A year ago was a different story for this Ole Miss men's golf team, who made it through a regional in Austin, Texas and all the way to the stroke play portion of the national championship for the first time since 2001, highlighted by Braden Thornberry torching the field and winning the individual national title.
There was a newness there. The program was in rare air, at a place it hadn't been in 16 years.
This year? There's a calm sense of confidence amongst this battle-tested group. It starts with Thornberry, who's gotten used to being the hunted at every event he tees up at.
"I have just gotten used it," Thornberry said. "In mostly every tournament this year, I have kind of been the guy to beat a little bit. I have used it as motivation more than anything knowing that all eyes are on me when I step onto the first tee. I just try to manage it as well as I can."
Thornberry's national title a year ago began a summer in which he ascended to stardom. He finished in the top five at a PGA Tour event in Memphis and has made two more professional cuts since.
"All year long he's had that bullseye on his back," head coach Chris Malloy said. "He's had an incredible year. We talk all the time about controlling what you can control. There's so many things you can't control in this sport. He's done a fantastic job of tuning all the excess noise out and controlling what he can. He's been successful doing that.
In a way, he embodies this team's confidence built up on experience. They've made a regional three of the last four seasons. The only newcomer teeing it up at NCAAs for the first time is All-SEC freshman Cecil Wegener, who came within a playoff of taking the individual SEC Tournament crown at Sea Island earlier this month. Wegener held the 36-hole lead going into the final day and stood toe-to-toe with Florida's Andy Zhang (who made the cut at the 2012 US Open at the ripe age of 14). The playoff could've gone either way, and Malloy saw Wegener grow up in a lot of ways in that moment.
"We had high hopes for Cecil from the time he got here," Malloy said. "He's done a tremendous job this spring. In terms of the moment, you never know how they are going to handle it. What's cool is he goes into the final round with the bullseye on him. He's the guy and he's a freshman in the first go-around at this. There was no doubt in any of our minds, just by listening to him talk before he went out to play, that he was going to play well that day."
Thornberry admittedly didn't play his best golf that week and was coming off a stretch of 12 rounds in 13 days after winning a tournament at Old Waverly and making the cut at the North Mississippi Classic on the Web.com Tour. But the Rebels still qualified for match play, which he thinks is evident of how well the team is playing as a whole.
"I think that was huge for our team," Thornberry said. "I played pretty bad at SECs and we still played pretty well as a team. If I can step up and do my part we will be good."
The Rebels will battle Texas A&M, Baylor, Clemson, Kentucky, UCLA, South Carolina, San Francisco, Georgia, Mississippi State, UNC Wilmington, Northern Colorado and Bradley as they try to make it back to the NCAA Championships for the second consecutive year.
"I think the golf course will suit us well from everything I am hearing," Malloy said. "It's Bermuda greens, which is good that we can stay on the same surface we are used to. I have heard it is a hard golf course dictated by the wind. It doesn't look like there will be too much wind out there. I think it will suit us well."
The first round begins May 14.
A year ago was a different story for this Ole Miss men's golf team, who made it through a regional in Austin, Texas and all the way to the stroke play portion of the national championship for the first time since 2001, highlighted by Braden Thornberry torching the field and winning the individual national title.
More often than not this season, Ryan Rolison's outings have gone as his fastball command has with the success of the former and latter mirroring one another. On this night--a crucial 5-4, series-opening win over Auburn, which elected to save ace Casey Mize for the second game--the command of that pitch was masterful for the immensely talented lefty. After an uncharacteristically shaky outing at South Carolina last weekend, he gave a hearty 6.2 innings of two-run baseball, striking out five and walking four. Ole Miss needed every bit of it as it held off the Tigers.
"Really it was just my fastball command being better," Rolison said. "I was able to get over a slider when I needed to tonight and was able to fill it up."
He cruised through the first two frames, requiring just 17 pitches before slipping out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam in the third by way of a strikeout, in which he blew an elevated fastball past Steven Williams, and then a nifty play from third baseman Tyler Keenan. Rolison exited the mound with a fist pump as the Rebels preserved an early lead and escaped with no damage.
