Ole Miss enters the 2012 football season with a lot of new pieces to fit in the puzzle. A lot of guys will see the field this year before they are ready for an SEC schedule. With a new offense, Coach Freeze is probably playing games before he is really ready to do so, but, as they say, time waits for no man.
While Ole Miss took care of business, beating Central Arkansas 49-27, we probably won’t see this team play as a complete unit until late in the year when it will hardly be enough to survive an Arkansas or LSU, but some real improvements are beginning to show.
Enough to give this Rebel team a C+ for Week 1.
Defensive Line (B)
The first gimme game makes it hard to judge, as a fan, what we have on this year's Ole Miss team. We do know we will see a lot of youth on the D-line.
Highly touted soph. DE C.J. Johnson made his presence known with SEC honors as co-defensive lineman of the week with six tackles, one behind the line. Freshman Issac Gross had two tackles early before sitting out due to potential injury (actually, a deep bruise after being kneed in the calf muscle).
"Small and not nearly enough of them" best sums up this Rebel linebacking squad. Denzel Nkemdiche led the team with nine tackles, but at roughly 200 lbs, he is not your ideal starting linebacker. In fact, the 4-2-5 defense just screams weakness across the middle.
Offensive Line (C)
The worst performing group of the day. Central Arkansas should not be racking up 11 tackles for loss against any SEC team. The mobility of QBs Wallace and Brunetti salvaged what could have been even more embarrassing for the front line.
It doesn’t seem to take much to confuse this group, and the O-line coach is still working to find the right combination of starters. The truth is he doesn’t have a lot to choose from. A lot of improvement will be required with Texas coming to Oxford in two weeks.
Running Backs (D)
Ole Miss put up a lot of points Saturday. Imagine how well they would have played with a running back. Expect junior RB Jeff Scott to make a go of it against UTEP after missing the opener due to back spasms. Saturday's starter, Randall Mackey, was ill and made a trip to the hospital on Sunday but is expected to play against UTEP.
The Rebs relied on two freshman, I’Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, who combined for 30 yards and one touchdown. With a big question mark on the offensive line, it’s hard to say what Ole Miss can do on the ground game, but it seems Freeze was able to scheme around the issues.
Which brings us to some of the bright points on this team.
Freeze can call plays quickly and effectively. The first quarter, with the essential starters in the game, they jumped out to a 14-0 lead, eventually going into halftime trailing, due to playing backups.
But this team didn’t fold, like they would have in years past.
Maybe it was the will of Bo Wallace, but I will give the credit to Hugh Freeze, who is sending in the plays (graded as an A). If nothing else, these players have “bought in” to Coach Freeze, to his “family” concept and came out in the second half and scored 35 unanswered points.
I didn’t mention the QBs separately (graded as an A), but Bo Wallace is obviously a better passer and “game manager” than Barry Brunetti, and they both can scramble well if the O-line breaks down.
This team is not SEC-ready and may not be ready for UTEP’s defensive line yet, but I think this team can improve. If the O-line comes together, the running backs stay healthy and the D-line continues to improve, you can call the first year of Freeze a success.