After a late night rendezvous with Matt Luke in Oxford last weekend to interview for the offensive coordinator position at Ole Miss, Yahoo Sports’ Pete Thamel broke the news that that the Rebels and Rodriguez finalized a deal for him to become the next offensive coordinator in Oxford.
Luke’s newest staff member brings 24 years of head coaching experience to the Ole Miss offense and has been the recipient of the conference coach of the year award five times in three different leagues. Not only has he won just about everywhere he has been, but his innovative zone read offense is essentially the foundation for almost every college offense today and has even made its way to the NFL the past couple years.
Rodriguez was last seen in college football coaching Khalil Tate at Arizona in 2017 before an ugly exit due to some extracurricular activity.
Before that, he was the head man at Michigan and West Virginia. Ann Arbor was a dud, yes, but before that during his stint in Morgantown, he was a revolutionary mind when it came to spread-run concepts. His offenses led by Pat White and Steve Slaton were incredible to watch and practically broke scoreboards.
So now that the hire has been made, how will his scheme translate to the SEC? What would it look like at Ole Miss?
Well, you wanted a run game.
In 1991, Rich Rod was coaching tiny Glenville State (W.V.) when his quarterback bobbled a snap, saw the defensive end crashing down, and decided to keep the ball. That mistake was the precursor to the shotgun read-option, the innovation that vaulted Rodriguez’s career and quickly became ubiquitous across college football.
The read-option is, at its core, an incredibly simple play. The quarterback typically reads an unblocked edge defender and decides whether to hand off to a running back or keep it himself depending on what said defender chooses to do.
The height of Rodriguez’s read-option came at West Virginia in 2005 with Pat White and Steve Slaton, who combined for 24 rushing touchdowns and over 2,000 rushing yards running Rich’s newfound offense. That combination of game-changing running back and athletic quarterback play is something Rodriguez will inherit in Oxford with Scottie Phillips and Matt Corral.
Phillips was one of the most efficient runners in program history last season, averaging 6.4 yards per carry while gaining at least five yards on more than 51 percent of his runs. The athleticism of Corral, who proved himself a dynamic rusher in limited action as a freshman, will make it that much harder for defenses to key on Phillips.
Want a preview? How bout this 61-yard gallop by Corral on a read-option against Louisiana-Monroe.
Rodriguez should have some fun drawing up plays and schemes with the aforementioned Corral and Phillips, not to mention surprise player of the year, Isaiah Woullard, and do-it-all receiver Elijah Moore who bears quite the resemblance to former five-star Rodriguez signee Noel Devine.
The passing game can get going as well.
During Rich Rod’s last season in Tuscon, he turned Khalil Tate into arguably the most exciting player not only inthe Pac-12 Conference, but across the country as well. Sure, he was known best for his explosive runs, but Rodriguez let him throw it around as well.
In 2017, Tate threw for 1,591 yards and 14 touchdowns, completing 62 percent of his passes. Even with the run game being the focus per play-calling (see below), that Arizona team finished top 50 in passing offense with Tate spinning it all over the yard.
Oh yeah, Khalil Tate can throw, too pic.twitter.com/fw0yL2Yk3t— Ryan Kelapire (@RKelapire) October 22, 2017
Rodriguez has no qualms with going to a straight drop-back look and heaving it deep down the seam. This should be a focal point of the Rebels offense in 2019 with Corral’s arm talent and young receivers in the fold like Moore, Braylon Sanders, and Miles Battle.
Rodriguez utilizes hitch passes, dump-offs, and bubble screens in the short game while still incorporating plenty of downfield routes, too. During his last year in Morgantown, his offense boasted four pass-catchers with 11-plus yards per catch averages and a team average of 12.9(!).
I expect his offense to stretch the field both vertically and horizontally, using every bit of the 53-yard wide field and getting his play makers as many touches as possible. Look for guys like Moore, Sanders and new signees Jadon Jackson, Dannis Jackson and Jordan Jernigan to get plenty of opportunities behind the line of scrimmage. This in turn will, yep you guessed it, open up the deep ball for guys like Battle, Demarcus Gregory, and new names like Dontario Drummond and Jonathan Mingo.
