SEC: Nicholas Parker

Ole Miss was up to its old turnover tricks on defense Saturday against LSU. The Rebels’ problem in the 10-7 loss was that they failed to capitalize on turnovers the way they normally do.

In fairness, the Rebels’ lone touchdown of the night did follow safety Cody Prewitt's fumble recovery in the Ole Miss end zone. But this was an Ole Miss club that's made opponents pay for their mistakes all season, entering the LSU game with an FBS-high 90 points off turnovers.

They won the turnover battle against the Tigers 4-1, but were otherwise unable to turn those takeaways into points.

“When you turn the ball over that many times, it’s rough,” LSU center Elliott Porter admitted. “But we got it done, thank you Lord.”

[+] EnlargeCody Prewitt
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesCody Prewitt and Ole Miss forced turnovers against LSU like they had all season, but the Rebels' offense was unable to turn them into points.
The Tigers can thank their increasingly hard-nosed defense as well, as Ole Miss didn’t accomplish much on offense after the other three turnovers and a missed 28-yard field goal by LSU kicker Colby Delahoussaye.

  • After Delahoussaye’s first-quarter miss gave Ole Miss the ball at the Rebels’ 20-yard line, they drove into LSU territory, but quarterback Bo Wallace threw incomplete to running back Jaylen Walton on fourth-and-2 at the LSU 30.
  • Following a second-quarter C.J. Johnson fumble recovery at the Ole Miss 48, the Rebels actually scored on a 34-yard I'Tavius Mathers run, but the touchdown came back on a holding penalty against tight end Nicholas Parker. Instead, the Rebels were forced to punt.
  • Senquez Golson intercepted LSU’s Anthony Jennings at the Ole Miss 49 in the third quarter, but Golson was then flagged for unsportsmanlike conduct after the play. The 15-yard penalty gave the Rebels first-and-25 at their own 34, and they went backward to their 29 before punting.
  • Finally, Mike Hilton intercepted a Jennings pass at the Ole Miss 35 in the fourth quarter. Afterward, the Rebels went three-and-out and punted to LSU again -- with the Tigers then launching the game-winning, 95-yard touchdown drive.

This was not the opportunistic Ole Miss club that had taken the field each previous Saturday en route to a No. 3 national ranking, and Rebels coach Hugh Freeze admitted that he might have played it too conservatively since his defense had been so effective against LSU.

“The plan that we had certainly gave us a chance to win,” Freeze said of not using more up-tempo pace against the Tigers. “We had two touchdowns called back and had chances to score more points, and either we didn’t make the right call or we didn’t execute properly at times or LSU made good plays.

“So should we speed it up more? Maybe, but I still say that we had a chance to win in a hostile environment against a very good football team that’s playing really well right now had we made better calls, better plays at certain times.”

Freeze and Wallace said the Tiger Stadium crowd was a factor on Saturday, particularly during the period where Ole Miss was without two offensive line starters. Center Ben Still missed the game with a knee injury and was replaced by converted tackle Robert Conyers. When star left tackle Laremy Tunsil missed time in the second half with a biceps injury, normal fill-in Conyers was already at center, so the Rebels were forced to go with inexperienced redshirt freshman Daronte Bouldin.

Ole Miss generated just 107 yards (36 on the ground) and went 2-for-10 on third down after halftime.

“Daronte’s [issue] was not physical as much as it was playing in that environment on a silent count was very, very late off the ball all three possessions,” Freeze said. “That cost us some negative plays. We’ve got to prepare him better and hopefully get some kids healthy where we can play kids that have been in those environments before.”

Freeze said Still and Tunsil are both “day-to-day” for Saturday’s game against No. 4 Auburn (6-1, 3-1 SEC), and it’s clear the Rebels (7-1, 4-1) need them both. LSU overwhelmed their replacements at times on Saturday, and Auburn boasts one of the SEC’s better defensive fronts.

Obviously their presences in the starting lineup would make it easier for Wallace and the offense to attempt to force the issue more against Auburn than they did against LSU. Either way, that is the Ole Miss’ quarterback’s hope for Saturday.

“At lot of times when we’re throwing the ball right now, it’s third down. It’s easy when you know it’s coming, third-and-9, third-and-long,” Wallace said. “We’re staying in third-and-long so much when you know it’s coming, people get in their third-down defense and it’s hard obviously to convert three downs with as well as you can play third-down defense.

