Musical Chairs

Change, significant or not, was expected after Ole Miss fell to 1-2 (0-1 SEC) following a 28-14 loss to Vanderbilt.

Some shuffling was inevitable.

The Rebels have struggled mightily in the season's early going, both offensively and defensively, dropping consecutive home games to substandard competition. There are problem areas aplenty, but none greater than a make-shift offensive line.

"We're going to make a couple of moves in the offensive line," head coach Houston Nutt said at his weekly press conference Monday.

Unsurprisingly, the first bit of experimenting will be at right guard. Ole Miss has started a different guard in every game this season, primarily due to the dismissal of original starter Rishaw Johnson. Josh Tatum, Johnson's backup, hurt his ankle in the team's only win at Tulane.

A.J. Hawkins

"He was limping around Sunday," Nutt said of Tatum. "He's still not 100 percent. He's trying to get back and we need for him to be full speed."

Redshirt freshman Michael Brown drew the start against the Commodores, but was ultimately replaced by Logan Clair midway through the game.

Regardless, the interior of the offensive front was still unable to field a consistent running game, paired with the unit's already leaky pass protection.

"It's been tough, but you have to work with it," Center A.J. Hawkins said of the musical chairs at guard.

"I guess you just have to trust the guy next to you to do their job. We just work through it. There's nothing we can do about it but move on and play hard."

Along with Clair and Brown, Nutt threw three new names into the hat of possible guard candidates Monday. Three freshmen – Jared Duke, Emmanuel McCray and Patrick Junen – will get looks this week in practice.

"It starts up front," Nutt said.

Alex Washington

"We knew coming in we had a younger group. We just feel we can get more production, better production from that group. So we've got to give those guys a chance."

Alex Washington has started every game at left guard this season. And though he may be a junior, he's had his share of struggles, of course, considering he was one of nine new starters on the offensive side of the ball.

But at least he's remained in the starting lineup for a line in desperate need of continuity. Same for Hawkins and tackles Bradley Sowell and Bobby Massie. The final cog has yet to be determined. And it's obviously affecting a should-have-already-been-built chemistry.

"It's real difficult to build chemistry like that," left guard Alex Washington said, "but all we can do is keep practicing and try to get better."

Ole Miss' collection of running backs is finding running lanes, especially up the middle, hard to come by. Quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has had to use his feet far more often than any member of the coaching staff would have hoped in his first month in Oxford.

A sporadic offense at best need only look to its front five for an answer to the up-and-down nature of its ability to score points. Offense starts with winning the battle at the line of scrimmage.

"No one's hanging their head," Hawkins said. "We know what we have to do in order to get back to where we were. We're just going to keep fighting."

OM Spirit Top Stories