The red zone woes could be solved as well.
During his last season at the helm in Arizona, the Wildcats finished 34th overall in red zone scoring, totaling 46 total scores. 30 of those came via the ground game for touchdowns and seven were through the air. You know what that means?
NO MORE SETTLING FOR FIELD GOALS!!!!
Rodriguez and the Wildcats only kicked nine field goals, meaning that of the 89 percent scoring clip, they were punching it in almost 9-of-10 trips. Compare that to this season when the Rebels kicked 21 field goals.
This also lends to the theory that his offense isn’t limited when space is. His zone read offense is just as dangerous through the air as it is attacking you from the ground. Their 71.5 percent touchdown rate when inside the 20-yard line should get y’all giddy compared to Ole Miss’ 50 percent rate this past season.
He’s got plenty of balance and plays to his strengths.
I took a look at the play selection during his time at Arizona and the results were quite intriguing. They showed that he can use both air and ground to compliment each other and that Rich is a fan of an age-old proverb: “if it ain’t broke don’t fix it”.
During his first season in Tuscon, his offense was balanced with Matt Scott at quarterback and two-time consensus All-American Ka’Deem Carey at running back. In year two, the offense leaned towards running the football with Carey toting it for 1,885 yards and 19 touchdowns, while B.J. Denker was still able to sling it for 2,516 yards and 16 touchdowns.
Rich Rodriguez play selection at Arizona
In 2014, we revert back to balance. The end result? Rodriguez’s best year at Arizona where the Wildcats went 10-4 on the backs of Anu Solomon throwing for damn near 4,000 yards and Nick Wilson running for 1,375 yards en route to a Pac-12 South title.
The next season, more of the same with more weapons at running back. Solomon was extremely effective as a passer (20 touchdowns, five interceptions) and Wilson, Jared Baker, and LSU transfer Jerrard Randall all ran for 700+ and 22 touchdowns.
His final two seasons were far more focused on the running game with not only a potent running attack with his backs, but dual-threat quarterbacks who could tote it as well. Brandon Dawkins ran for 944 and 10 touchdowns in 2016 and the modern day Pat White a.k.a. Khalil Tate, ran for 1,411 yards and 12 touchdowns.
The point I’m trying to make here is that Rich Rod is going to let his talent and roster dictate his scheme and play-calling. Yes, his offense is predicated on the zone read rushing scheme and that is how this whole thing got started, but he’s not going to shy away from slinging the pill if he’s got a guy who can, like Matt Corral. But, if he finds something that works, he is going to use that to beat his opponent to death with.
Excitement follows Rich Rod wherever he goes.
His offenses are explosive and damn fun to watch. Pure and simple.
Whether it was with Shaun King at Tulane in 1998 where he finished top 10 in Heisman voting after leading the Green Wave to a 12-0 record, Woodrow Dantzler at Clemson in 2000 where he ran and threw for 2,638 total yards and scored 23 total touchdowns, or Pat White where he took the college football world by storm under Rich, throwing for over 6,000 yards and 56 touchdowns running for 4,480 yards and 47 touchdowns, Rodriguez’s system does its job.
Corral has big play potential with yet another talented crop of receivers returning to Oxford and Phillips was well on his way to a 1,000+ yard season before an injury against Texas A&M late in the year. And despite losing All-American Greg Little and All-SEC performer Javon Patterson, the offensive line room is deep and talented led by coach Jack Bicknell.
So, here is a quick look at the Rich Rodriquez offense through the years. That 4th column is where you should bring your attention. pic.twitter.com/ANenIyx4Sf— Randy Jewel Morgan (@RebelNutt18) December 31, 2018
It’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Ole Miss offense could give folks plenty to worry about in 2019 with his offense and the tools he has to work with in Oxford next season.
Buckle up, it’s Hot Rod season.