Posted on: March 28, 2011 3:14 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Ole Miss , which starts spring practice today.
Spring Practice Question: Can the Ole Miss defense be rebuilt?
As the local Clarion-Ledger pointed out today , the headline story regarding Houston Nutt's fourth spring camp at the Rebel helm will undoubtedly be the quarterback derby. Following Jeremiah Masoli's single-season cameo, four different quarterbacks are battling it out under new Rebel offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Lee: pocket passers Nathan Stanley (Masoli's backup in 2010 and the narrow favorite) and JUCO transfer Zack Stoudt, and dual-threat QBs Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti. (Brunetti, a transfer from West Virginia, will need a hardship waiver from the NCAA in order to avoid sitting out his transfer year this fall.) Lee swears any of the four could be named the Rebel starter this fall, and given how little experience any of the four enters the competition with, he's likely not exaggerating.
But as intriguing as the quarterback battle promises to be, what's most important for the Rebels' chances this fall is what will happen on the other side of the ball. While the occasionally-rocky transition to Masoli drew plenty of attention, in the end the Rebels finished a respectable 43rd in total offense. But despite the presence of eight senior starters to begin the season, Ole Miss finished a disastrous 105th in the country in yards per-play allowed, worst in the SEC. It's fair to say the Rebels weren't paying defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix one of the nation's highest assistant salaries to watch the team lose games in which they scored 24, 31, 36 or -- in the case of their infamous season-opening embarrassment against FCS Jacksonville State -- 48 points.
Nix has survived to try and clean up his own mess, but it's not clear if he has the tools with which to do it. As you might expect from that "eight senior starters" detail, the Rebels' defensive losses are major; gone are All-SEC tackle Jerrell Powe, explosive defensive end Kentrell Lockett, leading tackler and tackler-for-loss linebacker Jonathan Cornell, a pair of senior safeties, assorted other contributors at tackle, corner, and linebacker ... Nix won't be starting from scratch, but scratch and the point he'll start from won't be more than a stone's throw apart.
There is good news for the Ole Miss defense, though, and it's two-fold:
1. Obviously, all of those seniors didn't do a whole lot for the Rebels in 2010. While there's no good way to spin the losses of players like Powe and Cornell, as a unit Ole Miss really can't get a whole lot worse than they were last season. In many cases, the new blood may prove to be a better option than the old blood was anyway.
2. Thanks to some impressive recruiting hauls (particularly by Ole Miss standards) by Nutt and his staff, the talent cupboard is far from bare. Nix won't have a lot in the way of experience to work with, but the raw material with which a good defense could be constructed should be there.
That's especially true in the front seven, where Nix will call on junior linebacker D.T. Shackelford to spearhead the rush defense after Shackelford recorded 9 tackles-for-loss a year ago and continued to flash the kind of big-hitting potential that made him one of Nutt's most prized recruits in the class of 2009. Junior weakside linebacker Joel Kight should also be ready for a big season after winning a starting job in last year's fall camp, making the LBs a strength. If Nix can find any tackles following the loss of the entire rotation from a year ago -- expect 310-pound JUCO arrival Gilbert Pena to get a long look -- the line shouldn't be too shabby, either, given the presence of high-ceiling ends like senior Wayne Dorsey, junior Gerald Rivers and sophomore Cameron Whigham. (If Lockett receives a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, things will look even better this fall.)
The biggest question mark is in the secondary, which a year ago was roasted to the tune of 8.4 yards per passing attempt and a 6-to-24 interception-to-touchdown ratio, both easily the worst marks in the SEC. Up to nine players will compete for the four starting spots (though returning starting corner Marcus Temple is out with a sports hernia), but are any of them SEC caliber? Nix will have to hope so, with the most likely candidates senior safety Damien Jackson and sophomore safety Brishen Matthews.
No one would argue the quarterback battle isn't critical. But with what should be one of the SEC's best offensive lines (one with all five starters returning), rugged running back Branden Bolden, several big-play receivers, and Nutt and Lee's combined offensive acumen, the Rebels should have a functional attack no matter who winds up taking snaps.
The same simply can't be said of the Rebel defense--meaning that even if the QB competition grabs the headlines, it's a sure bet it's the battles on the other side of the ball that will have a huge, huge share of the coaches' attention. If Nix can't find the players this spring that will push his unit forward this fall, the Rebels are going to almost certainly spend a second season in the cellar of the SEC West.
