Werner and Luke taking on more play-calling responsibility

Hugh Freeze knows what’s best for his football team.

That’s why the fourth-year Ole Miss head coach has relied on co-offensive coordinators Dan Werner and Matt Luke to handle more of the play-calling responsibilities the last two weeks.

So far, so good. 

In the last two weeks, back-to-back Ole Miss wins, the Rebels have found an effective run-pass balance, racking up 1,029 combined yards and 50 points. They rolled up 558 yards on 91 plays in a 27-19 win at Auburn to move their record to 7-2 on the season and 4-1 in Southeastern Conference games.

“You judge where your team’s at and where can you go and assist the most,” Freeze said. “I just felt like I needed to spend a lot of time with our team. It’s always been a joint deal, but I’m very involved still in these are the packages we’re carrying. One of the things that’s probably a disadvantage for Dan and Matt is when we go to defense, I’m involved with that. That’s when they’re talking about the next series. Matt’s got an idea, Dan’s got an idea and then if I come back in and haven’t heard all of those, that’s probably putting them at a bit of a disadvantage coaching their kids while I’m with the defense. They know the packages and what we like in those packages, and they kind of rank them. 

“That’s what went into the decision. It’s been beneficial thus far.”

If nothing else, the change has certainly benefited the Ole Miss running game. The Rebels managed all of 40 yards on 24 carries in its loss to Memphis, but in the wins over Texas A&M and Auburn that followed, they managed 230 and 156 yards, respectively.

Freeze said Werner and Luke called around 80 percent of the plays Saturday. They called 2/3rds of the plays against Texas A&M.

“I feel like they probably just came to the conclusion that they want to keep it simple,” offensive lineman Justin Bell said. “Keeping it simple, and just trusting that we can run the ball between the tackles. Obviously we’ve got the receivers that can make plays. We’re making people play more one-high because we can run the ball. Therefore it opens it up for our receivers.”

“Coach Werner will mix it up,” wide receiver Laquon Treadwell said. “He knows how to get several other guys involved in different ways, whether it’s a screen or something different other defensive coordinators haven’t seen. Coach Werner, he’s been doing it for a while. He’s very intelligent with the game. So is coach Freeze. I think it takes a lot of pressure off of coach Freeze and allows him to bring more passion for the game and allow coach Werner to call the plays.”

Arguably no player has benefited from the change quite like Treadwell, who’s on an historic pace with four-straight 100-yard receiving games, a school record. Treadwell leads the SEC in receptions per game (6.8) and receiving yards per game (96.7). He reeled in seven passes for 114 yards and a touchdown at Auburn, and he’s now fifth in program history with 2,110 receiving yards. He’s the fastest Rebel ever to 2,000 yards.

Treadwell said having Freeze more involved in all aspects of the team, including chemistry and energy, has provided a spark.

“The Texas A&M game, they’ve got several different pictures of him in the crowd with the defense, him knocked over or whatever,” he said. “He’s losing his voice now, and he’s just bringing a lot of energy to the team. It helps us play better, and it brings a comfort level of even if you mess up, you can still fly around and make the next play.”

Ole Miss hosts Arkansas Saturday at 2:30 p.m. CT. And with the way things are going, with the Rebel offense finding a rhythm, the staff will roll on with their three-man collaborative play-calling effort.

Hey, it’s working.

“I said 80 percent the other day was he and Matt,” Freeze said. “That’s probably accurate. I have the freedom to jump in anytime I want, and they’re great with that. And I do from time to time. 

“Again, it’s here’s what we’re going to do with this formation. I OK’d that, I like it. You guys talk in between the series and have a reason for doing what we do. I have great trust in them, and they’ve done a great job.”

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