by Gary Olshan, Chief Analyst

First-year HC Huge Freeze has been hired to replace Houston Nutt, whose four year downturn of an era in Oxford began when he technically replaced Freeze. Freeze was an assistant brought in by Ed Orgeron from Briarcrest Christian Academy in Memphis, and was briefly (three days) the interim head coach when Orgeron was fired after the 2007 season. Nutt, who resigned from Arkansas to take the Rebel job three days after Orgeron's ouster, inherited a roster that was far from bare when he was handed the reins, including nine-wins seasons each of his first two years with Cotton Bowl victories. But talent wasn’t replenished, and after going 18-8 overall and 9-7 in the SEC in his first two seasons, Nutt’s final two squads combined for a 6-18 mark, including a disastrous 1-15 league mark. Freeze, meanwhile was winning championships at the NAIA level, and became the offensive coordinator at Arkansas State, which adapted to his spread offense well enough to finish 43rd nationally in total offense after ranking 95th the previous season. He succeeded Steve Roberts as head man and led the Red Wolves to a Sun Belt title after they’d gone 4-8 the previous year. Freeze, a native Mississippian, who is trying to quickly change the culture in Oxford, has taken a strong disciplinary stance and has praised his players for their attitude and effort. Freeze says, “The first thing that we’ve got to get right is that we play with passion and effort for 60 minutes, and then we look up and see where the clock is. That’s where we have to start to get out of the wilderness.”

Freeze will decide in the fall who’ll be the pilot of his high-tempo offense (7 starters return), which has plenty of room for growth after last year’s lackluster attack finished 11th in the SEC in scoring (16.1 ppg), passing (151,7ypg) and total offense (281.3 ypg), while ending up 10th in rushing. (129.6 ypg). The QB will be either mobile jr. Barry Brunetti (19 of 35 in five appearances last year) or soph Bo Wallace (redshirted at Arkansas State in 2010 when Freeze was the offensive coordinator), who transferred to East Mississippi last year and led it to 12-0 season and a NCJAA national championship. While both competing QBs likely to see action early in campaign, the unquestioned No. 1 RB will be versatile 5-7, 175-pound Jeff Scott (team-high 529 YR and six TDs in 10 games; 15 catches). Needed depth at that spot could emerge form several highly-regarded newcomers, including four-star prospect 5-11, 230-pound Kenno Loyal, three-star I’Tavius Mathers (ESPN called him the 16th top RB in the nation) and blue-chipper Quuintavious Burdette, who actually played QB his senior year. A talented and rangy pair of 6-2 WRs, soph Donte Moncrief (Frosh All-American had 31 catches) and jr. Ja-Mes Logan (20 grabs), should shine in Freeze’s high-octane spread, while last year’s starting QB Randall Mackey, a gifted athlete, should be a big help at the slot receiver, at running back as well as serve as the third QB. Coaches need to quickly develope the revamped offensive front (only one starter back), who’re still trying to adjust to the go-go pace of Freeze’s offense in the spring.

First-year co-defensive coordinator Dave Wommack is trying to turn around a group (he has six starters back) that allowed a whopping 32 ppg and 419.3 ypg last season. Wommack, who confidently says, “We have five or six guys I feel can really help us win in the SEC,” is keeping the 4-2-5 formation, but made it evident in the spring he’s far more blitz-happy than his predecessor. DEs C.J. Johnson, who showed a “quick-twitch” off the edge, and Channing Ward, the top in-state prospects in each of the last two seasons, should from Wommack’s more aggressive approach. The LB corps has a good foundation in third-team All-SEC MLB Mike Marry (81 tackles), while the hopeful return of previously-injured D.T. Shackleford (had team-high five sacks in 2010 before missing last year with a torn ACL) would be a huge boost. Ole Miss possesses two SEC-quality defensive backs in senior CB Wesley Pendleton and jr. SS Charles Sawyer, who had 13 passes defended (ranked third in the SEC) and four interceptions.

Kicking game is a big plus for the Rebels, with senior punter Tyler Campbell (43.6 avg last year) and accurate senior PK Bryson Rose, who has nailed 25 of 29 career field goal attempts and showed improved leg strength in the spring game. RB Jeff Scott and CB Wesley Pendleton are big-play threats in the return game.

Simmary...If Freeze’s track record is any indication, he’ll figure out how to move the ball against many of the Rebel foes this season. And even if the scrappier but somewhat green defense (five underclassmen slated to start) is still seeking cohesiveness, Ole Miss has a good chance to start the season 3-1, and might even scare Texas in Oxford on Sept. 15, especially if one of the QBs catches on quickly. But a visit to Alabama for the fifth game begins a brutal eight-game stretch (arguably the natuon’s toughest during those two months) that will take its toll on a relatively young bunch. Freeze isn’t likely to turn Nutt’s mess around overnight, with six wins and bowl eligibility the best case-scenario in the brutal SEC West division.


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