Ole Miss Football: Offensive Fireworks Just Beginning for Rebels
While the Ole Miss offense has put up big numbers already this season, the offensive fireworks on display thus far are merely a prelude to what should unfold as the season progresses.
In downing Vandy, SEMO and Texas in their first three contests, Hugh Freeze's offense is currently averaging 490 yards per game (No. 33 in the country). Equally impressive is the balance through which they're doing it: The Rebels offense is averaging 250 yards per game on the ground (No. 25) and 240 yards through the air (No. 57).
Freeze and offensive coordinator Dan Werner are striking a perfect balance on offense.
Throw in the fact that quarterback Bo Wallace isn't afraid to take off running—averaging 40 yards per game rushing—and it's clear the up-tempo, fast-break Ole Miss offense demands respect from its opponents.
Averaging 38 points per game this fall (tied with Georgia and Nebraska at No. 36), and having scored touchdowns in 11 of their 14 red zone trips in 2013 (No. 26), the Ole Miss offense is undoubtedly performing well only three games into the season.
However, believe it or not, the Rebels offense has just begun to scratch the surface of its potential in 2013. It's a unit that could end up being one of the greatest in school history.
Wallace Playing Wiser Football
Through the first three games of 2012, QB Bo Wallace threw for six touchdowns and four interceptions. Fast forward to the present and he's tossed four touchdowns to zero picks so far this year. Bottom line: The Rebel QB is playing much smarter football in the face of trouble. It's a large part of the reason why the Rebels are 3-0 for the first time since 1989.
While his passing and rushing yards are currently nearly identical to where he was this time last year, there's absolutely no price his team can put on the fact that he's making better decisions with the football.
In year two of the Freeze system, he's playing like a seasoned veteran. As long he keeps playing smart football and stays healthy, Wallace will have the opportunity to surpass the 2,994-yard passing and 22 touchdown mark he posted as a sophomore.
Freshmen Phenoms Finding Their Way
In 2012, wide receiver Donte "Feed Me" Moncrief was without question Ole Miss' most explosive threat on offense. He hauled in 66 passes for 979 yards and 10 touchdowns. The second most efficient Rebels receiver was Ja-Mes Logan with 490 yards and a single touchdown on 43 receptions.
Move ahead to the current campaign and Moncrief is only the third-leading receiver on the team.
Who's ahead of the junior standout?
Two true freshmen: Tight end Evan Engram and WR Laquon Treadwell.
The dynamic one-two freshman combo has accounted for 27 catches, 329 yards and two touchdowns. Treadwell leads the team in receptions (16) and Engram leads the team in receiving yards (175).
Treadwell leads all SEC freshmen with 5.3 catches per contest, while Engram leads all SEC freshmen in receiving with 58.3 yards per game. With nine more regular season games to go—not to mention a bowl game—they both could end up posting unheard of figures come January.
This time last year, the pair were playing high school football. One year later, they've already played an SEC road game and a road contest against the Texas Longhorns. And there's been little—if any—learning curve for either freshman thus far. That alone says a great deal about their maturity and skill.
A mere three games into their college careers, they're already leading the receiving charts in Oxford. Like a fine wine, these two will only continue to get better with each week that passes.
Not only will defenses have to be accountable for Treadwell and Engram every Saturday, but they shouldn't sleep on that Moncrief kid, either. It's really scary to think how proficient the Ole Miss receiving corps will be when all receivers start clicking as a unit each weekend.
QB Barry Brunetti Becoming Comfortable
A former West Virginia transfer, the Barry Brunetti QB project just never panned out in Oxford. Now in his senior season with the Rebs, he's answering the call. The 6'0'', 223-pound red-zone specialist has rushed for 117 yards on 21 carries and scored three times in 2013.
Further, his three touchdowns through three games this fall already match his total in 2012.
While defenses may naturally begin to expect he'll run in red-zone or short-yardage situations, some red-zone passing situations could yield big results a few times this fall. The biggest issue for the junior will be hanging onto the ball when he takes off running.
