Hoosiers readying for explosive Ole Miss offense

When he described the Ole Miss offense as “explosive,” Indiana defensive coordinator Kane Wommack wasn’t just pointing to their speed at receiver or the big arm of quarterback Matt Corral.

Explosiveness, to the Rebels, is a philosophy.

“They are dedicated to it,” Wommack said, “which I think is a big part of creating explosives on offense. They are simply dedicated to it, the way they go about things schematically, and the way they push the ball downfield.”

For most of the year, IU’s defense has been an engine of chaos, bringing blitzes and forcing errant throws for a nation’s best 17 interceptions. The Hoosiers will try to make that happen one more time in the Outback Bowl, and Corral has made his share of mistakes, throwing 14 picks this season.

But Corral is a terror when he connects.

According to SportSource Analytics, Ole Miss is top 10 nationally in plays of 10, 30, 40, and 50 yards or more, and the Rebels (4-5) are the only team ranked so highly with fewer than 10 games played. Take their average of 20.4 plays per game of 10-plus yards (184 total), and it’s better than BYU, which at 19.5 per game, sits at No. 2 overall in that category (234 total in 12 games).

Just flip on the tape of the Ole Miss-Florida game, for instance, and you will see how the Rebels do it. Of the 31 passes Corral attempted, 10 of them were throws to the flat or a screen, meant to stretch a defense horizontally. More than half of the rest, 11, were throws pushed at least 20 yards downfield from the line of scrimmage.

Corral threw fades and deep posts. Now and again, Corral probed the middle with a slant. But the Rebels pushed it downfield. Even in a 51-35 loss, Corral racked up 395 passing yards and three touchdown throws. The sophomore quarterback also ran for 50 yards on 13 carries, just adding another point of stress for the opposing defense.

The longest gains for each Ole Miss receiver during that game? Elijah Moore, 57. Dontario Drummond, 46. Jerrion Ealy, 45. Kenny Yeborah, 33.

“The deceiving part is they also rush for 220 yards per game,” IU coach Tom Allen said. “That’s why they are the No. 1 offense in the SEC right now, No. 3 in the country. To me, you gotta affect the quarterback, and you gotta tackle him well. He runs the ball effectively, and he gets a lot of his yards when he’s creating, scrambling.

“We gotta do some special things to affect that. They are kicking an onside kick against Alabama to get the ball back to win the game.”

The question is whether IU can, once again, bring out the worst in its opposing quarterback. The very worst may have come in the Rebels’ season finale against LSU, when Corral threw five interceptions in a loss. Still, he threw for 251 yards and Ole Miss was within five points, 53-48.

This is a team with a sub-.500 record because of the COVID-shortened, conference-only season, but this is no pushover, especially on the offensive side of the ball.

“Offensive weapons, their tempo. What (head) coach (Lane) Kiffin and (offensive coordinator) coach (Jeff) Lebby do offensively is cutting edge,” Wommack said. “I think they’ve got a very explosive quarterback. I think there’s times you have to find some ways to create some confusion for him, but, at the same time, boy, when he gets going, he’s pretty good, and he has a lot of weapons around him that they can utilize.”

Ole Miss is, however, going to be short a couple of those playmakers. Moore, the Rebels’ leading receiver at 1,193 yards, and the tight end Yeboah, their second-leading receiver at 524 yards, are both sitting out the Outback Bowl to prepare for the NFL draft.

There is still depth there, though. Drummond (307 yards), Jonathan Mingo (349), and Braylon Sanders (376) have all been productive. Sanders, at 25.1 yards per catch, has been the most explosive of that group, besting both Moore (13.9) and Yeborah (19.4).

IU can’t take the losses of Moore and Yeborah lightly, especially with what’s baked into the Rebels system via Kiffin and Lebby. They are going to strike downfield, and they are going to push the pace. Wommack said the Rebels’ speed and athleticism is reminiscent of Maryland, while their use of tempo is in the same echelon as Ohio State.

Of course, IU has been the best in halting offenses with interceptions, as well as pushing them back with a Big Ten-best 23 sacks.

“We’re a hungry defense, and we’re a group of guys that really believe in one another, that believe in their ability to make plays both individually and collectively,” Wommack said.

Recognition of that has started to pour in. Seven defensive players for IU were named All-Big Ten last week. Wommack, juggling IU’s d-coordinator duties while readying for his next job as South Alabama’s head coach, was just named one of five finalists for the Broyles Award, given to the top assistant in college football.

Wommack and Co. will get one more test, coming off of a significant layoff following the cancelation of two matchups with Purdue. But as the Hoosiers got back to practice Monday, Wommack didn’t see much rust on the gears.

“I was pretty pleased,” Wommack said. “Those suckers were flying around, now. They are a hungry group right now, and they’ve got something to prove. People can say what they want about not playing the last couple of weeks and opportunities and all those things. But this is a fiery group, and they are ready to go fight.”

7 comments

  1. If you know anything about Lane Kiffin, you know that he is very creative on offense, very aggressive, unpredictable, and dangerous. IU must be prepared for fake punts, onside kicks, unique formations, double throws. Be sharp Coach Allen. Never stop scoring!

  2. Just watched replay of LSU game. Corrall is a dangerous runner as well as passer.
    One thing I liked was their ‘zone’ pass coverage outside of the red zone. Pretty much 3-5 defense. PK is pretty bad. They have tried more attempts for 2 than extra points. Noticed their LOT #64 likes to ‘chop block’ and get away with it. He put the LSU DE out of the game and no penalty called.

  3. I trust our players and coaches to have Ole Miss offense dialed in by the time the game comes around. When playing prolific offenses you need a way to control them as it is nearly impossible to stop them. I am looking for a great game from our defense knocking Ole Miss off their stride.

  4. I think IU has DBs to control the deep ball and can pressure the QB while taking care of the run game. By switching up the coverages and pressure the QB IU can control passing but not stop it because they will work to keep passing no matter what. It will get down to what Ole Miss really wants to do when they are pushed to knuckle down. Just like when going after an option team what do they really want to do, run the fullback, QB keep, or pitch; option teams will do all three but what is their core belief for their offense.

    IU needs to take away the best plays they do well that controls most defenses and make a choice on what is the most dangerous plays to stop. Run coverages to stop the deep ball but tie them in with stunts and blitzes. I always looked at what the offense really counted on and designed my defenses to stop that. No matter how explosive the offense is what is it that they are really trying to do and hang the hat on.

    For example, they use quick screens but what happens if you crowd the line to stop those plays. Are they comfortable with going to a different scheme or is the quick screens just something to make the defense focus on. Last year coach DeBoer made the quick screens a big part of the offense instead of running plays.

    Ole Miss has a good running game, is it something that we can really slow down or do we focus on passing while keeping the running game under control. Those are some things IU defense needs to think about and decide what to focus on.

    The nuts and bolts of all this focuses on the blocking schemes and how you can force them to block your rushers and control what the offense does. If sending a LB or two causes them to keep the RB out of pass routes or can blitzes from the secondary take the TE out routes. My guess is Ole Miss will not use the TE to pass block but put him on routes that adjust to the blitz.

    In the end, I think IU will cause enough take-aways to control the scoring much like Arkansas did to Ole Miss.

  5. Understanding that the scheduled game is a week away, Covid, illness and injury possibilities,…here’s my score..provided starters play.

    IU 41 Mississippi 26

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