Ole Miss offense

Based on all the hoopla surrounding quarterback Jevan Snead, you'd think the Ole Miss Rebels are going to throw the ball 50 times per game in 2009.

Well, it ain't gonna happen ... not so long as Houston Nutt is the head coach.

Even with Snead experiencing a breakout year in 2008, Ole Miss ranked second among the 12 SEC teams in rushing, averaging a whopping 186.5 yards per game and a sturdy 4.7 yards per carry.

The Rebels may be running even more in '09, thanks to the return of their top three rushers from last fall - Dexter McCluster (655 yards, 6.0 per carry), Cordera Eason (647 yards, 4.6 per carry) and Brandon Bolden (542 yards, 5.5 per carry).

Eason was the No. 1 tailback last season, with Bolden serving as No. 2. McCluster did most of his damage as a direct-snap tailback in the so-called "Wild Rebel" package. Their roles should be roughly the same in '09, although Bolden enters preseason drills listed ahead of Eason on the depth chart.

McCluster may have been just as critical to the offense as Snead last fall. In addition to leading the Rebels in rushing, the 5-8, 165-pounder reeled in 44 passes for another 625 yards. McCluster was one of only two SEC players to rank among the league's top 10 in rushing yards, receiving yards, all-purpose yards and receptions. The other? Percy Harvin of Florida.

Ole Miss also returns receiver Shay Hodge and tight end Gerald Harris. Hodge caught 44 balls for 725 yards (16.5 yards per catch) and 8 touchdowns last fall. Harris, a 6-5, 250-pounder, caught seven passes for 84 yards.

The Rebels' graduation losses were few but significant. Sorely missed will be left tackle Michael Oher, who was an All-American and a first-round NFL Draft pick. Guards Darryl Harris and Maurice Miller also departed. With only right tackle John Jerry and center Daverin Geralds returning, Ole Miss has some major retooling to do across the blocking front.

Another gaping hole was left by the departure of wideout Mike Wallace. He caught 39 balls last fall, averaged 20.1 yards per catch and scored 7 touchdowns. Those numbers got him selected in Round 3 of the NFL Draft.

Even without Wallace, however, Snead should have another big year throwing the football. He completed 184 of 327 attempts for 2,762 yards last fall, ranking second among SEC players in touchdown passes (26), third in passing yards (212.5 per game) and third in passing efficiency (145.5 rating).

Although Snead threw 13 interceptions last fall, only two of those occurred in the last five games as Ole Miss finished '08 on a six-game winning streak.

Bottom line: The Rebels fielded a potent and balanced offense a year ago, ranking second among SEC programs in scoring (32.1 points per game) and rushing (186.5 yards per game), third in total offense (407.6 yards per game) and fourth in passing (221.2 yards per game). If capable replacements for Oher and Wallace can be found, Ole Miss should be just as productive in '09.

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