Matt Luke

Despite the loss, there were positives for the Ole Miss offensive line

It’s easy to forget because of the end result, but for at least two quarters of football against Florida State, the new-look Ole Miss offensive line held up pretty well.

The Rebels were balanced and efficient, perfectly blending the run and pass to race out to a 28-6 lead. Of course, it all fell apart in the third quarter. Ole Miss gained all of -7 yards and turned the ball over twice in its own red zone. FSU turned both miscues into points.

When the dust finally settled, the Seminoles had scored 33 unanswered points and taken a lead they wouldn’t relinquish. Ole Miss attempted to play catch-up the rest of the way, but the Seminoles simply dialed up pressure and got to quarterback Chad Kelly. They finished with five sacks and, worst of all for Ole Miss, a 45-34 win.

“Some of it was when we were at the end there, we were in some obvious pass situations and they were able to get four defensive ends in there and pin their ears back,” Ole Miss offensive line coach and co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke said. 

Matt Luke

“In the first half, we had our tempo going and there was a semblance of balance where they couldn’t just pin their ears back and come. Obviously, that helps when you’re a lineman. The toughest situation to be in when you’re a lineman is when everybody knows that you’re throwing. That’s tough. It wasn’t a scheme issue. It was just in a couple of situations, their guy beat our guy in a one-on-one. When you’re playing against a good defense, that happens some.”

Again, though, there were positives, hard as they may be to see now.

Though the offense finished with only 380 total yards, they had 312 at intermission, displaying what it can do when it’s clicking on all cylinders — no matter the opponent. Luke said there was plenty to build on.

“We’re a dang good offense and we have a chance to be really, really special if we execute and we don’t turn the ball over,” Luke said. “It’s just knowing how important each play is. They all matter. Every single play matters. You don’t get very many series in a game and you have to realize the importance of each snap. We really had two series that swung the game in the second half, and I think you just can’t do that against a really good team.”

Perhaps most encouraging was the play of junior Rod Taylor and true freshman Greg Little at left tackle, the position held down by former All-American Laremy Tunsil for three seasons. Tunsil left school early and was selected by the Miami Dolphins in the first round of the NFL Draft in April.

Little was one of the top signees for Ole Miss in its 2016 recruiting class. He was rated the No. 1 offensive tackle in the country by and a five-star prospect.

“They both played well,” Luke said. “Greg, for his first snaps, him and Alex Givens both, held up well against good players. They didn’t look nervous or star-struck. They just went out and performed. Rod, for his first time on the edge, he got beat one time and it hurt us, but for the most part he held up well.”

Greg Little

On the negative side, Ole Miss struggled to run the ball consistently, which has become somewhat of a recurring issue the last few seasons. Of course, the loss of redshirt freshman running back Eric Swinney to an ACL tear in his left knee didn’t help.

Still, the Rebels totaled only 67 yards on 25 carries, good for a paltry 2.7-yard average. Kelly led the team with 13 carries, while senior running back Akeem Judd had a team-high 44 yards on eight attempts.

“We just have to call runs and stay with it,” Luke said. “The problem was the passes were working. Maybe in the second half, we could’ve called a few more but that’s hindsight. What we were doing was working. The good thing is when we were calling runs we were getting yards. So that’s a positive. I think we can do it. We just have to keep a semblance of balance.”

And that balance starts with the guys up front. Fortunately for Luke, game one laid a fairly solid foundation for the season ahead.

Not to mention he appears to have some emerging stars on his hands.

“Sean (Rawlings) graded out the highest of everybody,” he said. “He played center and tackle. There were a couple of little technique issues at center that he can clean up, but I was very impressed with him being able to do both.

“I think (Javon Patterson) got beat on a one-on-one one time and I think there are a couple of things in the run game he can clean up. He tripped on a power play or something. He just got stepped on. It was just a freak thing. He played hard. He and Jordan (Sims) played every snap. I thought their conditioning was good. Paul Jackson has done a great job with those guys. They held up good. They were playing against a really good defensive front and for the most part held their own. The problem was just those one or two plays in there, that’s what can cost you.”

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