Spring Practice Primer: Ole Miss
Hugh Freeze enters his first spring in Oxford with major questions in the running game, at quarterback, and on the defensive line. Here's what you need to know.
Spring football is in the air, and with our Spring Practice Primers the Eye On College Football Blog gets you up to speed on what to look for on campuses around the country this spring. Today we look at Ole Miss.
Spring Practice Started: March 23.
Spring Game: April 21
Returning starters: 8 offensive, 7 defensive, 2 specialists
Three Things To Look For:
1. Can Hugh Freeze develop some kind of running game? We'll skip the usual "will the players buy in?" fretting that usually comes with a new coach in his first spring at the helm; a charismatic, personable coach with deep ties to the Oxford area and the Ole Miss program, it's hard to see any significant portion of the Rebel roster rejecting the Freeze transplant. (This goes double considering the Rebels didn't seem particularly driven to succeed for Houston Nutt by the end of the 2011 season.) But just having his players' attention won't fix the vast issues plaguing the Rebels -- you don't go 1-15 in the SEC over two seasons by accident -- and maybe no issue needs more fixing than the Ole Miss running game. Only Tennessee averaged less per-carry among SEC teams, and any time your leading rusher (in this case, diminutive speedster Jeff Scott) gains just 529 yards, clearly there's a lot of work to do. And that work won't come easy: Scott is the only experienced rusher on the roster despite his size limitations, both of the Rebels' tackles have graduated, and Freeze prefers a pass-to-open-up-the-run approach that won't sell if the Rebel quarterbacks don't dramatically improve.
But if Freeze is going to successfully turn the Rebels around, it doesn't matter what he's got to work with and or what his schematic preferences are; he's got to find a way to run the ball. That mission starts this spring.
2. So, about that quarterback situation? It seems impossible that the Ole Miss QB situation could get any more muddled than it was in 2011 -- when JUCOs Randall Mackey and Zack Stoudt battled transfer Barry Brunetti from the opening of spring through the end of the season, without any of the three ever truly taking command of the offense -- but it might manage it anyway this spring, thanks to the addition of a third JUCO in Bo Wallace. A former pupil of Freeze's at Arkansas State, Wallace tore his way through the Mississippi JUCO ranks and might even be the tentative favorite. But more important than how well Wallace performs is that he -- or someone -- separate themselves in the race by the end of the spring. Freeze doesn't have to name a starter, but after two long seasons of quarterback controversy and uncertainty, Freeze needs to settle on at least a leader in the race, one his team can begin the process of rallying around.
3. Can anyone here rush the passer? Here's how Freeze addressed his defensive end situation in his pre-spring press conference: "Some of those guys have to increase our pass rush capability ... I didn't see that last year. I hope it is there and that I missed it and that for some reason it didn't get done. We have to find out." Sorry, Hugh, but you didn't see it because it wasn't there: the Rebels' 13 total sacks placed them 111th in the FBS, with the since-graduated Wayne Dorsey leading the team with a grand total of three. Senior end Gerald Rivers is the only returning lineman with more than one sack last season; he had two. So someone's going to have to take a major step forward--we're looking at you, C.J. Johnson, the former five-star linebacker recruit turned defensive end during his freshman season. If he stays at end for his sophomore season as well, he's as good a candidate for Freeze as any ... though we're betting much of coordinator Dave Wommack's spring (much as Freeze's with the quarterbacks) is going to be concerned with finding someone who can do the job, five-star pedigree or not.
To check in on the rest of the SEC and other BCS conferences, check out the Spring Practice Schedule.
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