“There’s definitely improvement,” said Luke, the coach of the offensive line. “What we’re talking now is a sense of urgency to get the little things fixed, the steps, the hands, the effort, the body demeanor in between plays, especially in our tempo stuff. Just trying to hone in on the little things. I think the understanding is coming and we’re starting to gel a little bit. But we’ve got a lot to work on, and I think the word for us is sense of urgency.”
Luke said there’s competition in a lot of spots at this point.
“Without a doubt it’s a competition,” he said. “I think competition makes everybody better. The spots we’ve got competiton are the spots we’re the best. Justin Bell has worked his tail off to get to where he is. We’re developing depth. Both of those guys (including Aaron Morris) are showing they can play. I look for both of them to have significant roles and playing time.”
As with every spot, Luke said some others are stepping up but perhaps slower than they’d actually like.
“We’re still waiting on some guys,” he said. “(Patrick) Junen has done well. I’m very impressed with Ben Still. He’s coming on and been consistent with his snaps. We’re still working with A.J. (Hawkins). Justin Bell is coming on. We can move A.J. into center and give us some depth there, and we’re looking at Aaron some at tackle to give us some depth at tackle. We’re just looking at a couple of different combinations to give us the best depth.”
Freeze said the Rebels running game, so key to any success they’ll have, is getting better, and the line play is a main reason.
“I like what we’re doing there,” Freeze said of the running game. “Justin Bell and Emmanuel (McCray) blocked really well on the left side. They did well for a couple of those (long) runs I know of (today).”
Luke said it’s a day to day step, sometimes baby steps and sometimes bigger ones.
“We just to have to take it one day at a time and play as hard as we can play,” he said. “The good thing is it’s not always us. It’s a back making somebody miss or somebody making a great play. Nick Parker had a great day today running through some tackles. So I’m sure it’s a combination of things. But the offense is starting to come together.”
Freeze said he’s been pleased and impressed with the offensive line’s progress.
“I think Coach Luke’s done a great job in improving them and developing a little depth there,” he said. “Certainly if we can run the ball and be more of a controlled passing game with throws I feel comfortable our quarterbacks can make, that would be very advantageous to us. The key to that is staying on schedule and not putting yourself behind in second and nines and tens. We have to run the ball to do that. Running the ball affects your play calling.”
Wallace, one of two quarterbacks locked in a battle, said he sees the offensive line coming together, which in turn helps him.
“I feel a lot more comfortable with them,” Wallace said. “A lot of times when they’re missing things, it’s because we’re sliding the wrong way or not recognizing a blitz. So they’ve done a good job.”
Brunetti, the other quarterback in that battle, said basically the same thing.
“They’re getting much better, tremendously better from the first week,” he said. “They’re starting to get it. They know it. They know the reads and they know what’s going on. It’s much better.”
Freeze said there is more than just a little sinking feeling for a coach when his team struggles running the football.
“It is a helpless feeling as a play caller in a game if you can’t run the ball,” he said. “I don’t mind throwing it. People know that. But it’s not a comfortable feeling not being able to run the football.”
Freeze admitted some believe he has the reputation of being a passing coach more than a running coach and that the statistics should lean that way. But they don’t necessarily.
“If you look at the last two years at the Division I level,” he said, “we’ve been 55-45 percent pass-run the first year. Last year we were 51-49 run first.”
Whatever the stats say at the end of a game, Luke just wants them to lean the Rebels’ way, especially on the scoreboard.
“We are progressing, and we’re always trying to get better,” he said. “It’s an every day battle we’ll continue to fight.”