Tomorrow I'll take a look at the Ole Miss defense under co-coordinators Dave Wommack and Jason Jones, but today it's time to turn the microscope on the Rebel offense, spearheaded by junior quarterback Bo Wallace.
OLE MISS STARTING OFFENSE
QB: Bo Wallace (6-4, 209, Jr.)
RB: Jaylen Walton (5-8, 166, So.)
WR: Donte Moncrief (6-3, 226, Jr.)
WR: Ja-Mes Logan (6-3, 183, Sr.)
Slot: Laquon Treadwell (6-3, 215, Fr.)
TE: Evan Engram (6-3, 217, Fr.)
LT: Laremy Tunsil (6-5, 315, Fr.)
LG: Justin Bell (6-3, 345, So.)
C: Evan Swindall (6-4, 301, Sr.)
RG: Jared Duke (6-7, 377, Sr.)
RT: Pierce Burton (6-6, 290, Sr.)
Notable Backups: QB Barry Brunetti (6-0, 223, Sr.), RB I'Tavius Mathers (5-11, 189, So.), WR Vince Sanders (6-1, 180, Jr.), LT Emmanuel McCray (6-5, 320, Sr.)
The Rebels offensively are a bit of a weird case study in 2013 because while Ole Miss is regularly mentioned amongst the conference's most prolific (and fast-paced) offenses, capable of ripping off big-yardage plays in both the run and the pass, the numbers tell a different big-picture story.
Those pesky but truthful numbers say Ole Miss ranks eighth in the SEC in passing (258.0 ypg), 12th in rushing (175.5 ypg), ninth in total yards per game (433.5 ypg) and 11th in points per game (29.0 ppg).
So why the disparity between perception and reality? Because Ole Miss has dangerous playmakers all over the field at the skill positions.
It all starts with junior quarterback Bo Wallace. The Pulaski, Tenn., native attacks defenses through the air and on the ground. Wallace, who has 19 career starts under his belt, likes to dink and dunk in the passing game, letting his big, athletic receivers break tackles and make plays. For the season he's completed 120 of 202 passes (59.4%) for 1,444 yards, nine touchdowns and three interceptions. As a point of reference, Wallace averages 7.1 yards per attempt while LSU QB Zach Mettenberger averages 10.9 ypa.
On the ground, and this has been part of the dilemma for the Rebs this season, Wallace and regular quarterback fill-in Barry Brunetti have shouldered much of the rushing load. Brunetti, who is dealing with a shoulder injury but expected to play Saturday, is Ole Miss' second leading rusher with 169 yards and three touchdowns on 32 carries (5.3 ypc). Wallace is the team's third leading rusher with 144 yards and three scores on 70 carries (2.1 ypc).
Combined the two have scored six of Ole Miss' 10 rushing touchdowns. That makes them a handful in the red zone, particularly in the read-option look, but it also makes them overused and exposed to injury, as Brunetti has discovered.
The other potential ground-game issue for Hotty Toddy with LSU coming to town is the availability of leading rusher Jeff Scott, who's dealing with a nagging thigh bruise and has seen only 18 carries over the team's last three games, all losses. There's a significant statistical (and big-play potential) drop-off from Scott to his replacements, Jaylen Walton and I'Tavius Mathers.
While Scott, a jitterbug in the backfield and speedster in the open field, was averaging an absurd 8.2 yards per carry, Walton averages just 3.8 ypc (34 carries, 129 yards, 1 TD) and Mathers, the most unproven of the bunch, a little better at 6.2 ypc (22 carries, 137 yards, 1 TD).
Where Ole Miss makes up a ton of ground, and the area that makes them most difficult to defend, is in the receiving corps. All three of the Rebel starters at receiver stand 6-foot-3, and two of the trio – freshman star Laquon Treadwell and junior Donte Moncrief, who terrorized LSU in Baton Rouge last year – weigh at least 215 pounds, making them tough covers down the field and even tougher tackles in the quick screen game.
Treadwell (32 catches, 327 yards, 2 TDs) and Moncrief (24 catches, 358 yards, 4 TDs) soak up much of the attention, but the Rebels also get good production in the passing game from senior wide-out Ja-Mes Logan (17 catches, 199 yards) and true freshman tight end Evan Engram (18 catches, 237 yards, 3 TDs). This group will test LSU's secondary in a number of ways in Oxford.
Up front Ole Miss has what can best be described as a heavy group. Opting for more size than speed and quickness, the average Rebel starting offensive lineman tips the scales at an eye-popping 325.6 pounds (LSU by comparison averages 314.8 pounds, which is still pretty beefy).
The two most tenured starters on the line are senior center Evan Swindall (28 starts) and senior right tackle Pierce Burton (19 starts). On the other side of the coin in terms of experience is true freshman left tackle Laremy Tunsil, a preseason freshman All-American and one of the nation's top recruits a year ago. As for the guard spots, after Aaron Morris tore his ACL in the opener, sophomore Justin Bell moved over from right guard to left guard to fill Morris' spot. Filling Bell's old haunt at right guard: 377-pound behemoth Jared Duke.
All things considered, Ole Miss has the type of dynamic playmakers that can stretch out the LSU defense on Saturday, but the Rebels will have to play better than their numbers have shown through six games - and get a legitimate contribution from at least one running back - to pull the upset.
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