Tags: Barry Brunetti, Branden Bolden, Brishen Matthews, Cameron Whigham, D.T. Shackelford, David Lee, Gerald Rivers, Gilbert Pena, Houston Nutt, Jacksonville State, Jerrell Powe, Joel Kight, Jonathan Cornell, Kentrell Lockett, Marcus Temple, Nathan Stanley, Ole Miss, Randall Mackey, Randall Mackey, SEC, spring practice, Spring Practice Primer, Tyrone Nix, Wayne Dorsey, West Virginia, Zack Stoudt
Posted on: March 8, 2011 10:54 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
This just in: concussions are scary, dangerous things.
Today's latest evidence comes from Oxford, where Ole Miss junior quarterback Randall Mackey, a JUCO transfer who redshirted last season, may have an uphill battle for the starter's job thanks to the aftereffects of a series of concussions:
Way back in an eighth-grade Louisiana football game — that’s when Randall Mackey suffered his first concussion.Clarion-Ledger reporter Kyle Veazey offers more information on Mackey's situation here , noting that Mackey's communication struggles weren't "much of a secret" last fall and that while Mackey says the problems are mostly confined to line-of-scrimmage audibiling, Rebel tailback Branden Bolden said they affected Mackey's calls in the huddle as well.
It's an unfortunate set of circumstances for a player whose eye-popping JUCO statistics and hearty endorsement from Bolden suggests he could make a sizable impact if he could win the job. But even Mackey admits that he hasn't overcome his communication issues so much as simply made up for them with his athleticism, a formula that may work at JUCO but seems unlikely to translate nearly so well to an SEC offense.
Mackey -- who has suffered three concussions in all -- may yet win the Rebel quarterback's role despite his problem. But if not, he may be something of yet another cautionary tale regarding just how badly the sport of football needs a stronger reponse to its concussion problem.
Posted on: November 20, 2010 5:26 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
After dominating Florida in the box score, hanging with Auburn for 58 minutes on the road, and then earning a decisive victory over Alabama , LSU had finally shed the "just lucky" label that had dogged them for much of the early part of the season. But a sloppy first half defensively against Ole Miss is threatening to reapply it.
The much-maligned Tiger offense has nothing to apologize for, having put up 221 total yards and 20 points in the first half. Quarterback Jordan Jefferson has enjoyed one of his best games of the season, throwing just 7 passes but completing 5 of them for more than 20 yards a completion. But the usually-reliable Tiger defense has been gashed on occasion by the Rebels, as on this 50-yard Branden Bolden touchdown on Ole Miss's first play from scrimmage:
The Rebels ran for 142 yards on just 21 carries -- 6.8 per -- and got a late Jeremiah Masoli rushing touchdown to pull within 20-17 at halftime. If Ole Miss can pull the upset, the Tigers will be officially eliminated from the national title race and could see their potential BCS bowl berth go up in smoke -- especially with much more formidable Arkansas on tap next week.
At least the Tigers can hang their hate on this: a crushin special teams block on the Rebels' Lionel Breaux that didn't spring Patrick Peterson for a big return, but got their sideline fired up all the same:
HT: @bubbaprog .
Posted on: November 13, 2010 2:14 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2010 2:32 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Jeremiah Masoli was listed as an injury question mark all week after a head injury suffered in last week's win over UL-Lafayette , with the consensus wisdom being that the Rebels wouldn't have much of a chance on the road at Tennessee . So it appeared to be good news for the Rebels when Masoli was cleared to play and took the field in Knoxville.
In practice, though, the Rebels might have been better off simply going with backup Nathan Stanley . Masoli has suffered through a miserable first half, going 6-of-15 for just 72 yards (4.8 yards-per-attempt), rushing for just 15 yards on 6 attempts, and throwing one interception without a touchdown. That interception wasn't your garden-variety pick, either -- it was a horrific duck into the flat that Tennessee's Eric Gordon gratefully plucked with ease and returned 46 yards for a Vol score. Several other makeable quick throws have sailed on him in ugly fashion. A big first half for Rebel running back Branden Bolden (81 yards on 8 carries, two touchdowns) has kept Ole Miss from being run out of Neyland Stadium, but at this point he's the only thing the Ole Miss offense has going for it.
To be fair, Masoli hasn't been the Rebels' only problem; the eminently flammable Rebel secondary has been torched by Tyler Bray (yes, that Tyler Bray, the fencepost-thin true freshman) for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Giving up 24 offensive points in a half to the usually-low-fi Volunteer offense has to be a performance every bit as disappointing for Houston Nutt as his quarterbacks'.
But whether the greater share of blame falls on the defense or Masoli doesn't much matter: either way Tennessee has a 31-14 lead at halftime and barring a total collapse by the thin Volunteer defense, it's going to be the home team taking another critical step towards bowl eligibility.
UPDATE, 1:31 EST: And Masoli begins the second half by throwing another abomination of a pick-six, an easy lob well above his receiver's head and returned 10 yards for the Vol score. 38-14, and the Rebels now appear done.