Despite finishing just 7-6 a year ago, many expect Hugh Freeze’s team to make some noise in the SEC West this season. While most of the talk about Ole Miss Rebel football this spring has been about the health of Bo Wallace, the success or failure of the 2013 campaign will depend on the consistency of the defense.
Make no mistake about it: Wallace’s health is a major concern for Ole Miss. Sure, Barry Brunetti and Maikhail Miller are capable backups. However, Wallace was running the spread option offense extremely well at the end of season, and he will give the Rebel offense the type of wow factor that it needs to compete in college football’s toughest division.
With that said, Freeze’s team will only go as far as its defense will take it.
A closer look at last season’s D will bear this out.
In its seven victories last year, the Ole Miss defense was absolutely awesome. The Rebels completely dominated the line of scrimmage, holding their overmatched opponents to just 2.27 yards per carry. As a result, their opponents could only muster an average of 299 yards per game.
Tragically, the other six games didn’t go nearly as well. Yes, the defense turned in a solid outing against the Alabama Crimson Tide, holding it to a season-low 305 yards. However, the Ole Miss D looked completely lost against the Texas Longhorns, Texas A&M Aggies, Georgia Bulldogs, Vanderbilt Commodores and LSU Tigers. The Rebels surrendered an average 40.2 points and an alarmingly high 497.6 yards in those contests.
So which version of the defense will show up this season, the former or the latter?
While it wasn’t always perfect last year, expect Ole Miss to field one of the top defenses in the SEC this season. Despite having a couple of rocky outings a year ago, the Rebels still led the conference in tackles for a loss and finished second in the league in sacks. With ten starters and a number of key reserves returning from that squad, the defense should pick up right where it left off at the end of the 2012-13 campaign, when it held the Pittsburgh Panthers to just 266 yards of total offense.
If it does, look for the Rebels to finish near the top of the SEC West this season.