"I needed to make the big pitch and I haven't done that in the past," Rolison said. "I was able to get that fastball in there for a big strikeout and was able to get out of there with no damage."
Rolison exited the game in the sixth inning after throwing his 95th pitch and looked on as Parker Caracci got the last seven outs after relieving Houston Roth, who faced two batters.
"I thought he was really good," head coach Mike Bianco said. "He was really sharp tonight."
Rolison was spotted the early lead thanks to Will Golsan demolishing an 0-2 fastball offering from Tiger starter Davis Daniel over the left field wall in the second inning. The senior captain sandwiched that and an RBI base hit in the fourth around a Nick Fortes solo shot to a similar spot in the third. Golsan was 2-for-4 on the night with the trio of runs driven in.
"I was sitting fastball and trying to just adjust to a breaking ball," Golsan said. "I happened to get my hands out and was short to it."
Ole Miss needed efforts from places across the diamond to gut this thing out. Keenan made two run-saving plays at third base to get the Rebels out of threatening innings. Keenan drove in the game-deciding run in the sixth by cracking a two-out double down the right field line. Parker Caracci--four days removed from the longest outing of his career--got the last seven outs of the game after the Tigers plated three in the seventh and preserved a one-run affair with his ninth save of the season.
"It's the same thing we have been seeing all season," Golsan said. "He fills up the zone with his fastball and his curveball. He is un-hittable. It is great to see."
A team that had let a couple of one-run games slip recently, but also one that has been good in that department for most of the year as a whole, buckled down for seven more outs.
"I think sometimes it is just the time of the year," Bianco said. "He pitched really well at the beginning of the year. If you run out there in enough of those close games sometimes it doesn't work for you. He hit a two-week span where it didn't work out as much. Some of that may be our fault. Maybe before that we shouldn't have let as many runs score. Maybe after that we should have scored a few more runs. It would be hard to believe we would be where we are without the way he has pitched."
Ole Miss will face Mize on Friday as it goes for its fifth SEC series win of the year.
"It's always nice going out and get the first one of the series," Golsan said. "Tomorrow is going swing day and Casey is going to good. We are going to have to come out, bear down and compete."
Ole Miss did not lose an out-of-conference baseball game at Swayze Field this season, cementing that note with a 10-3 drubbing Arkansas Pine Bluff on Wednesday.
The Rebels are 23-2 in non-conference games this season with one remaining in two weeks at Arkansas State. Here are some news and notes from the game as this team prepares to travel to Columbia this weekend to take on a South Carolina club playing its best baseball of the season.
- Grae Kessinger went 4-for-4 on this day with a double and three runs scored. He's hitting .311 and has been as productive and active in the leadoff spot as head coach Mike Bianco could ask this season.
"I am feeling good at the plate," Kessinger said. "This game is going to have its ups and downs but it is all about keeping a level head and that is what I am trying to do, not doo too much and be yourself."
The sophomore shortstop has 52 hits on the season and is slugging at a .417 mark.
- Dallas Woolfolk turned in a flawless eighth inning in which he struck out two hitters and flung fastballs consistently at 94 miles per hour. He was also flipping his secondary stuff into the zone and looked more like the power weapon out of the bullpen Ole Miss has been accustomed to seeing after struggling a bit in recent weeks.
"I felt pretty good," Woolfolk said. "I cannot thank the coaching staff enough for sticking behind me. You find out how to grow in times of struggle."
Woolfolk says he lost confidence for a bit but quickly regained it and thinks his velocity has been on the uptick as a byproduct of that. He's a vital piece to the Ole Miss bullpen down the home stretch of the season and today was certainly a good sign for him and the ballclub.
"That came back naturally with confidence," Woolfolk said. "It has helped me get along this rough ride, but I am back. It has been about clearing the mind, having positive thoughts and getting back to my roots."
Bianco was pleased with what he saw from the All-American as well.
"He was impressive," Bianco said. "He is a piece that is nice to have in the bullpen. He looked more confident not only with velocity but with command. He looked more like himself."
- Bianco bore more good news concerning the bullpen on this night. He said Houston Roth threw in the bullpen and will travel with team this weekend. The sophomore right-hander has been hampered the last two weeks with a hamstring injury and appears to be getting healthier from Bianco's report.
