Thursday, November 20, 2014

The Impact of a Bye Week

After losing key starters for the season and having several players severely limited by injuries, this Ole Miss football team needed an extra week of rest and preparation.

The questions: How will they fare without their best wide receiver? What can be expected out of Ben Still, Laremy Tunsil, Cody Prewitt, Trae Elston, I'Tavius Mathers, Keith Lewis and others who have been injured? Does this team have the ability to stop a power running game?

Some extra time to prepare could potentially lead to success. It has in the past.

These are the results when Hugh Freeze has had more than one week to prepare his team since he took over in 2012. In this example, more than one week means an entire offseason, a bye week or the weeks leading up to a bowl game. This isn’t the largest sample size or all of the toughest opponents, but there is a positive trend.

That, so far, equates to 88% of games won after more than one week of preparation. What about that ugly 0-25 loss to Alabama? Yeah, that wasn't good. There were some other factors that may have contributed to the only shutout ever handed to a team coached by Freeze. 

So what does this mean for this week’s matchup against Arkansas? I wrote an article a couple weeks ago about how teams were losing and appeared lethargic after playing LSU. Arkansas held LSU to 36 net rushing yards on 32 rushing attempts this past weekend, and they got their first SEC win since 2012. Lethargy likely won’t be an issue after a dominating win like that. 

Arkansas is 5-5. In their five losses they averaged 169 rushing yards per game. In their five wins they averaged 303. They averaged 60 more passing yards per game in those five losses. 

It seems simple enough. Stack the box to try to stop the run, and make them throw the ball. Ole Miss ranks 14th in the country in pass defense. Unfortunately, the Rebels have given up an average of 256 yards rushing in their past two SEC contests. Arkansas, well known for their commitment to running the ball with huge offensive linemen, will try to replicate the success that LSU and Auburn had against the Rebels. 

Extra preparation time has led teams coached by Freeze to success in the past, and it will certainly be interesting to see if the bye week leads to success this Saturday. 

By Tyler Slay @slaytyler

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Those Scary Razorbacks

Arkansas only won its first SEC game in nearly two seasons under Brett Bielema on Saturday, but the Razorbacks are a scary matchup for Ole Miss. 

For starters, Arkansas likes to pound the football up the middle. The last team Ole Miss faced that played that style of grind and pound football beat the Rebels 10-7 in Baton Rouge. The LandShark D, for all its greatness, struggles against a power running attack. 

Second, the game is in Fayetteville, just into the Ozarks, but it may as well be on Mars. It's a long haul to a place where people wear pigs heads as hats. This SEC West venue moreso than any other is the kind of weird trip that can mess with a team's head. Beware Fayetteville. 

Third, Ole Miss is two wins away from being at least on the cusp of an SEC Championship berth or a Playoff spot. When the Rebels have that much to play for I tend to expect the worst. I know that makes me a bad Rebel, but the fear is real and I can't help it.

This game is scary. I am frightened the way only a fan can be. But also...very excited. 

It's November. Greatness is on the line, and it's good to be a part of the action. 

Monday, November 17, 2014

3 Years Ago

Three years ago this week Ole Miss suffered the double humiliation of being routed at home by Louisiana Tech and watching LSU take a knee with way too much time on the clock. It was a mercy knee. Les Miles actually felt sorry for the Rebels. Scoring on such an outmatched team just didn't feel right. Miles want the only one who felt sorry. The Rebels also felt sorry for the Rebels.  Houston Nutt was dismissed. The athletic department was in shambles after Pete Boone was essentially chased from his job by a fed-up fan base. The players, well, they just wanted the season to be over, and the faster the better. "You can have this Golden Egg Trophy, Dan. We just want to go home." Freshmen like Cody Prewitt and Senquez Golson were probably wondering if signing with Ole Miss had been the wrong decision. 

Fans didn't have much hope, either. he idea of competing for an SEC Championship or a January bowl game one day was nowhere on the radar. To bring it up would have brought ridicule. Winning wasn't so much the goal at the time as putting out the fire. Bring on basketball. 

Three years ago Hugh Freeze was finishing up a fantastic season as the head coach at Arkansas State. His rise from high school coach to major college coaching candidate had been almost meteoric. He had quickly built a reputation for being an inspirational turnaround artist. Word was getting out about this young coach who could win at Arkansas State of all places. Freeze heard there was an opening at Ole Miss, but he tried not to think about it. Yes, it was his dream job, but Freeze still had games to coach. He pushed it out of his mind and went back to watching more Sunbelt film. But when he laid his head on his pillow at night and let his mind wandered back to Oxford. He dreamed of returning the Rebels to glory. Of becoming the greatest Ole Miss coach since Vaught. He wanted to make Mississippi proud. What if...?

Three years ago Bo Wallace was satisfied. After lighting up the junior college record books he had proven the doubters wrong. Big time scholarship offers were coming his way. Mack Brown, Les Miles and Dan Mullen were calling. A year in Scooba, college football's version of hard time, had paid off. Now it was just a matter of deciding where to go. Wallace knew one thing for certain - leaving Arkansas State and Hugh Freeze had been the right move. Now he just had to find the coach and the place that would be the right fit and give him his best chance to win...maybe even win a conference championship. The gunslinging quarterback from Pulaski dreamed of being a hero. 

It's funny how much can happen in three years. A lot of life has been lived. Lessons learned. Meaning found. Big wins. Painful losses. And now here we are. Ole Miss is ranked 8th in the country with a chance to play for some really big things. Redemption. Glory. Championships. 

These next two, possibly even three, weeks are what it's all about. These next two weeks are the weeks players, coaches and fans dream about. 

Three years ago, Hugh Freeze and Bo Wallace probably wishfully hoped for a chance such as this. Three years ago Rebels like Senquez Golson, Cody Prewitt, Vince Sanders and DT Shackelford probably wondered if an opportunity like these next two weeks would ever be possible. 

But here we are. 

It took three years to get to these next two weeks. It's time to make those three years count.