“So we have to get back to throwing the ball on first and second down and making plays like we did earlier in the season.”
First-year coach Hugh Freeze knew he’d be working with low numbers during his first year at Ole Miss, but his recent loss hurts a lot.

When the Rebels open the season against Central Arkansas on Saturday, they will likely be without top running back Jeff Scott, who has battled back issues this fall, Freeze said. Tests were run Wednesday morning, but Freeze said no one was sure what was going on with his back.

Freeze added that there’s still a possibility that Scott could play against the Bears, but he’s heavily leaning toward that not happening.

“I’m not real confident that Jeff will play this Saturday, as of right now,” Freeze said.

Scott was one of Ole Miss’ top overall players in 2011. He led the team with 529 rushing yards and six touchdowns, and added 386 total return yards and another score.

The Rebels will now have to fill Scott’s position by committee Saturday. Randall Mackey, who finally found a home at running back after moving from quarterback to wide receiver, will likely start in Scott’s place. The staff feels as though he might be the team’s most dynamic offensive weapon and could line up at three different positions Saturday.

Behind Mackey, Freeze will rely on true freshmen I’Tavius Mathers, who had a very good fall camp, and Jaylen Walton. Senior Devin Thomas and sophomore Nicholas Parker. For now, Mackey, Mathers and Walton are set to get the majority of the snaps at running back.

“Definitely, those first three we’re going to play,” Freeze said.

Also expected to play are a host of true freshmen. Ole Miss signed 13 in order to save some scholarships for next year’s class, and Freeze said seven or eight freshmen from the 2012 class could play in Saturday’s opener.
We continue our position rankings by looking at some of the hardest working players in the league. Running backs are very important in the SEC and more is always better around these parts.

Past rankings:
On to the running backs:

[+] EnlargeSpencer Ware
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesThe powerful Spencer Ware should be a key part of LSU's running back depth this upcoming season.
1. LSU: The Tigers claim the top spot thanks to depth, talent and more depth. They have five guys back there who could start for a lot of teams. Michael Ford is the speed guy. Spencer Ware is a bruiser who also has great cutting ability, Alfred Blue is extremely versatile and strong, and Kenny Hilliard is an even bigger bruiser. This group combined for 2,338 rushing yards and 30 touchdowns last fall. Keep an eye out for freshman Jeremy Hill, too.

2. South Carolina: Marcus Lattimore alone would warrant the Gamecocks being near the top. All reports coming out of Columbia are that he’s healthy and ready to pick up where he left off when he hurt his knee. Sophomore Brandon Wilds was excellent in filling in for Lattimore last season, veteran Kenny Miles has said he will be back for his senior season and the talented Shon Carson should be back after his ACL injury.

3. Arkansas: It was a close call between the Hogs and the Gamecocks. Similar to Lattimore, Knile Davis insists he’s as good as new after missing all of last season with a fractured ankle. Dennis Johnson can do a little bit of everything and certainly won’t be forgotten about in the Hogs’ offense, while Ronnie Wingo Jr. returns for his senior season.

4. Alabama: Eddie Lacy gets his shot to be the Crimson Tide’s feature back now that Trent Richardson is gone, but Nick Saban prefers to share the wealth. Who wouldn’t when you’ve got a true freshman on campus as talented as T.J. Yeldon? Don’t forget about Dee Hart, either. Hart would have played some last season had he not been injured. And Jalston Fowler adds another big, bruising body to Bama's backfield.

5. Texas A&M: If the NCAA rules that Oklahoma transfer Brandon Williams is eligible this season, the Aggies may move up this list. Williams was sensational this spring, and Christine Michael also returns after rushing for 899 yards last season prior to tearing his ACL. In addition, incoming freshman Trey Williams was one of the premier running back prospects in the country.

6. Vanderbilt: We're still not sure what Warren Norman can do, as he returns from his knee injury. Jerron Seymour is a do-it-all guy. The centerpiece of the Commodores’ offense will again be Zac Stacy, who set a school record last season with 1,193 rushing yards. He’s the leading returning rusher in the SEC. Highly-touted freshman Brian Kimbrow could also be used at running back.

