Scouting Report: the Ole Miss Rebels

The Ole Miss Rebels entertain Vanderbilt this Saturday afternoon sporting a 1-4 overall record and 0-2 mark in the Southeastern Conference. After a season opening win over Memphis by a score of 28-25, the cardinal and navy ventured to Columbia, Missouri, and had their hats handed to them 34-7. A week later, numerous mistakes led to a 31-14 defeat at the hands of Kentucky.

The Rebels then returned home and failed to show up in a 27-3 drubbing to Wake Forest.  Last week, Ole Miss played brilliantly on defense and special teams and almost upset undefeated Georgia.  They blocked two punts, but one was called back for a penalty.  The penalty may have been the deciding factor in the game as Ole Miss lost 14-9.


After facing the team (Temple) with the most contributing true freshman last week, Vanderbilt plays the team with the nation's number two team in that statistic this week.  Ole Miss has played 17 true freshman and 22 total members of their most recent signing class.





Ole Miss has struggled on the attack side this year.  The offensive line does not protect well on passing plays.  The receivers are quite young and don't run precise routes.   Their quarterback, not having enough time to locate those receivers who are not getting open that frequently, has not progressed much and has been forced to think run first and pass second.  The Rebel running game is capable of winning a game without much help from the passing game if the defense performs like it did against Georgia.


Let's take a look at some of their statistics. 


Scoring:  12.2 points per game ranks last in the SEC and 111th of 119 in Division I-A


Rushing Average: 139.8 yards per game (3.8 avg) ranks 6th in the SEC, 58th in Division I-A


Passing Average: 135.o yards per game ranks 12th in the SEC, 106th in Division I-A.  The Rebs are completing just 47.6% of their passes and averaging just 5.4 yards per pass attempt.


Passing Efficiency: 93.6 ranks 11th in the SEC and 111th in Division I-A


Total Yardage: 274.8 yards per game ranks 11th in the SEC and 99th in Division I-A


QB Sacks allowed: 15 sacks in 5 games is tied for 9th in the SEC


Turnover Margin: -6 in 5 games ranks 11th in the SEC and 106th in Division I-A



Breakdown by Position


Wide Receiver


X Receivers:  Mike Wallace (6-0, 180 So.) only played on special teams last year, so he has started five games in his career.  Wallace is an explosive type who can get open deep and score a quick six.  He has yet to do so, and as the old proverbial saying goes, he is due.  To this point, he has caught seven passes for 123 yards (17.6 avg) with a long of 47 yards.  Georgia held him in check allowing just two grabs for 16 yards.  Keeping him contained is one of the keys to breaking down the Rebel offense.


Backup split end Shay Hodge (6-1, 195 True Fr.) does not have the breakaway speed that Wallace has, but he has a bigger physique.  He can catch the ball in a crowd, but he won't gain many yards after the catch.


Z receivers Dexter McCluster (5-9, 170 True Fr.) and Marshay Green (5-10, 170 True Fr.) are leading the team in receptions.  McCluster has caught 15 passes for 232 yards (15.5 avg) and a score.  Against Memphis, he was voted the both the SEC and National Freshman of the Week after compiling 268 all-purpose yards.  Green has snatched 10 passes for 113 yards (11.3 avg) and a team-leading two touchdowns.  He is a hit and miss receiver.  He might catch a short pass and be stopped for little gain, and then he might burn a defender by getting around him for a long gainer.  It's best to give him a little more cushion and not let him get by.


The Vandy defense has to watch out for McCluster when he goes in motion toward the inside.  He can carry the ball on the quick flanker sweep, and to date, he has averaged 8.5 yards per rush with a 31-yard scamper for a score.


Tight End


Robert Lane (6-3, 240 Jr.) is a younger Steven Bright.  Like Bright, Lane is a former quarterback who is starting to become a force at tight end.  Lane is a playmaker.  He gets open in a crowd and then doesn't go down easily.  Lane won't break a long one, but he's the headache defensive coaches get when he catches a nine yard pass on 3rd and eight.


Backup Lawrence Lilly (6-4, 275 Sr.) is blocker who won't hurt any defense with his pass-catching ability.  Even though he is humongous for a tight end, he has shown lapses in his blocking assignments.  When he's using proper technique and plays for keeps, he's like having a third tackle.  He actually started last week against Georgia.


Offensive Line


Left tackle Michael Oher (6-5 ½, 322 So.) is the star of this unit.  He's quick enough to play guard and as strong as any tackle in the league.  Oher is equally competent opening running lanes and protecting the passer.  When the formation puts Lilly on the left side, this tandem presents defensive ends and outside linebackers with trouble.


Left Guard Thomas Eckers (6-2, 295 Jr.)  has taken over this position due to injuries in the offensive line.  He made a few plays against Georgia, but he missed several blocks.  Overall, he is a liability at this position and could be an area to attack with stunts.


Corey Actis (6-5, 290 JUCO Jr.) has started all five games at center.  He's been banged up a little bit as of late, but he will play.  Actis is an average blocker who is good on technique but lacking in strength.


