To understand the world, you must first understand a place like Mississippi. - William Faulkner.
Mississippi: a state of great writers and few readers. But Barking Carnival has many readers and they want to understand the pride of Mississippi: Ole Miss. How will the Longhorns fare in Oxford? Specifically -
How will our players respond to their first road environment? Can they perform in front of floppy-haired Southern boys named Skyler whose daddy is the most important man in Tupelo?
Hugh Freeze is the architect of the structured madness Ole Miss calls their offense. He's a poor man's Gus Malzahn and looks like a guy who wants to sell you whole life. Freeze begins every sentence by tipping back in his chair, looking both ways, and then whispering conspiratorially,"Look, I'm not going to bullshit ya..." and then bullshits you.
Freeze's offense has been extraordinary, averaging over 550 yards per contest (rushing 282 ypg, passing 269 ypg) and he throws everything at you from zone read, five wides, a maddening array of quick screens, bunch formations, option passes, QB draws, trick plays, and yes, he has already run a fumblerooski this year.
The bottom line is that Ole Miss was garbage on offense last year - indescribably bad - and Freeze has completely revitalized them with his spread option offense. THAT KIND OF COMMITMENT DESERVES AND DEMANDS YOUR RESPECT // Gene Hackman Hoosiers voice.
A successful spread option offense demands a dual threat QB and JUCO transfer Bo Wallace has been a pleasant surprise, not just because he looks like a giant Kelly Ripa. Wallace is Ole Miss' leading rusher at 67.5 yards per game (5.6 yards per carry) and boasts a 187.6 passing efficiency rating. They'll also play Barry Brunetti some at QB and he's primarily a runner. We sort of recruited Wallace last year, but then didn't when we remembered we had Bradshaw, Brees, and Montana in our stable. He's tall (6'4", 204), durable, runs well, and has accounted for seven touchdowns - 5 passing, 2 running. Freeze's option puts pressure on the QB position to make good decisions and call their own number in the running game, so don't be surprised if Wallace runs and passes 45+ times against us. Our defense needs to make him feel each attempt.
Jeff Scott (5-7, 170) is a speedy scat back averaging nearly 10 yards per carry, but Randall Mackey gets most of their volume at HB. He's averaging 4.5 yards a pop and his season long run of 17 yards doesn't scream explosiveness. Like Texas, the Rebels distribute their carries amongst a number of ball carriers - both RBs and WRs - and the lines between each can grow blurry in the Freeze offense.
Donte Moncrief is their leading WR at 11-176-2 tds and he'll demand legitimate attention given his speed and 6-3, 215 pound frame. Little Korvic Neat is their #2 guy at 10-94 and he's a shifty 165 pounder. As with RB, the rest of the workload is distributed among a number of players - which reinforces my basic contention that against Ole Miss you're stopping concepts and plays as much as athletes. Big TE Ferbia Allen is primarily a blocker.
The OL is typical SEC - averaging 6-4, 308, with massive interior linemen. Because most of their passing game is quick trigger, Wallace is mobile, and Freeze isn't a big proponent of traditional drops, they aren't asked to do much in pass protection and can focus on mauling defenses blocking at angle advantage with the option game. Aside from Wallace at QB, schematic improvement in the OL is the biggest change in Ole Miss from last year. I think they'd struggle to protect if we can put Ole Miss in predictable long passing situations.
OG AJ Hawkins has a reputation as their best OL and these guys will be a legitimate test for our front 7.
Control Wallace, control the Ole Miss offense. The distribution of carries and workload tells you all you need to know. Cut off the head of the snake. Hit him hard in the running game, force his receivers to extend their routes beyond his initial read in the pocket to disrupt timing, contain and constrict, and understand that he's their primary ball carrier in short yardage situations. The core of all they do - whatever their multiplicity - begins in the zone read. Shut that down and then we can make them play left-handed.
Base nickel. High pressure. Undersized. Lots of stunting and games. They're not shy about bringing anyone and everyone. 9 sacks on the season, good for 4th in the FBS; 6th in FBS in tackles for loss. Their pressure has been largely feast or famine, as Ole Miss is ranked 85th in FBS Pass Efficiency, but 18.5 ppg allowed is getting the job done.
The Rebels try to play a lot of guys, but they're a little smallish going 230-300-270-255 across the front line. Their smallest DE, CJ Johnson, is a blur, was highly recruited, and should pose an interesting challenge for Donald Hawkins. Freshman Isaac Gross, the undersized nose, is all about quickness inside and I'm not sure yet whether he's a challenge or an opportunity. Probably both, depending on how we block him. This will be the most athletic front 7 we've seen to date. Uriah Grant (6-4, 298) and Gilbert Pena (6-4, 317) are their best run stoppers and will play together when needed.
The Rebels three leading tacklers are all LBs (Nkemdiche-Marry-Collins) though their depth chart calls their positions Mike (traditional), Stinger (whatever), and Huskie (so gay). They probably also call their CB position Laser Hawks and their DTs Man Ogres. I hate that. Just be a Will LB, OK? In any event, these guys go 185-255-200 across the board. If this front 7 seems small to you, you're right. That fact, in combination with their tackles for loss and sack numbers, should give you some idea of how many angles they're going to be coming from on Saturday. They're not going to walk out in a 4-2-5 Cover 3 look and beg to be run on. Expect blitzes, stunts, 8 man fronts, and mayhem.
Promising freshman back up safety Trae Elston is suspended for this game for what I thought was a legitimate hit and that can't be helpful for a Rebel secondary that has struggled at times to cover. They're reasonably young and with the exception of FS Cody Prewitt, they all trend a bit small. They will let you catch the ball in front of them (opponents have completed over 70% of their passes, but they're only giving up 10 yards a completion). Given what we've shown or haven't show on film, might the Rebels be tempted to bring the heat, walk up their corners, and dare us to make a connection deep? Rattle Ash, confuse our protection, ride the emotion of the crowd to elevate their DB play...
Not a strength for Ole Miss. We can make hay here. Their net punting has been solid, but kicker Bryson Rose is 0-4 on the year. I'm also convinced that their kick returners are going to be high on adrenalin and absolutely psyched to sprint it out from the end zone. Then they'll meet Dalton Santos and Kendall Thompson at the 14 yard line. Then we'll have an injury time out.
Ole Miss is small defensively, but their schemes and athletic ability allows them to play fast and take the battle to you. If Texas can get hats on the right guys at the point of attack, Bergeron and Brown will do work. We can't give up negative plays though. We also have a reasonable chance for big plays in the passing game if we can protect, move the pocket a bit, and throw it out of play action. That requires our receivers to win some one-on-one battles with Ash making the connection.
This will be a highly emotional game atmosphere and the staff should know exactly what to expect: a got-nothing-to-lose offensive game plan from Ole Miss paired with a hyper-aggressive defense that wants to set us on our heels early and get the crowd engaged. Rather than withstand surges, Texas should game plan and play call with the idea that offensive jiu-jitsu on that aggression will probably be rewarded.
Similarly, on defense, attack the zone read, get hits on Wallace, put them in traditional passing situations.