"I think he will be ready to throw this weekend," Bianco said. "He threw a bullpen today and looked good, looked strong."
- Anthony Servideo mashed his first collegiate home run well over the right-field bullpen in the second inning. Servideo played second base and shortstop late in the game and looked sharp defensively.
"You can see how good he is," Bianco said. "He made a couple of excellent plays in the four-hole and covers so much ground. He can swing it too. He had a good fall offensively and will be a good offensive player for us."
Ole Miss returns to action on Friday against the Gamecocks. First pitch is set for 6:00 p.m. CT.
The pitch was undetectable as it hummed in at 85-miles-per hour out of the hand of LSU pitcher David Fontenot towards an awaiting Thomas Dillard in the bottom of the seventh inning of a 7-6 ballgame LSU led. Fotenot inherited a mess initiated by Caleb Gilbert, who'd let up two runs on a Tim Rowe double and a Grae Kessinger single to pull Ole Miss within a run at 7-6 in this crucial rubber match.
"It might have been a fastball. It might have been a change up. Anything in the zone I was just trying to put a barrel on," Dillard said. "That's one of the things you dream of as a kid, 3-2 count and an opportunity to put your team ahead."
That he did. He demolished the offering into the right field seating for a three-run shot that sent the 12,152 people inside Swayze Field - the largest crowd in the building's history - into a frenzy as the Rebels snagged this late-April series thanks to his thunderous shot that disappeared into the student section in right. He battled back from an 0-2 count to run it full before altering the game permanently with the blast, laying off two high fastballs out of the zone that have enticed the slugger in the past.
"The pitches he laid off were as impressive as the swing and the home run," assistant coach Mike Clement said. "He battles back 3-2 and makes the guy throw something over the plate before doing what Thomas does."
Ole Miss erased a 7-4 deficit on Dillard's first hit of the weekend and largely thanks to the five-run seventh inning that saw a struggling LSU bullpen succumb to the relentless bats of the Rebels in the late innings of the ballgame for the second time in three days. The win vaulted the Rebels to 12-9 in SEC play and 34-11 on the year.
Dillard's theatrics will rightly be remembered for changing the course of this series, but a variety of other efforts saw this comeback come to fruition. Will Ethridge relived Maxwell Cioffi in the third inning after Cioffi tried to hold the game together in succession of James McArthur. Ole Miss led the game 4-1 in the that third inning thanks to a Chase Cockrell three-run home run the second, but the Tigers plated six runs in a third that saw Cioffi and McArthur exit in frustration. Ethridge was having none of that result. He hoisted 5.2 innings of three-hit relief and got the Rebels al the way to the ninth inning before Parker Caracci charged LSU for its final three outs, slipping out of a bases loaded-no outs situation in the process.
"Arguably the most important and valuable in this game," Clement said. "We can't win this game if we don't up a bunch of zeros after the six spot. He did that."
It was Ethridge's longest outing of his career, locating on both sides of the plate an nabbing left-handers on the outside corner.
"I just had to go out there and do my job," Ethridge said. "I was trying to put up zeroes fast and give our offense a chance to put up some runs."
That was really all it needed.
Kessinger battled in a marathon of an at bat in the seventh against Gilbert before stroking a base hit into right-center field to shave the deficit to one. It kept the inning going with one out outs and allowed Dillard to get to the plate after Ryan Olenek fly out and Nick Fortes reaching on an error.
"The two three-run home runs that will get the headlines," Clement said. "Grae got some huge hits. His at bats were huge."
That succeeded Rowe's fifth double in as many days who followed a Keenan double to make it 7-5.
"You could just feel the crowd and the momentum after that and you knew it was going to be hard to stop," Clement said.
The senior delivered an eight-hit week and was invaluably productive in the absence of the team's best hitter in Ryan Olenek, who is slugging .500 in SEC play and returned to the lineup at second base on Saturday after nursing a partially torn labrum in his left shoulder. Rowe's production at the plate merited a fourth consecutive start.
