In their second year under head coach Ed Orgeron, the Ole Miss Rebels struggled through the 2006 football season, finishing the year at 4-8 with a 2-6 mark in the SEC to finish in 10th place in the conference.
Although the record left much to be desired, Ole Miss did show signs of life to close out the season, winning two of their final three games and nearly shocking the Nation in Baton Rouge, where they took LSU to overtime before losing to the eventual Sugar Bowl champions 23-20.
This season, Orgeron and company will hope to build upon that late-season momentum and become contenders in the SEC West, but will first need to find an answer for last year's lack of production offensive. A year ago, the Rebels had the lowest ranked offense in the conference, averaging just 261.5 yards and 15.7 points per game.
Last years defense was equally disappointing, allowing 22.9 points and 353.9 yards per contest to finish ninth or lower in the conference in every defensive category.
One factor that could help Ole Miss
in 2007 will be the schedule which, though containing several national powers,
will give the Rebels the advantage of playing three of their most difficult
Senior quarterback Brent Schaffer,
who was chief Rebel signal caller a year ago, will be back in action this
season, though he may end up surrendering the job to fellow senior Seth Adams or
making a move to wide receiver, where he started against
As the starter in 2006, Schaffer
threw for 1,442 yards and nine touchdowns with 10 interceptions, while
Whoever lands the starting job at quarterback will get a boosts on the other side of the passing game this fall, as Ole Miss will add five-star wide out A.J. Jackson, the country's best junior college recruit, to the receiving corps in 2007.
Jackson, a close friend of Schaffer's who formed a lethal hook-up combo with the quarterback while at the College of the Sequoias, will be a welcome addition to an already-experienced group of receivers, with the team's top four receivers from last season back for another round this fall.
Headlining the returning wide outs is junior Mike Wallace, the team's top producer a year ago with 410 yards and two touchdowns. Returning alongside Wallace will be sophomores Marshay Green and Shay Hodge, who had a combined 35 receptions last season.
On the ground, senior running back B.J. Green-Ellis looks to be Ole Miss' leading rusher once again. In 2006, Green-Ellis managed an even 1,000 yards and seven touchdowns on the ground. Junior Jason Cook will return as the team's starting fullback, but will likely spent the majority of his time blocking after rushing just two times last season.
The Rebel offensive front will see the return of starters at three positions, headlined by second-team all-SEC selection junior Michael Oher at left tackle. Junior Maurice Miller returns opposite Oher at right tackle, while sophomore will be the third returning regular, filling the right guard position.
Defensively, sophomores Greg Hardy and Marcus Tillman return as the anchors to the front four. Hardy recorded a team-high three sacks last season at tackle, while Tillman split time at both tackle and end, recording 22 tackles and two sacks.
Ole Miss' linebacker unit will be largely inexperienced this fall, with NFL bound Patrick Willis, who managed 137 tackles during his senior campaign leaving big shoes to fill in the middle.
Sophomore Jonathan Cornell is the most experienced player to return to the team at line backer, making one start last year. Also looking to play a role at linebacker this year will be JUCO transfers Jamie Phillips and Tony Fein, and incoming freshman Chris Strong, the nation's third ranked outside linebacker recruit.
The Rebel secondary will once again feature Jamarca Sanford, the team's leading returning tackler who tallied 64 tackles last season while splitting time between strong safety and linebacker.
Junior cornerback Dustin Mouzon is the only returning Rebel to record an interception last season, and will likely play a larger role for Ole Miss this year.
The remaining spots in the defensive backfield have a host of players who could fill the need, including junior college transfer Ashlee Palmer and a handful of red shirt freshmen.
Sophomore kicker Joshua Shene returns as a key figure on special teams after earning freshman all-SEC honors a year ago by going 20-20 on extra points and 14-17 on field goal tries.
At punter, junior Rob Park will make a return appearance in 2007, averaging 38.9 yards per kick on 58 tries as a sophomore.