Right guard John Jerry (6-5, 350 True Fr.) had a great debut against Memphis.  Two weeks later, he jumped off the line causing an illegal procedure penalty on the first play of the game at Kentucky, and he struggled for most of the afternoon.  He can block out the sun as well as your average defensive tackle.


Andrew Wicker (6-5, 295 Sr.) is the regular at left guard, but due to injuries, he will be starting at right tackle.  He struggled last week against Georgia as he didn't have much time to prepare for a new position.  He's a good student, so a week's worth of practice could mean a great deal.  Look for him to rebound with a good game this week. 




Brent Schaeffer (6-2, 205 Jr.) has failed to live up to his hype in his second go around in the SEC.  He didn't have the opportunity of going through spring practice with the team, and he didn't even know if he would be eligible until just before practices began in August.  With breakdowns in pass blocking and inexperienced receivers not always running precise routes, it has been quite rough on Schaeffer so far this season.  He has completed just 45.6% of his passes, and he has thrown six interceptions in five games (5.3% rate).  Last week against Georgia, he completed just six of 15 passes for 87 yards and was sacked four times.  He rushed seven times for 45 yards (factoring out sacks), so Vanderbilt needs to make sure they keep him contained.


Backup Seth Adams (6-4, 215 JUCO Jr.) is a walk-on who played admirably in mop-up duty against Wake Forest.  He completed eight of 11 passes for 84 yards.




Jason Cook (6-0, 235 So.) starts at fullback when the Rebels use a two-back formation.  He has some pass catching ability, but he does not run the football.  He is used as a lead blocker and pass protector.  His best performance last season was against Vanderbilt, as he opened a big hole for tailback Mico McSwain to break free on a long touchdown run.




Ole Miss has the leading rusher in the SEC in BenJarvus Green-Ellis (5-11, 215 Jr.).  Green-Ellis has gained 470 yards in five games at a 4.8 yards per carry clip.  Playing for former Vanderbilt coach Gerry Dinardo at Indiana in 2004, he led the Hoosiers with 794 yards rushing.  He is an all-purpose back who can gain three yards up the gut on 3rd and two and also turn the corner on the perimeter with speed.  His pass catching and pass blocking abilities allow him to play on every down.  The key to beating Ole Miss is not to let him have a field day.  If he rushes for five yards per carry, then Schaeffer is all of a sudden going to find open receivers downfield.  Holding him to 4.3 yards per carry could be enough for Vandy to win this game if the Commodore offense can get 150 yards rushing and 150 yards passing.






The Rebels are a better defensive team than offensive team, but they are far from being in the same class as Florida, Auburn, LSU, and Georgia, and they are not as strong defensively as Alabama or Tennessee.   They are considerably better than the 2005 team that surrendered 500+ yards to the Commodores in Nashville.


Here is a look at Ole Miss's defensive statistics for the season:


Scoring Defense: 26.2 points per game allowed ranks 10th in the SEC and 87th in Division I-A


Vs. The Run: 165.4 yards allowed per game (4.2 avg) ranks 9th in the SEC and 96th in Division I-A


Vs. The Pass: 185.8 yards allowed per game ranks 8th in the SEC and 53rd in Division I-A.  The Rebs allow 61.2% of enemy passes to be completed and allow 6.7 yards per pass attempt.


Quarterback Sacks: Ole Miss has recorded six sacks in five games which ranks 11th in the SEC.


Opp. Passing Efficiency: 133.9 ranks 8th in the SEC and 78th in Division I-A


Opp. Total Offense: 351.2 yards ranks 10th in the SEC and 82nd in Division I-A


Tackles For Loss: Ole Miss has recorded 26 TFLs this season


Turnover Margin: -1.2 per game ranks 11th in the SEC and 106th in Division I-A


Defensive Line


Defensive end Greg Hardy (6-5, 240 True Fr.) had a little accident earlier in the week; he fell down some steps and ended up with a head injury.  He's expected to play as of this writing (Wednesday night).  Against Georgia, Hardy led the Rebels with six tackles.  He's an excellent pass rusher, and he has a keen ability to knock the ball loose when he tackles an opponent.


Defensive tackle Marcus Tillman (6-4, 255 True Fr.) had started two games at end prior to last week, when Coach Orgeron started him at tackle in place of Hayward Howard against Georgia.  Tillman has the potential to be an All-SEC performer.  He can penetrate into the backfield and stop a runner for a loss, and he knows how to get to the quarterback.


Brandon Jenkins (6-4, 280 Jr.) is the third different starter at nose tackle due to injuries to Jeremy Garrett and Peria Jerry.  For a third teamer, he's quite capable, but he's not as good as Hardy or Tillman.


Chris Bowers (6-2, 245 So.) has started at end since Tillman was moved to tackle.  He played a remarkable game against Georgia, but he teams with Jenkins to make this side considerably weaker than the other side of the defensive line.




Will Linebacker Rory Johnson (6-1, 235 JUCO Jr.) is the weakest of the starting trio, but that's not much of a slap in the face.  He made his first start against Georgia after Quentin Taylor played inconsistently in the first four games.  Against the Bulldogs, he made five tackles. 


