Wednesday, December 7, 2011
Season recap: Ole Miss
By ESPN.com staff
Record: 2-10, 0-8 SEC
The 2011 season looked like it was going to start with such promise for Ole Miss.
The Rebels led 13-0 over BYU in the early minutes of the fourth quarter in the season opener. They were playing great defense and had Vaught-Hemingway Stadium rocking. But the bottom fell out in the fourth quarter, and BYU came storming back to win 14-13.
It was a microcosm of the entire season for Ole Miss, which hit rock bottom. The Rebels limped to a 2-10 finish, their worst record since 1946, and saw their SEC losing streak reach 14 consecutive games dating back to the 2010 season.
Following the 30-13 loss to Kentucky on Nov. 5, coach Houston Nutt was fired, although he was allowed to finish out the season. The Rebels never won again, scoring a total of 13 points in their final three games.
It was offensive nightmare for the Rebels all season. They played three different quarterbacks and finished with nine touchdown passes and 13 interceptions. Top running back Brandon Bolden broke his foot in the opener. He was able to return later in season, but the senior captain was one of four players suspended for the Alabama game.
There were multiple suspensions throughout the year, and the Rebels ended the season on a seven-game losing streak.
Defensively, Ole Miss showed signs of improvement early on, but was decimated by key injuries. It actually started in the spring when top linebacker D.T. Shackelford tore his ACL and was lost for the season. The Rebels sorely missed his productivity and leadership.
Offensive MVP: Receiver Donte Moncrief. There’s some young talent returning next season, and Moncrief is right there at the top of the list. The 6-foot-2, 200-pound freshman led the Rebels with 31 receptions, and he was also the team leader with four touchdown catches. Already mature beyond his years, Moncrief’s best days are ahead of him.
Defensive MVP: Cornerback Charles Sawyer. Even though he was just a sophomore, Sawyer was forced to take on a leadership role for the Rebels on defense and turned in a solid season all the way around. He finished second on the team with 70 total tackles and also had a team-leading four interceptions.
Turning point: The season-opening loss to BYU was disappointing, but the 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt two weeks later was the beginning of the end for Nutt. The Rebels were thoroughly outplayed and outcoached and were never the same again.
What’s next: Earlier this week, Ole Miss announced Hugh Freeze as Nutt’s successor. Freeze spent this season as the head coach at Arkansas State and guided the Red Wolves to a 10-2 record and Sun Belt Conference championship. He’s a native of Senatobia, Miss., and worked as an assistant on the Ole Miss staff from 2005-07. He has his work cut out, particularly in the rigorous Western Division. But his most pressing task is catching up with archrival Mississippi State, which has won three consecutive Egg Bowls.