7. Mississippi State: The competition this preseason at running back ought to be fierce at Mississippi State. Speedy LaDarius Perkins is the likely starter, but the Bulldogs’ coaches can’t wait to see what a healthy Nick Griffin can do. There are two talented redshirt freshmen -- Josh Robinson and Derek Milton -- who’ve also been waiting their turn.

8. Georgia: Losing Isaiah Crowell was a real blow for the Bulldogs, but they’re not lacking in talent. We won’t have to wait long to see if true freshman Keith Marshall is the real deal, but he's at his best when he's in space or used in the passing game. Ken Malcome had a very good spring and was a co-starter heading into summer. Incoming freshman Todd Gurley will be called upon this fall as well.

9. Auburn: Onterio McCalebb remains one of the top breakaway threats in the league, but he's going to need help. Tre Mason could emerge as the Tigers' every-down back. Transfers Mike Blakely and Corey Grant also impressed this spring and will add good depth. Either way, losing a player the caliber of Michael Dyer always stings.

10. Missouri: People forget that Kendial Lawrence was the starter before he went down with an injury last year. He regrouped well and was even better this spring. Marcus Murphy was out last season with a shoulder injury, but will be back and adds explosion to the backfield. Big-bodied rising senior Jared McGriff-Culver returns and should get carries along with redshirt sophomore Greg White. It still looks as though leading rusher Henry Josey won't be healthy enough for the fall.

11. Florida: Mike Gillislee has been inconsistent during his career, but is perhaps the key to the team and is the first downhill runner Florida has had since Tim Tebow. The Gators also hope this is the year finally Mack Brown comes on. Hunter Joyer might be best true fullback in the league and Trey Burton will also play a role as an H-back/fullback.

12. Tennessee: The Vols will be searching this preseason for their go-to back. Junior Rajion Neal has gotten bigger and stronger and may be the most explosive back. He left spring practice tied with an improved Marlin Lane and Devrin Young for the starting spot. Tennessee's rushing game has to improve greatly, as it ranked 116th nationally last year.

13. Kentucky: All four top rushers are back, but none eclipsed the 500-yard mark last year. The Wildcats hope Josh Clemons can recover from a knee injury that cut short his promising freshman season. CoShik Williams was Kentucky's leading rusher last year (486) and is one of the Wildcats' more elusive backs. Jonathan George will be in the mix again, while Raymond Sanders figures to be healthier this fall.

14. Ole Miss: The Rebels can’t afford to lose top back Jeff Scott, whose academics are still being monitored. Seniors Devin Thomas and H.R. Greer provide depth, but have combined for 125 career rushing yards. Redshirt sophomore Nicholas Parker has dealt with shape issues and has yet to see any game action, while Tobias Singleton moved from receiver to running back this spring. The Rebels will have to turn to their incoming freshmen for help here.
OXFORD, Miss. -- Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze knew things weren’t going to be easy in Oxford. He returned to the town and program he loved, but he did so knowing he’d be inheriting a slew of issues, both on and off the field.

However, he didn’t know that the biggest would be in the academic world.

With final exams only days away, Freeze is still concerned about the academic standing of a few players, including key starters Jeff Scott (running back) and Nickolas Brassell (cornerback/receiver).

[+] EnlargeHugh Freeze
Shelby Daniel/Icon SMIOle Miss coach Hugh Freeze is hoping to invigorate his team's fan base in his debut season at the school.
“I knew that there were some issues, but probably found out it was a little tougher than what I thought it was when I got here,” Freeze said about Ole Miss’ academic issues.

“We’ve made some headway, but we inherited such a mountain to climb that I think it would be presumptuous for me to believe we’re going to climb every single mountain. I don’t think that’s going to be reality.”

The reality of losing those players makes Freeze nervous heading into summer workouts. While he’s seen improvement from them throughout the spring, he’s not ready to say they’ll be academically eligible once the spring semester finishes.

“I feel better because I see improvement, but if you’re asking me do I feel confident at this point to say that they’re going to make it, no, I don’t feel confident to say that,” Freeze said.

“When you start out at nearly zero, it’s a tall task to climb in one semester.”

