Ole Miss’ coaching staff facing tough decisions as season draws to a close

Posted on Nov 18 2018 - 8:43pm by John Macon Gillespie

What is a catch?

That question filled the minds of Ole Miss fans after Saturday night’s 36-29 overtime loss to Vanderbilt. There will be plenty of talk about whether A.J. Brown legitimately secured what could have been a game-tying reception on Saturday, but in reality, the Rebels should not have been in an overtime period in the first place.

Ole Miss got into the red zone seven times on Saturday. The Rebels kicked a field goal on five of those trips.

Wide receiver A.J. Brown celebrates after catching a pass by Jordan Ta’amu for a touchdown on Saturday. South Carolina won the game 48-44. Photo by Christian Johnson

Why does an offense that is loaded with elite talent struggle to find the end zone when the ball is snapped inside the opposing 20? Shouldn’t the red zone be where an offense like Ole Miss’ thrives?

Phil Longo’s offensive scheme is based on one thing: space. Receivers stretch the field with their routes and run to space. That’s how explosive passing plays happen with this unit. The problem arises when the team reaches the red zone and there is no more field left to stretch. There is no more space for the receivers to chase.

Longo’s offensive attack has been record-breaking in his time at Ole Miss, and explosive plays have been plentiful, but when the Rebels get in an area of the field that is supposed to be high-efficiency, the offense dies, and that is not due to a lack of talent. A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge (along with the injured D.K. Metcalf) have NFL Draft hopes for the spring and are among the most talented receivers in this draft class. Jordan Ta’amu is a more than capable signal-caller, and Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard have proven themselves as talented ball carriers.

The Rebel offense’s inefficiency in the red zone does not lie in a lack of talent, but in a lack of scheme.

There will undoubtedly be turnover on the Ole Miss coaching staff this offseason, perhaps massive turnover, but whether or not Longo is involved in that change remains to be seen. If he’s not, he and his offensive staff have to adapt their attack to give the Rebels a fighting chance when the field gets short.

It’s not realistic to think that Ole Miss or any offense can rely solely on explosive plays for scores. I don’t believe that is necessarily Longo’s mindset, but that appears to be the only situation in which the Rebels can thrive.

As the season has worn on, the Rebels’ red zone woes have become all the more apparent, partially thanks to the uptick in opposing competition, but there appears to have been little-to-no adjustments goal line defense.

So, we may not know what quantifies a catch, but whether the SEC office in Birmingham got the late-game call right or not doesn’t matter at this point. What matters is that Ole Miss was in that situation in the first place in a game they could have easily won. The same can be said about the last four games, all of which have resulted in losses.

With the Egg Bowl and the end of the season looming, Matt Luke and Ross Bjork have some serious decisions to make about the future of this program.

If the Rebels want to be successful down the road, this level of execution cannot continue.