Ole Miss Offensive Coordinator Dan Werner has "won" half the battle with his Rebel offense.
The Rebels have the leading rusher - total rushing yards - in the SEC in BenJarvus Green-Ellis, who has gained 571 yards on 121 carries and has become the Rebel bell cow in the ground game. As a unit, the Rebel offense is currently the fifth-best rushing team in the conference averaging 141 yards per game.
When Werner took over as the lead dog on the offensive sled, he was adamant about getting the ground game going.
But on the flip side, Werner's passing offense is struggling.
The Rebs are last in the loop in pass offense, averaging just 117.7 yards per game through the air. QB Brent Schaeffer is completing less than 50% of his passes.
So what do Werner and the Rebs have to do to get more balance in the Ole Miss attack? We got straight to the point with the Reb OC yesterday.
"First of all, I have to sell our guys that we are actually going to call more passing plays," Werner said, "but I'm also going to tell them that we have to be able to protect, we have to make good decisions with the ball and we have to catch the ball. I have to see that happening in practice.
"We are making a big emphasis on that in practice this week."
Coach Ed Orgeron stated in his Monday press conference that he'd like to see the Rebs go to more of a "quick game" in their aerial plans.
"That stuff is in our package, but I've been reluctant to call much of anything in the passing game while our running game was working, our defense was playing well and we have had a tendency to turn the ball over lately," Dan explained. "The last thing I wanted was to turn the ball over and cause a loss the way our special teams and defense has been playing the last two games.
"But we are well aware that to beat some of the teams we are getting ready to play, we will have to be more balanced and we will have to move the ball around more."
Werner said some of the passing game plans he had for the Vanderbilt game were centered around WR Dexter McCluster and included some quick stuff. Unfortunately, Dexter was KO'd on the opening kickoff return of the game. Then later in the game the Rebs lost starting TE Robert Lane for a half.
"We should have been able to adjust better than we did, but we had gameplanned a lot for him and never got anything going in the passing game without him," Werner noted. "But, again, it's hard to get anything going in the passing game if you are calling less than 10 pass plays a game."
Werner said the passing game seemed to come around some against Kentucky, but has taken a step backwards since then.
"After the Kentucky game, I felt like we were on our way to being pretty good in the passing game, but then we started having turnovers. I told our guys we weren't going to lose the game. We were going to make someone beat us and find a way to stop the turnovers," Werner added. "We toned things down a little bit.
"Here's the thing about the Kentucky game. We were throwing it around and making some plays, but we were also getting sacked, fumbling, throwing picks and dropping passes. You get beat doing that. I'd rather not look quite as fancy and win than look fancy and lose and that's where we were for a couple of games."
Rebel OL Coach Art Kehoe understands where Werner is coming from.
"Our line is getting better. I think we are closing in on having a breakout game," Kehoe said, "but we have broken down in pass protection some and have to get that shored up.
"We have narrowed the scope of things we are doing wrong. We have eliminated things we are doing wrong one by one and are getting there, but the passing game woes we have had will not diminish until we fix our pass protection problems, our decision-making problems and our receiving problems."
Kehoe has had to play musical chairs a little bit up front and that has hurt the continuity somewhat, but after going through three right tackles - Darryl Harris (knee injury), David Traxler (knee injury), Andrew Wicker (better at guard) - Kehoe hopes he has found some stability in the form of Maurice Miller, who graded out well for his first time at OT against Vandy.
"Maurice did a lot better than I thought he would and I am very proud of him. He got beat out at right guard by John Jerry in August, but he has not complained or whined. He's kept his mind on his business and worked even harder and the Vandy game was proof of that," Art added. "He got his turn and he responded. He worked well with John Jerry and did a good job when we went with the heavy sets and he was next to Michael Oher on the left side.
"He certainly has some things to clean up, but all things considered - he was put there Thursday and has never played the position before - I'm very happy."
So, the line from the Vandy game will be the same, Dexter McCluster is reportedly coming back for the Bama game and the coaches are emphasizing the passing game more in practice with an eye, and ear, toward throwing the ball more.
Will that solve the Rebs' passing game problems?
We'll see soon enough. Everyone knows the passing game has to improve. It's priority number one right now.
Dan Werner -
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