The Ole Miss Rebels offense made a quantum leap in offensive production last year, arguably the best turnaround in the country.
In 2011, as the Rebels stumbled to a 2-10 record (0-8 in conference play), the lack of offensive production by Houston Nutt’s staff was simply incomprehensible. The Rebs were averaging a paltry 16.1 points per game and accumulated 3,365 total yards of offense. Obviously, that record, accompanied by those statistics, will lead to a head coach’s dismissal. Along comes the offensive mastermind Hugh Freeze.
Freeze installs a very high tempo no-huddle offense, that combines many different aspects; there’s some spread, some option, zone-read option, power I, single back, pistol, etc. Any kind of offense that’s used at the collegiate level was run at some point by the Rebels. And it paid off. The Rebs went from averaging 16.1 ppg to 31.5. The rushing offense improved by more than 700 yards, the passing by more than 1,400. In all the total offensive yards went from 3,365 to 5,509. And just as important, at least in my eyes, is the increased rate of 3rd down conversion. The Rebs converted on 33% of 3rd downs in 2011, and in ’12, they jumped to 44%, an outstanding number.
What everyone needs to realize, is that that particular offense wasn’t even the full playbook brought in by Freeze. He kept telling everyone he just wants to keep it simple until everyone starts feeling comfortable with the entire playbook. Now that we’re heading into the second full offseason, the entire playbook should be fully implemented. Also don’t forget fellow SEC defenses have had some time to study this offense and make proper adjustment to combat it, but the Rebs have the pieces to truly make it work.
Ole Miss is returning virtually everyone from last years squad. Bo Wallace returns at quarterback after having a solid first year campaign. Wallace threw for nearly 3,000 yards and 22 touchdowns while completing almost 64% of his passes. Granted, he threw a whopping 17 interceptions last year, so cutting that number down tremendously is a high priority. But Wallace closed the season very well with eight touchdown passes in the last two games of the season over Mississippi State and Pitt. Wallace also brings a running element to the position, rushing for 390 yards and a team high eight touchdowns. Wallace should only get better as he goes into his junior campaign next year and has an even better handle on Freeze’s offense.
The Rebels running game should also be vastly improved once again. Everyone but Randall Mackey (325 yards) are returning. Senior Jeff Scott should get the bulk of the carries once again, but expect I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton to demand more looks. The sophomores quietly had a solid freshman campaign and will only get better as the offseason goes on. Then the incoming freshman will arrive, who’ll also be hungry for carries. Jordan Wilkins should get some goal line carries. Kailo Moore should be the primary kick and punt returner and Mark Dodson and Eugene Brazley could get some snaps at receiver just to get them on the field. Overall, a solid collection of running backs who offer tremendous versatility.
The receiving corps are getting a big time infusion of talent with the addition of number one ranked Laquon Treadwell. He should find a starting spot opposite of Donte Moncrief and Ja-Mes Logan. Moncrief had a fine sophomore season last year and became somewhat of a cult icon, with students and fans wearing ‘Feed Moncrief’ shirts, and a rap video was even released demanding the same thing. Moncrief finished with just under a thousand yards and ten touchdowns. With Treadwell taking some coverage looks away from him, the junior could be in store for a huge season. Logan and Vince Sanders should also make improvements from last year to this year.
The tight end position will go to one of the new guys. More than likely it will go to either Arshad Jackson or Christian Morgan. Both offer good size and athleticism, and will help stretch the field. This should be a more productive group than last years.
The offensive line will also be improved. Evan Swindall had a solid year at center last year, and returns as the leader of the group. Both tackles return in Pierce Burton and Emmanuel McCray. If I had to speculate, I’d say McCray gets moved inside to his more natural position at guard, where there’s a hole, and young prodigy Laremy Tunsil slides in a tackle. If Tunsil needs more time to get seasoned, McCray can stay at tackle and either Patrick Junen or Justin Bell start at the vacant guard spot opposite of Aaron Morris. This unit isn’t losing much and is getting deeper and more experienced.
Overall, the Rebels offense was very exciting and productive last year. But considering nearly everyone is returning, an elite recruiting class was just brought in, and the further development of the playbook from year one to year two, the Rebs could have a historic season offensively. This will be necessary if the Rebs are to climb into the same competitive world of Alabama and LSU.
Rick Stavig is a National Recruiting Columnist for RantSports.com. In addition to covering College Football, he also covers the NFL and NFL Draft. Follow him on Twitter @rickstavig or add him to your network on google.