If he protects the rock, he'll be yet another weapon in the Ole Miss offensive arsenal.
Faster, Faster, Faster
The motto of the Ole Miss offense is to become a "fundamentally efficient scoring machine."
Head coach Hugh Freeze could only run the offense as fast as his players could manage it during his inaugural season in Oxford. Last year, after their first three games, the Rebels were averaging 70.3 offensive plays per game.
Through the first three games in 2013, the Rebels offense is averaging 79.3 plays per game.
A quick run of the numbers shows that this year's squad is already getting in nine more plays per contest. Again, that's with the two leading receivers being true freshmen.
Nine more offensive snaps per game is certainly a statistically significant number.
With an offense capable of scoring at any given time on any given play, they're already giving themselves nine more chances to score than they were the same time last season. That's a lot.
Sky's the Limit for running back Jeff Scott
A smaller back at 5'7'' and 162 pounds, the senior starter has played like a true giant this year for the Rebels. While he rushed for a career-high 846 yards in 2012, he's already amassed 330 yards on the ground in 2013.
His 110 yards per game average (9.4 YPC) through Vandy, SEMO and Texas is 21 yards greater than his 89 yards per game average through the first three games last season. Currently, Scott is ranked No. 18 nationally in individual rushing. Without a doubt, the senior is playing the best football of his career.
Further, thanks to 330 yards on the ground, 89 yards on punt returns and 36 yards receiving, he is responsible for 151.7 all-purpose yards per game (No. 5 in the SEC). Able to take any touch to the house for a score, whether out of the backfield or returning punts, he's become one of the most dynamic players in the SEC.
Between younger players becoming even more proficient as the season continues (e.g., WR Laquon Treadwell and TE Evan Engram), WR Vince Sanders returning from injury as yet another threat and sophomore running backs I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylon Walton picking up more carries each Saturday, Scott will likely have an even greater opportunity to make the most of his time with the football.
Enhanced production and playmakers on offense means defenses must focus on other threats besides the damage Scott can do on the ground. The more players that become and integral part of the offense (and they will with each passing week), the more opportunity there will be for Scott to catch defenses off guard.
Don't Forget About Donte
Somewhat lost amid the "Scott talk" and focus on freshmen Treadwell and Engram is WR Donte Moncrief.
Last year, he caught 10 touchdowns on 979 receiving yards. While he is currently on pace to only average 692 yards during the regular season, there's a good chance he will again post 10-plus touchdowns this year.
Again, he's now part of a deeper, better experienced receiving corps. There may be fewer yards to go around for the likes of Moncrief, Treadwell, Engram, Logan, Sanders and Jordan Holder—among others—but that means Moncrief won't have to carry the load all by himself this season.
Instead, he'll have better chances to find holes in the secondary since defenses will have to respect the offense as a whole each down. While his yardage may not be what it was in 2012, the times he does get the ball in 2013 should be in even more opportune coverage.
As many weapons as the offense has had at its disposal in the first three games, they still have some missing in RB I'Tavius Mathers and WR Vince Sanders.
A player that had his coming out party in the 2013 BBVA Compass Bowl against Pitt, the sophomore Mathers has been plagued by an ankle injury early in the season. Only having carried the ball eight times so far this fall, Mathers has rushed for 70 yards and a touchdown.
However, as his injury heals, he's slowly getting himself back into position. Within a few weeks, his carries should increase from the four he's seen each contest, to eight to 10 per game.
In early August, junior receiver Vince Sanders sustained a shoulder injury that kept him out of practice drills until last week. Over the next few weekends, as he gets back into a rhythm on offense, the athletic 6'1'', 185-pound receiver should pick up right where he left off in 2012 (39 catches, 504 yards and four touchdowns).
The return of Mathers and Sanders should pay big dividends in the coming weeks, as the rich just keep getting richer on offense.
Expect More Fireworks in 2013
In conclusion, the Ole Miss offensive attack is just now skimming the surface of its true potential.
When all of the aforementioned elements get in sync, this unit could become prolific.
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