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Ole Miss’ 2nd-half struggles start with the offensive line

The Rebels haven’t looked like themselves after halftime the last two weeks. That has a lot to do with the guys up front.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Louisiana State Derick E. Hingle-USA TODAY Sports

In the past two weeks, Ole Miss football has delivered somewhere around a dozen industrial-sized vats of unpleasantness for your viewing consumption. The defense, who as of this writing is still giving up yards to Leonard Fournette, can’t stop anything, and the offense has become equally dysfunctional in the second half.

Against Arkansas and LSU an explosive Ole Miss offense with the SEC’s best quarterback scored a whopping total of 10 points on 14 possessions. That’s the rarely seen bird ornithologists like to call 0.71 points per possession.

So how can the same offense that scored 41 points on 14 possessions (2.9 points per possession) against those same defenses in the first halves turn into something created inside the walls of Houston Nutt Laboratories, Inc.? After every offensive snap from the Rebels’ losses to Arkansas and LSU, its clear that a the offensive lines holds a healthy share of the blame. The Rebel lineman have been bullied by overloaded fronts in the run game, torched in one-on-one situations in pass protection and have apparently never seen a stunt before.

Ole Miss can’t run against overloaded fronts.

Let’s start with a critical third-and-1 on the Rebels’ opening drive of the second half against LSU. This play was dead from the start due to a lack of awareness concerning numbers.

To show you that Ole Miss learned nothing about counting defenders in the box, let’s take a look at another third-and-short early in the fourth quarter when Ole Miss was still very much in the game.

Surely he won’t make a difference in this play, right?

I see.

Things didn’t go well even when Ole Miss got favorable numbers on running plays.

Here’s a first down midway through the third quarter against LSU. The Rebels have even numbers in the box, but the O-line can’t win their one-on-ones.

One of the more frustrating parts of the Arkansas game is that the Razorbacks’ defense didn’t make any major changes on defense for the second half. They mostly played man coverage, with either one or two safeties deep, and waited for Ole Miss to do something dumb or until they won an individual battle.

Here we have a combination of both. Ole Miss has six blockers to match Arkansas’ six defenders in the box. Pay attention to the linebacker and safety once they recognize it’s a run play.

Ole Miss creates its own problems in the backfield.

Now, instead of Ole Miss running back Eugene Brazely in space against the safety, he has been closed down, with very little room to work.

Pass protection didn’t go much better.

On the very next play, we have an example of an Arkansas defender beating an Ole Miss offensive lineman, which wrecks the play. This would be a common exercise in the second half.

Chad Kelly was 5-of-17 for 63 yards and one interception in the second half against Arkansas. He also had three passes dropped, was hurried four times, and sacked three times. Based on my calculations, that’s not a great recipe for scoring points.

Next, we see see an example of one of LSU’s awesome defensive players (Arden Key) being awesome. And he really didn’t make much of an effort to disguise what he was going to do.

Because LSU was able to play with a lead for almost all of the second half, their defensive line had one thing on its mind when it knew Ole Miss was going to throw. Very simply, that thing was “Hey, y’all wanna meet at Chad Kelly and discuss whether or not we’ll ever have a colony on Mars?”

This is Kelly taking a snap:

This is Kelly two seconds later:

Amazingly, Kelly got out of that and picked up the first down on his own, but almost every other time he got minimal yardage or was forced into a throw during a scramble.

Ole Miss can’t block a stunt to save its life.

Let’s jump to Ole Miss’ final possession against Arkansas, which is using its standard defensive strategy of man coverage and a deep safety (a fifth wide receiver and defensive back are just below the screen). The only difference here is the linebacker is lined up over the center.

From Chad Kelly’s point of view:

As the play begins, we see a stunt unfolding. The linebacker and defensive tackle to his left crash down into Ole Miss’ center and left guard, while the other defensive tackle loops behind them.

Ole Miss’ offensive line, which has struggled with this all year, doesn’t see it happening and Kelly has a guy in his face before he can get the ball out quickly.

And on the very next play—the last of the game for Ole Miss—you’ll never guess what happened.

Because LSU is not dumb, they watched film from the Arkansas game. So they absolutely saw Ole Miss’ trouble with stunts.

All of those provide fine examples as to how an offense that averaged 8 yards per play in the first half can average 3.7 yards per play in the second.

Even though those two second halves were in the neighborhood of unmitigated disasters, many of the reasons for those disasters can be fixed, which is much better than everything being flawed fundamentally. Ole Miss desperately needs its offensive line to improve, especially in any five-on-four situation, which won’t be easy, but mistakes and execution by everyone are two areas where they’ve managed to limit the damage before.

But for now, tfw you watch a second-half offense that runs 29 plays for 94 yards and doesn’t cross its own 35-yard line until there are 36 seconds left in the game: