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Season report card: Ole Miss

1/22/2013

It's time to find out what kind of grades Ole Miss received in Hugh Freeze's first year as coach:

OFFENSE: Just the offensive improvement alone was enough to get the Rebels a pretty sweet grade. They went from next-to-last in the SEC in scoring offense in 2011 (16.1 points per game) to sixth in the league this past season (31.5 points per game). Talk about a rapid transformation. Freeze’s up-tempo offense was a huge hit, and first-year starting quarterback Bo Wallace finished fifth in the SEC in total offense. He passed for 2,994 yards, rushed for 390 yards and accounted for 30 touchdowns. Sophomore receiver Donte Moncrief also established himself as one of the league’s most dynamic playmakers. He just missed 1,000 receiving yards (979) and hauled in 10 touchdown catches. When the season began, one of Freeze’s biggest concerns was the offensive line. But that group grew up in a hurry and was a big reason the Rebels were so balanced. They joined Texas A&M and Georgia as the only three teams in the SEC to average more than 240 yards passing and more than 170 yards rushing per game. They were also outstanding in the red zone and scored on 41 of their 45 trips inside the 20-yard line. What the Rebels didn’t do well was take care of the ball. They turned it over 29 times, the second-highest total in the league. Wallace’s 17 interceptions were the most in the league. GRADE: B+

DEFENSE: The start to the season defensively was shaky, and the low point came in the 66-31 home loss to Texas in the third week of the season. But to the Rebels’ credit, they were able to hang in there defensively despite playing a ton of new guys. Their overall numbers weren’t great. They were seventh in the SEC in total defense (375.8 yards per game) and ninth in the SEC in scoring defense (27.6 points per game). Defending the pass was really a struggle at times. They made up for it, though, by creating a surplus of negative plays. The Rebels were fourth nationally with 103 tackles for loss. They finished second in the SEC with 38 sacks and were in the top six in the league with 28 forced turnovers. Similar to the offensive improvement, go back and look at where the Rebels ranked in 2011 on defense. They were last in the SEC in just about every statistical category. Moreover, it’s a defense that played some of its best football when it counted in the 41-24 win over rival Mississippi State and the 38-17 win over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl. GRADE: C+

OVERALL: Freeze received strong support for SEC Coach of the Year honors in his first season and rightfully so. When you consider that Ole Miss had lost 14 straight SEC games when he arrived, it’s even more impressive what Freeze and his staff were able to do with this team. Nobody had the Rebels going to a bowl game, especially with all of the youth on the team and the lack of depth. At one point in November, they were down to 59 scholarship players. So a seven-win season, including the bowl win, was a huge success in Year No. 1 under Freeze. It’s one more game than the Rebels won in their previous two seasons combined. Whipping up on Mississippi State after losing three in a row to the Bulldogs also did wonders for the Ole Miss faithful. Not being able to hold onto fourth-quarter leads at home against Texas A&M and Vanderbilt is the only reason this wasn't an A. Nonetheless, there’s a lot of optimism right now in Oxford that brighter days are ahead for the Rebels. GRADE: B+