Ole Miss Preview: Offense

Ole Miss has a variety of weapons on an offense teeming with experience. Let's take a deeper look.

As much as everyone loved to mention Texas A&M's blitzkrieg of up-tempo, no-huddle spread through the SEC's vaunted defenses last season (though the league had previously seen explosive up-tempo spreads from national champions Florida and Auburn, but I digress), Ole Miss did an outstanding job of producing an explosive up-tempo spread of its own in Hugh Freeze's first year as head Rebel coach.

Last year, the Rebels ranked 17th in offensive S&P+, including 14th in passing downs S&P+, and the 2013 squad brings back a number of players who helped make that possible, along with an injection of some good-looking young talent. While it's probably too early to make any determinations about the + part of the S&P+ formula (the part that's adjusted for schedule), Ole Miss is currently 16th in offensive S&P+ (Ole Miss is 35th in non-adjusted S&P), while also standing out in more conventional numbers, scoring 35 points per game and putting up 510.5 yards per contest. The Rebels (2-0, 1-0 SEC) accomplish those feats through what most would consider a "typical" spread offense, complete with zone read and the quarterback run game.

How much quarterback run game? Consider this: quarterbacks Bo Wallace (6-4 209) and Barry Brunetti (6-0 223) are both tied for the team lead in carries with 20 apiece. Wallace is the starter, and the better thrower. He's hit on 62.9 percent of his passes for 471 yards and two touchdowns to no interceptions, while rushing for another two scores. The "no interceptions" part of that sentence might be the most encouraging part for Ole Miss … last year, the two knocks on Wallace were that he turned the ball over too often (17 interceptions) and took too many sacks. Brunetti is a run-first, run-second threat who comes in at times as a change-of-pace. He has 20 carries for 115 yards and three touchdowns so far, but has completed just 3-of-12 passes.

But what makes the Ole Miss spread deadly is the fact that the Rebels have the playmakers to make those plays in space. Jeff Scott (5-7 162) has only had 16 carries this year, but he's averaging more than 10 yards per rush, including a 75-yard game-winner against Vanderbilt. Jaylen Walton (5-8 166) and L'Tavius Mathers (5-11 189) are also both smaller, excel-in-space type guys, with Mathers taking his four carries for a whopping 56 yards.

Then there's the receiving corps, a massive group that includes three starters who stand at least 6-foot-3. Texas fans are familiar with Donte Moncrief (6-3 226), who tore through the Longhorn defense a year ago. Moncrief had 66 catches for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns last year, and showed flashes of becoming one of the top receivers in the country. So far this year, he has seven catches for 130 yards and a touchdown. Ja-Mes Logan (6-3 183) is an experienced wideout opposite Moncrief, though he has primarily been a possession guy. This group was elevated even further when Laquon Treadwell (6-3 215) joined the fold. The true freshman was Scout.com's No. 1 receiver prospect in the 2013 class, and Ole Miss threw him in the slot to get him on the field. He's responded by leading the Rebels with 11 catches so far, and he appears to have a bright future ahead of him. Also, keep an eye on Vince Sanders (6-1 180) who missed the first two games of the season after suffering a broken collarbone in camp. He had 39 catches for 504 yards and four touchdowns as a starter last year, and should play against the Longhorns.

Another true freshman, Evan Engram (6-3 217), actually paces Ole Miss in yards. Listed as a tight end, Engram has receiver size, and has seven catches for 131 yards, including a 64-yard touchdown. As a flexed-out guy, he's pretty dangerous.

The Ole Miss offensive line has been up-and-down. On one hand, the Rebels have averaged 5.5 yards per carry, though one could argue that a big part of that has been the deception involved in the quarterback read game. And on the other, Ole Miss has struggled to protect the quarterback, allowing six sacks in two games just a year after allowing 34 sacks. For reference, TCU allowed the most sacks in the Big 12 last year with 29.

Still, it's a pretty experienced group, and had left guard Aaron Morris (6-5 360) not torn his ACL, the Rebels would have been able to trot out a five-man unit of guys with double-digit starts. Even without Morris's 20 starts (second-best on the line), these guys have seen some football. Center Evan Swindall (6-4 301) has 24 starts to his credit, while tackles Emmanuel McCray (6-5 320, left) and Pierce Burton (6-6 290, right) have each started 15 games apiece. Jared Duke (6-7 377) and Patrick Junen (6-7 349) can rotate at right guard, with Duke having seven starts and Junen 11. Morris's absence leaves sophomore Justin Bell (6-3 345) battling true freshman Austin Golson (6-5 300). Morris is certainly a loss … while Swindall is on the Rimington Award Watch List, Morris was the lone Rebel lineman tapped as a preseason All-SEC pick per Athlon, Phil Steele or the SEC coaches.

Kicker Andrew Ritter (6-3 216) has been perfect on his eight extra points, but has missed both of his field goals from 40-plus. He certainly has a strong leg, as 10 of his 13 kickoffs have been touchbacks. Walton and Kailo Moore (6-0 187) will handle kickoff returns, while Scott will serve as the punt returner. Neither unit has gotten off to a good start yet, though Walton returned a kick 100 yards for a touchdown in last year's Texas game.


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