Ole Miss has one of the rarer crowned jewels in college football for the 2018 season, an experienced offense – more specifically returning all five offensive linemen, headlined by number one offensive tackle Greg Little.
Matt Luke repeatedly mentioned the veteran, skilled presence his team has up front: The Rebels return 103 starts on the offensive line, as they return all 5 starters up front. Greg Little will be a first-round pick. Meanwhile, Javon Patterson has every tool to be an NFL offensive guard.
Luke on his O-line: "They are experienced–they have 103 starts. And not only are they very talented, they are a good unit and good young men. They are leaders and one of the most experienced groups on the team." #SECMD18
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) July 17, 2018
While returning starters can be overstated at times – if the returning starters were mediocre before, you’re just still mediocre – the big guys up front for Ole Miss are not being overemphasized.
The offensive line will set the tone for any Rebel success, both on offense and in general. Shocking revelation, I know.
Ole Miss found a new gear on offense midway through 2017 – they found a power running game, particularly behind the left side, which they had been longing for since Hugh Freeze took over six years ago.
But with 1,000-yard rusher Jordan Wilkins off to the NFL, the Rebels must break in a new running back to continue that success. Probably Scottie Phillips, but there’s still time for that to change.
The road graders up front will be the key to Phillips or any new running back bursting up the depth chart having success, but they won’t just be responsible for a running game or for protecting the quarterback: Greg Little, Javon Patterson, and company get to set the tone for the team.
Matt Luke wants physicality, he wants a blue-collar team, and they need to set the physicality from the beginning.
The Rebel defense will go as the star-powered offense goes, so the bullies up front will be paramount to establishing a physical team and, perhaps, keeping their defense off the field – the offense is their best unit, so keeping them on the field more appeals to basic logos (logic/common sense). A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf are extra-human beasts at wide receiver who will collect all the praise, but Greg Little and the rest of the offensive line could change the team’s tone.
The Ole Miss offense is basically unstoppable with a physical running game, and the confidence from seeing the success of that unstoppable force could raise the play from the defensive unit seeking a return to its opportunistic state from season’s past.
The Rebels open the season on September 1 against Texas Tech. The Red Raiders have been akin to Ole Miss in recent years, having a high-powered offense but struggling to stop a wet paper bag from scoring a touchdown in the offense-heavy Big 12.
Texas Tech is the perfect opportunity for the Rebels to try a new approach – be physical, establish the run game, use your tempo to go for the kill shot and not as a way to gain an advantage every few possessions. They can wear down the Red Raiders and drag them across the gridiron at will, protecting their defense and sending a message that Matt Luke teams will be merciless (and physical).