early on in his career for throwing a strong deep ball and South Carolina can still take the top off of defenses despite Bentley’s perceived regression.
“I feel like they are going to go with a lot of deep balls along with running the ball,” Miller said. “They run a lot of crossing routes and stuff. We will have that handled this week.”
South Carolina also uses run-pass-options effectively and that is part of the reason why they occupy the middle of the field so frequently. A serviceable running game lures the linebackers downhill and leaves open the glance route over the middle when Bentley elects to pull the ball out and throw it.
Bentley has had some good moments this season, but has not been able to piece together the consistency most thought he’d provide.
“He is a competitor,” Jones said. “He is going to take what you give him in the RPO’s. A lot of times they put the defense in a situation where they can’t be right. He can always run it. He does a really good job of running their system with the RPO’s and throws the deep ball well.”
Ben Brown discusses O-Line’s desire to rebound:
The Ole Miss offensive line had its worst game of the season against Auburn. The Tigers consistency got penetration in the Rebels’ backfield and the inability to run the football with consistent success led to the team’s red zone woes. The offensive line is an experienced group that has played a lot of football together. They’ve anchored the offense for most of the season and are looking to rebound from a lackluster performance.
“We could have done a lot better, myself included,” redshirt freshman Ben Brown said. “We could’ve gotten more blocks, finish more. We take that personally.”
South Carolina is an active defense. Both Matt Luke and Phil Longo said unprovoked that the Gamecocks populate the football well and swarm the ball carrier, acknowledging that it sounds like coach speak, but that there is a lot of truth to it.
“We have to finish,” Brown said. “We have to stay on our block the whole time and drive them into the dirt. We can’t let up any.”