Caracci recorded the final two outs, slipping out of a bases loaded jam mirroring so many predicaments he has solved this season.
"Closers at any level are going to go through adversity," Clement said. "He has responded great. He is the same guy every day."
LSU was a talented yet struggling ball club on the road looking for an opportunity to rectify its season and Ole Miss was having none of it, plating 25 runs in three games to remain atop a crowded SEC West race. It took all hands on deck and this finale was a microcosm of that and perhaps one for a season that's called on so many to do well in clutch situations.
Tyler Keenan had two hits on this day and continues in his pursuit of a freshman campaign as complete and outstanding as anyone Rebel in recent memory. He hit .444 this weekend alone.
Ryan Rolison gave seven innings on Friday night in a 14-3 thrashing. Ethridge nearly matched that in relief on Saturday. Ole Miss hit exceptionally this weekend and pitched it well enough to win two games. The team is in first in the SEC west with three weekends remaining, making this series victory as vital as any in this season.
It was an appeasing result for the more than 32,000 fans that showed up for these three games.
"I've been here four years," Clement said. "This is not normal. This is a football environment in a baseball stadium."
It got behind Dillard before he launched the fateful shot to right field.
"I got behind and then the fans got up and got behind me," Dillard said. "The fans were just insane this weekend. They really fed me in that at bat."
It capped a 4-2 SEC homestand. Ole Miss returns to action on Wednesday against Arkansas Pine-Bluff at 6:30 p.m.
A grin spread across Tim Rowe's face as he stood in left field speaking to a group of reporters. These were the types of nights he envisioned going into a season that's seen some hurdles pop up in his path. He went 3-for-4 with three doubles and helped Ole Miss pummel LSU 14-3 to take game one of a crucial late-April SEC series.
He smacked one to the right-center gap in the second to open the game, another in the fourth that put the Rebels in position to tie the game at two after Tyler Keenan trotted home on a wild pitch.
The final one helped catalyze an eleven-run sixth inning for the Rebels, serving as the proverbial knockout blow to a feeble LSU bullpen who didn't help itself out in relief Zack Hess. John Kodros didn't record an out and was ousted after Rowe's damaging double. He came to the plate twice in that inning alone. The Tiger bullpen has struggled mightily in the last three weeks, compiling an era north of 16.
"It was awesome to keep rolling through the order," Rowe said. "We knew we had them."
Kodros' successor, Matthew Beck, bungled a pair of dribblers back to the mound to pave way for Nick Fortes and Will Golsan to plate a pair of two-run singles that piled the deficit to 9-3.
It's been a frustratingly idle season so far for the senior from Hernando, Miss. He's been sidelined by a nagging hamstring injury early in the season saw him get buried to a degree by a plethora of hot-swinging bats that Mike Bianco couldn't afford to take out of the lineup in favor of the left-handed slugger at the time.
"I am proud of him," head coach Mike Bianco said. "He starts the year with a pulled hamstring and really kind of gets behind some guys like (Chase) Cockrell, Ryan (Olenek) and Keenan. It was just tough to get him back into the lineup. But we have an injury and he steps in immediately and has had a ton of hits. I am really proud of him."
A partially torn labrum in the non-throwing shoulder of Ryan Olenek provided an opportunity for Rowe to get into the lineup. He hasn't wasted a pitch. He's got six hits in two games and is 6-for-7 with four doubles.
"It hasn't been that frustrating because I love seeing my teammates succeed," Rowe said. "It's just unfortunate how I got into the game with Ryan Olenek getting hurt. I am just trying to take advantage of the opportunity."
Staying engaged is no easy task when one comes into a season with high hopes as Rowe did only to have them mired by a muscle in his right leg.
"It's a little hard to wait," Rowe said. "You've just got to do what you do every day and put the work in on your own time."
Tonight was the type of night he envisioned so many times in the winter, a late April showdown with two SEC West heavyweights in front of a capacity crowd, swatting fastballs into the gap helping his team at the plate. His six hits in two games is a feat difficult in and of itself but even more daunting given that his at-bats in game action have been sparse because of his health.
"It's not difficult at all," Rowe said. "I just take my approach from batting practice straight into the game."
