A good running game should have Ole Miss back pushing for a bowl game.
By: Braden Gall | 6/5/11, 3:23 PM EDT
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#69 Ole Miss
SEC West PREDICTION
HEAD COACH: Houston Nutt, 22-16 (3 years) | OFF. COORDINATOR: David Lee | DEF. COORDINATOR: Tyrone Nix
After a 4–8 season in 2010, the road to recovery for Ole Miss may depend on what paths it can clear with a deep, experienced offensive line. Tackles Bradley Sowell, a fifth-year senior, and Bobby Massie, a junior, have a combined 41 starts between them and were part of a line that allowed the fewest sacks in the SEC last season.
Added to the mix is Arkansas transfer Matt Hall (6'9", 340). If Hall wins one of the guard spots, the Rebels will be really big and really physical — so big that 5'11" quarterback Randall Mackey could have a hard time seeing the passing lanes, but that’s not so much a concern for an athlete adept at moving outside the pocket.
Mackey emerged from spring drills as the leader at quarterback and will go into August camp as the favorite to win the job. His biggest challenge figures to come from West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti.
If the line performs as expected — and that wasn’t always the case in the spring — Ole Miss could be one of the top rushing teams in the SEC. Tailback Brandon Bolden narrowly missed 1,000 yards in 2010. Backups Enrique Davis and Jeff Scott are experienced and offer complementary styles; Davis is a powerful straight-ahead runner, and Scott a burner who stunned Auburn with an 83-yard touchdown run early in the game last year.
New offensive coordinator David Lee will call the plays — the first time at Ole Miss that coach Houston Nutt has relinquished that job — and opponents could see a resurgence of the Wild Rebel, made popular by Dexter McCluster in Nutt’s first two seasons in Oxford.
The Rebels are eager to show improvement on defense after a season in which they ranked 11th in the league in total defense and 12th in scoring defense.
A young defensive line showed promise in the spring, but the biggest news came from the NCAA, which granted a sixth season of eligibility to end Kentrell Lockett. A preseason All-SEC selection in 2010, Lockett tore an ACL in his third game. He was a strong pass-rusher in 2009 with 10 tackles for a loss and five sacks.
The Rebels were dealt a major setback when weak-side linebacker D.T. Shackelford, the team’s emotional leader, went down with a torn ACL in the spring. His absence may open a door for sophomore Clarence Jackson, who was already pushing for playing time. True freshman C.J. Johnson, the state’s top recruit, could slide into the starting spot at middle linebacker.
New secondary coach Keith Burns favors press coverage over the cushions often allowed by Ole Miss cornerbacks in 2010. The Rebels ranked last in the SEC in pass efficiency defense last season.
Junior kicker Bryson Rose is back after connecting on 16-of-18 field goals as a first-year starter. Tyler Campbell, also a junior, led the nation in punting last season with a 46.4-yard average. Junior college transfer Philander Moore, who scored six touchdowns on kick or punt returns at Blinn (Texas) College last year, should spice up the return game.
If the offensive line is what Nutt believes it to be, the Rebels will be good enough in the run game to get by with an inexperienced quarterback. Whether they have a winning season and get back to a bowl game will turn on whether Burns has the right read on his secondary talent and what the Rebels can get from a young defensive line.