In the aftermath of Memphis' comeback win on Saturday -- a comeback that was sparked by two failed fourth-and-1 rushing attempts by the Rebels -- Ole Miss offensive coordinator Dan Werner was asked if his team should focus more on throwing the ball in short-yardage situations. His response, I shit you not, was "Well, we threw it probably way too much today. We've got to find a way to just hand it off and know we're gonna get it on third and short."
Ole Miss, which is statistically near the bottom of the FBS in converting short-yardage situations on the ground, has been repeatedly banging its head against the door trying to run in those scenarios all season. And its offensive coordinator is suggesting they should just keep banging.
Of the nine snaps the Rebs had against Memphis where they needed two yards or less, they ran the ball on six of them. Those six runs averaged -0.5 yards per carry and only one of them picked up a first down. Two of the three passes (all of which came in the second half with Ole Miss trailing) went for first downs, including a 16-yard reception by Laquon Treadwell and a 21-yard reception by Damore'ea Stringfellow.
Ole Miss had three plays inside the Memphis 10-yard line. The two runs were both stuffed for no gain. The one pass went for a touchdown.
And oh yea, the Rebs lost the best player on their defense (and maybe any defense in the country) to a concussion when Robert Nkemdiche tried and failed to run for a first down on fourth-and-1 late in the first quarter.
Werner's suggestion that his offense isn't running the ball enough in short-yardage situations shows a negligent lack of awareness. By this point in the season, it's abundantly clear that Ole Miss' putrid offensive line simply isn't capable of producing the push necessary to convert on the ground. Coming into the Memphis game, the Rebs had converted just 43.5 percent of third and fourth downs with two yards or less to go, the third worst ground conversion rate of the 128 teams in the FBS. Football Outsiders provides a statistic which credits rushing yards to offensive lines; on standard downs (when the offense has run-friendly down and distance and the defense can theoretically expect a handoff), Ole Miss is ranked 126th in that statistic.
Werner's passing attack, meanwhile, features the third-most statistically accurate quarterback in the SEC and a receiving corps with seven guys 6'2 or taller. There may be no better fade threat in the country than Treadwell, yet he rarely gets his name called near the goal line.
Look, I get that you can't just abandon the run in those situations. But it's pretty obvious at this point that what Werner's doing ain't working. He and Freeze should be throwing the ball more, not less. And hell, once defenses start sliding safeties out to help their overmatched cornerbacks, it might even get easier to run up the dang middle!