Although the next few days will be nerve-racking for Freeze and his coaching staff, he is very proud of the way some players improved their classroom habits, especially Scott. The struggles Scott was going through when Freeze first arrived seemed to dissipate as spring progressed.

“I’m extremely proud of Jeff Scott. He has bought in,” Freeze said. “Couldn’t be more pleased with what we’re getting from him right now, as far as effort in the classroom. I’m [hopeful] that he has a good chance of making it. He didn’t have as far to come as some others.”

Having Scott in Ole Miss’ starting lineup this fall will be huge for the Rebels. Last season, Scott was eighth in the SEC in all-purpose yardage, averaging 101.4 yards per game. He also led the Rebels with 529 rushing yards and six touchdowns in his nine starts.

Scott, who will be a junior this fall, entered spring as Ole Miss’ top playmaker, but there isn’t much depth at all behind him at running back. He’s one of three scholarship running backs that include senior Devin Thomas (20 career carries) and Nicholas Parker, who has spent two years on the scout team. Freeze said those two will have to compete with the four incoming freshmen due in this summer if Scott can't go.

“We’re so thin there,” Freeze said. “I’ve never inherited any team that’s as thin at running back as we are here.”

Ole Miss would benefit from Brassell’s athleticism, no matter where he lines up, but the Rebels do have pretty good depth in the secondary and Freeze said cornerback was the most productive unit for the team this spring. Wesley Pendleton and Dehendret Collins, who grabbed two interceptions in Ole Miss’ spring game, made the most progress this spring and the former junior college teammates should be pretty solid players this fall.

Standout Senquez Golson will be back after baseball and the Rebels will welcome talented incoming freshmen Trae Elston and Anthony Standifer.

Freeze will sweat out the next few days as he awaits the fate of some of his players, but he’s pleased with how his team responded to the new coaching staff this spring. It was tough to get players on board at first, and he still thinks less than 80 percent of the team has bought in, but it’s certainly higher than when he first arrived.

This would be a tough job for any coach and Freeze knows that patience will be key to getting this program back on track.

“It won’t be an overnight fix,” he said. “It probably won’t be a one-year fix. It’s a process. I call it the ‘Journey.’”

Spring shoes to fill: Ole Miss

March, 30, 2012
3/30/12
1:00
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A lot is changing at Ole Miss, and the Rebels had to say goodbye to one of their best offensive weapons:

OUT: RB Brandon Bolden: He was one of the most productive running backs to play for Ole Miss. Bolden ended his career ranked second in school history in both total touchdowns scored (33) and rushing touchdowns (27), third in all-purpose yards (3,681), and fourth in rushing yards (2,604). Those numbers would be even higher if not for an ankle injury he suffered in the season opener against BYU. While he returned two weeks later from his slightly fractured ankle, Bolden was never really himself, as he rushed for just 472 yards and four touchdowns last fall. But when Bolden was healthy, he was easily the Rebels' most versatile player. He wasn't the most explosive running back but he was very consistent and could grind out the tough yards. He was very successful in the passing game, leading the team with 32 receptions in 2010. Bolden was also very productive without the ball in his hands. He was an excellent blocker and a key gunner on special teams. Inside the Rebels' locker room, Bolden was an outstanding leader, so replacing the multitasking Bolden won't be easy at all.

IN: Jeff Scott, Devin Thomas or Nicholas Parker: The Rebels only have three scholarship running backs to work with this spring. Scott was Ole Miss' leading rusher last season, gaining 529 yards on 116 carries. He was eighth in the SEC in all-purpose yards, averaging 101.4 yards per game. Scott's numbers would have been better if he had not been suspended for the last two games of the 2011 season. Scott is the top back the Rebels have, but he has to show more leadership skills and be more accountable. The coaches are being very careful with him this spring because he's worth so much to this offense and losing him to injury would severely hinder Ole Miss's offensive progress heading into the fall. Thomas, a senior, carried the ball just 20 times last season and although he isn't the fastest or more most gifted athlete, he's a very tough and consistent runner, and the coaches have been quite impressed with how good his hands have been. Parker has spent most of his time with Ole Miss' scout team, but will get regular reps at running back this spring. Parker had the size of a fullback at one point, but dropped around 20 pounds and the coaches have liked what they've seen from him, considering he has yet to play in a collegiate game.

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