Marshay Green will likely handle punt return responsibilities again this season after managing an 11.2 yard return average with one touchdown last year. He may also be charged with returning kickoffs in the absence of Rory Johnson, the team's return man in 2006.
OLE MISS REBELS
All-Time Series: 54-37-4
First Meeting: 1894, Ole Miss 27, LSU 6
Last Meeting: 2006, LSU 23, Ole Miss 20 (ot)
Location: Oxford, Miss.
Stadium: Vaught-Hemingway (60,580)
Head Coach: Ed Orgeron, 7-16, at UM and overall, 2 years
2006 IN REVIEW
2006 Record: 4-8, 2-6 SEC (T-4th West)
Final '05 Ranking: Not ranked
Returning Starters: 17; 9 offense, 6 defense, kicker, punter
Last Bowl Appearance: 2004 Cotton Bowl
Last Conference Championship: 1963
2006 STAT BREAKDOWN (SEC/NCAA)
Total Offense: 261.4 ypg (12/111)
Rushing Offense: 125.3 ypg (8/74)
Passing Offense: 136.1 ypg (12/112)
Scoring Offense: 15.7 ppg (12/108)
Total Defense: 353.9 ypg (11/76)
Rushing Defense: 159.4 ypg (11/94)
Pass Defense: 194.5 ypg (9/46)
Scoring Defense: 22.9 ppg (9/61)
Rushing: BenJarvus Green-Ellis – 234-1000, 7 TD, 4.3 ypc, 83.3 ypg
Passing: Brent Schaeffer – 244-115, 1442, 9 TD, 10 Int., 120.2 ypg
Receiving: Mike Wallace – 24-410, 2 TD, 34.2 ypg
Interceptions: Dustin Mouzon – 1
Sacks: Marcus Tillman – 2
Tackles for Loss: Marcus Tillman – 5
Date Opponent ‘06 Result
S-15 at Vanderbilt W, 17-10
N-17 LSU L, 20-23 (ot)
Offense at a glance:
On offense, the good news is the Rebs return their starting tailback, 1,000-yard rusher BenJarvus Green-Ellis, starting fullback Jason Cook, four starters on the offensive line, the top two tight ends and the top five wide receivers off last year's team.
In 2006, it was a unit that could run the ball effectively but had trouble in the passing game, translating into poor third-down and red zone production.
The spring goal was to shore up the passing game and find a left guard to start.
The bad news is the Rebels are still in the "average" strata at wide receiver and the quarterback situation is not stabilized.
Seniors Seth Adams and Brent
Schaeffer, along with redshirt freshman Michael Herrick, battled to see who
would be the No. 1 quarterback and nobody was declared a winner, even though
Schaeffer, last year's starter, had a poor spring, but has time to make up ground if his consistency improves in the offseason and in August.
The Rebel offense should be improved due to the number of returning veterans, but the commander under center must emerge and take control.
Defense at a glance:
Ole Miss coach Ed Orgeron hired veteran SEC defensive coordinator John Thompson in the offseason, giving Coach O more time to be a head coach. Thompson will run Orgeron's 4-3 system that has been in place at Ole Miss for two years, but he'll have the leeway to give it a more aggressive edge and demeanor, Thompson's defensive trademark.
Thompson will have the entire defensive front returning, but he's faced with replacing Willis, free safety Charles Clark, NFL free agent linebacker Rory Johnson and draftee cornerback Trumaine McBrice on the back end.
Sophomore Jonathan Cornell emerged in spring as the heir apparent to Willis, while converted wide receiver Kendrick Lewis will most likely take over for Clark and sophomore speedster Cassius Vaughn will handle McBride's cornerback slot.
"We now know where we stand," Thompson said. "We made a lot of progress in spring, but we still have work to do and are still counting on a couple of JUCO signees to come in and contribute in a hurry this fall."
Junior college linebackers Tony Fein and Lamar Brumfield need to be as good as advertised during recruiting when they arrive in the summer to begin their Rebel careers.
- Chuck Rounsaville, OleMissSpirit.com