In 2012, Hugh Freeze and Co-Offensive Coordinators Dan Werner and Matt Luke introduced Rebel fans to an up-tempo spread offense. The results were satisfying, to say the least, but Werner feels much more can be accomplished.
By: Chuck Rounsaville, OMSpirit.com Publisher
In 2011, Ole Miss’ 2-10 team averaged just 16.1 points per game.
Just one year later, with new coaches and a new cutting edge up-tempo spread system, the Rebels almost doubled that number, averaging 31.5 points per outing.
As far as on-the-field improvements are concerned, that’s a significant measuring stick. Just a few points shy of doubling one’s production is next to amazing and one major reason why the Rebs were able to post a winning season, become bowl eligible and finish with a 38-17 thumping of Pittsburgh in Birmingham last week.
Co-Offensive Coordinator/Quarterbacks Coach Dan Werner was gracious enough to discuss the Ole Miss offense – what it accomplished and what is in store in the future.
When Freeze was hired, he promised, from an offensive standpoint, the Rebels would “go fast.”
“It’s draining as a coach – you have to be on your toes all the time, but it also drains the defensive staff from the other side and we believe it’s more taxing on them than it is on us,” said Werner. “This season, when we were going fast, it seemed like we played better, and whether it was us playing better or the defense not being able to keep up, it was effective most of the time most of the season.”
What the up-tempo can do, and did do, might be best illustrated in the Compass Bowl.
The Rebels were up 14-7 with a little more than three minutes to go in the first half. Freshman Jaylen Walton had a nice kickoff return to midfield and it was off to the races.
“We called the same exact play five times in a row, but in our offense, the quarterback has a lot of different options,” Werner continued. “He can hand it off, he can keep it depending on what the defensive end does, if they give us single coverage we can throw a hitch to a receiver, or you can throw the bubble screen.
“In that scoring series right before half, he threw the hitch twice, handed off once, kept it once and then threw the bubble screen to Vincent Sanders for the score. We were going as fast as we could. To the normal fan, he thinks it’s four or five different plays, but it’s not. It’s the same play with different options and our kids know the keys to those options and go from there. It was beautiful.”
In the future, the Ole Miss coaches want to go even faster, but there is a caveat to the system that is out of the coaches’ control – how quickly the refs spot the ball and put it in play.
“We will go as fast as the referees will let us. It’s kind of up to them and how quickly they get the ball spotted,” Werner said. “Some will stand over it a few seconds. Others spot it and get out of the way. As soon as they get out of the way, we will snap the ball. It’s all up to them.”
With all the returning players now indoctrinated into this offense, the sky is the limit, but the future will be predicated on one major area that has to be improved, according to Werner.
“I’ve already talked about it with Bo (Wallace). We have to do a better job protecting the ball,” said Werner.
Wallace threw 17 interceptions to go with 22 TD tosses during the course of the year. Randall Mackey threw the other pick for a total of 18.
“That’s number one. If we take care of the ball better, we instantly become better. That will be our top priority between now and next season,” noted Werner. “The other thing is that this year our guys, being new to the system, were constantly having to think about what to do when we signal in a play.
“Next year, we shouldn’t have to think as much about what we are doing so we will be able – individually and collectively – to think about what the defense is doing and how to attack their technique and things like that.”
Wallace, who had his bum shoulder repaired Tuesday after playing with a “significant” shoulder separation for most of the season, won the Conerly Trophy as Mississippi’s top collegiate player, threw for 2,994 yards and had a completion percentage of 63.9%.
He will miss spring training due to his recent surgery.
“Bo is a tough kid. He banged his shoulder up early in the season (Tulane game). There were many times he would not practice on Tuesday or Wednesday, but he’d play in the game. One doctor told me, after he assessed the shoulder damage, he could not believe Bo was even throwing a pass,” Werner stated. “He just kept battling and led us to where we ended up. I can’t say enough about him and the way he battled all year.
“Once we get him healthy, I think the sky is the limited. Even though he won’t be ready for spring, we feel great about his future and in spring we can get Barry (Brunetti) and Maikhail (Miller) get more reps. Bo can do a lot of learning while he is sidelined.”
When the casual fan thinks “spread,” they sometimes minimize the importance of the run game. The Freeze/Werner/Luke trio does not.
“We believe in the run game. We are a balanced offense and were able to rush for nearly 2,300 yards this year,” Werner said.
And that starts up front.
“The job Matt Luke did with our offensive linemen was tremendous,” Werner said. “We ran the ball pretty well all year. Week by week, we got better and better and our protection got better throughout the year. We have four out of the five starters coming back, so we are excited about that.”
The Rebel wide receivers will return at full force, led by Donte Moncrief.
“I told Bo, if we have single coverage on Donte, throw it to him every time,” Werner stated. “The thing is, he doesn’t see much single coverage, but that’s fine because that frees up the other receivers and they did a real good job this year as well.
“Done is very physical. He likes to block. We throw so many screens and run off his hip, if he’s not getting the ball, and he does a great job blocking. He’s an A+ blocker.”
Jeff Scott quietly gained 846 yards. He will most likely be back for his senior season. Mackey is gone, but Walton and I’tavius Mathers, who had a big TD run in the Compass Bowl, return.
The other offensive losses include starting OG A.J. Hawkins, and all the tight ends.
“In coaching college football, you know they are going to leave. We hate losing those guys, but fortunately it’s not many of them,” noted Werner. “We feel like Walton and Mathers will step up. We think Patrick Junen, who played a lot this year, can step in for A.J. and not miss a beat. We also need some guys up front like Robert Conyers, Jared Duke and Justin Bell to move to the next level for depth and playing time.
“The tight end position is an issue because we lost them all, but with our scheme and the way we run different personnel groupings, and with the tight ends we are recruiting, I am not overly concerned and I can’t wait to get to spring ball and get this process started again.”
2012 is in the books and was quite successful from an offensive standpoint.
Werner believes 2013 can be even better.