How good is middle linebacker Patrick Willis (6-2, 240 Sr.)?  He's only the best linebacker in the nation.  He's as good now as Ray Lewis was at Miami of Florida as a senior.  Willis leads the Rebels with 50 tackles, 6.5 being tackles for loss.  He's recorded one sack, and he's recovered a fumble.  Willis has become a much better pass defender this year, as his four broken up passes prove.  It all adds up to a top 10 pick in the 2007 NFL Draft.


Sam linebacker Garry Pack (6-1, 220 Jr.) gives the Rebels an excellent complement to Willis.  He ranks second on the team with 40 tackles.  He defends both the run and the pass well.  


Overall, there isn't much quality depth here, so getting this trio fatigued is important.  Mixing the run and pass and running wide to both sides will go a long way in doing just that.




Left cornerback Nate Banks (5-11, 180 Jr.) is a lock-down cover corner who hits like a linebacker.  He is an asset against the wide runs to his side.  Through five games, he has made 21 tackles, with two going for losses (one of which was a sack against Georgia last week).  He's broken up four passes and forced a fumble. 


Strong safety Jamarca Sanford (5-10, 200 so.) is a future All-SEC player.  Currently, he needs to improve some in pass coverage, but he's a fierce tackler who can take on a larger player and win the battle.  He's made 30 tackles so far.


Free safety Charles Clark (6-0, 195 Sr.) has also registered 30 tackles on the year.  He is one of the two most experienced players in the secondary, but he is the least talented of the four starters.  He has problems covering decent receivers one-on-one and can get into trouble trying to tackle in the open field.


Right cornerback Trumaine McBride (5-10, 180 Sr.) has the same amount of experience as Clark.  He's better than Clark in pass coverage, but he's weaker against the run.  He teams with Banks to give the Rebels an impressive coverage duo.



Special Teams


Ole Miss is fairly strong in this area.  Punter Rob Park may have to ice his leg down as he is used so often, but he helps the Rebels win field position in punting exchanges.  His 40.1 average is third best in the league, and he has booted seven of 27 punts inside opponents' 20 yard line.


Place kicker Joshua Shene is a perfect 7-7 on extra points.  He's only 2-3 in field goal attempts, with the longest being 26 yards, but his lone miss was from over 50 yards.  He's one of the best true freshmen specialists in the nation, and he could easily nail a 50 yard field goal. 


Flankers McCluster and Green serve as the regular Ole Miss kick return specialists.  They've combined for a 21 yard average with two returns of near breakaway status.  Green is also the punt return specialist.  Through five games, he is averaging just 5.2 yards per return, but he did break one for 37 yards earlier in the year.  




Like Vanderbilt, Ole Miss has exploitable weaknesses and a few strengths that can be used to defeat opponents.  The Rebels have not played a complete game as of yet, and they have the potential to do so.  If they can play offense like they did against Memphis and Kentucky and play defense like they did against Georgia, the Rebels will beat somebody they are not supposed to beat.


The Rebels' biggest problem to date is they really haven't shown overall improvement from week to week like most major college teams.  Schaeffer is due for a breakout game, and when he does so, the Rebels will score 28 points and pick up 400 total yards.  Once Schaeffer becomes a threat with his arm, Green-Ellis will explode for a monster day on the ground. 


Defensively, the Rebels are not all that strong in the trenches, but they have the best middle linebacker in college football.  Willis can make up for the weaknesses in front of him.  Vanderbilt might want to consider using counter flow action on running plays to force Willis to stay at home until the last possible minute.  If he makes 15 tackles in this game, Vandy may not score enough points to win the game.


For Comparison Purposes, here's how Vandy ranks in the offensive and defensive statistical categories.  The first number in parentheses represents SEC rank and the second number represents D1A rank.


Scoring Offense: 23.4 ppg (7 & 67)

Rushing Offense: 164.0 yds per game (4 & 40) and 5.3 yards per rush

Passing Offense: 141.2 yds per game (11 & 102)

                              54.3% completions and 6.2 yards per attempt

Passing Efficiency: 118.5 (8 & 74)

QB Sacks Allowed: 9 in 5 games (8t & 51t)

Total Offense: 305.2 yds per game (9 & 84)

Turnover Margin: +.6 (4t & 31)

Scoring Defense: 16.8 ppg (7 & 38)

Rushing Defense: 148.6 yds per game (8 & 81) and 3.8 yards allowed per rush

Passing Defense: 179.0 yds per game (7 & 43)

                               Allows 57.3% completions and 8.1 yards per attempt

Passing Efficiency Defense: 138.7 (10 & 87)

QB Sacks: 9 in 5 games (5t & 52t)

Total Defense: 327.6 (9 & 63)

TFL: 31 in five games

Mississippi quarterback Brent Schaeffer (7) leads his blockers into the end zone for a fourth-quarter 8-yard touchdown run in their college football game against Memphis, in Oxford, Miss., Sunday, Sept. 3, 2006. Mississippi defeated Memphis, 28-25. (AP Photo/Rogelio V. Solis) Top Stories