Once Olenek is able to come back healthy, Rowe at a minimum provides a great deal of pop and a left-handed bat for Bianco off the bench.
"It's great having another bat and left-handed bat at that," Bianco said. "When you have competition it makes it good for anyone. As much depth as you can have is key."
Ole Miss starter Ryan Rolison dazzled for his sixth win of the year and went seven innings for the third time in four starts. Rowe's night wasn't lost on him either.
"It's impressive to see him come off the bench like that with not a lot of at-bats," Rolison said. "I am really looking forward to him keeping it rolling."
For Rowe, it's about finding a way to help this team any way he can. Being healthy is a certainly a plus for the slugger and his team going forward.
"I feel great," Rowe said. "Credit to (trainer) Josh Porter. He got me back."
Unblemished in midweek games in 2018, Ole Miss' maturity and sense of focus surfaced again in the form of seven runs in the first two innings in a 10-3 bludgeoning of Arkansas State to move to 11-0 in such contests this season.
The Rebels picked up their 30th win overall and improved to 22-1 in non-conference games, neither of which are easy feats. It is a testament to this team's maturity and the focus it brings to the park each day. Head coach Mike Bianco thinks it is more than that as well.
"It is maturity, but what does that mean? It means you show up and you're present," Bianco said. "You don't take nights off and you are super focused. Beyond that, it has a lot to do with the offense. The offense shows up. We have talked so much about it, but the offense shows up every day. They don't have a ton of runs one day and have a couple tough games. Every day we put innings together and give ourselves a chance to win."
That offense arrived early and blitzed Arkansas State starter Zachary Patterson and took control of the game in the first two frames.
The Oxford duo of Thomas Dillard and Grae Kessinger homered in this game. Dillard demolished a fastball that curled inside the right field foul pole and sailed into disappearance. Kessinger, three batters earlier, deposited a similar looking fastball over the left field fence. It made for a four-run second inning that put the Rebels in cruise control the remainder of the way.
"I just didn't know if it was going to go foul," Dillard said. "I hit a similar one against Arkansas that went foul but there was a little more wind. I was just hoping it stayed fair."
While Dillard snapped a dry spell with his eighth homer of the season, Ryan Olenek stayed hot, extending his hitting streak to 16 games before exiting the contest in the fifth after fouling a baseball off of his toe. Bianco said the junior right fielder will be fine. Olenek is on a torrid pace in SEC play, batting over .500 with 30 hits. He will continue be a key cog in this offense as the team dives into the back half of its SEC schedule.
Ole Miss also found maturity on the mound from a senior and a freshman.
Jordan Fowler scattered five hits and surrendered just one run in five innings. He picked up his fourth win of the season as his solidly consistent freshman campaign rolled on. The left-hander most always looks composed and in control of the baseball game when he is on the mound. He struck out four.
"We wanted to get him some innings and tonight he was terrific," Bianco said. "He was in the strike zone, a lot of first-pitch strikes, fastball on both sides of the plate, two different breaking balls, a handful of changeups. I thought he was terrific."
Senior Will Stokes gave an inning and two-thirds, allowing just one hit and no runs. Stokes is a veteran presence who has done a little bit of a lot in his career and is an important piece of a bullpen that has been the backbone of this team for most of the season.
"Mindset is always to fill up the zone," Stokes said. "That is what I always try to do is make sure I hit my spots, put it in play and let my fielders handle it."
After yet another midweek win, the Rebels turn back to SEC play. Ole Miss hosts Georgia this weekend. First pitch Friday set for 6:30 p.m. CT.
With an eight-game road trip in the rearview, Ole Miss plays its next nine games in the state of Mississippi with back-to-back weekends at home to jumpstart the second half of SEC play.
The Rebels dropped two of three to both Mississippi State and Vanderbilt the last two weekends with the last three losses coming on one-run fashion in the final at-bat. Ole Miss held a lead going into the ninth inning--or the seventh in the case of the last two in a rain-shortened doubleheader in Nashville--in each of those contests, but were unable to close out the game.
Much focus is put on the bullpen in close situations like that, but on Tuesday the Rebels were quick to point out they have to be better as a team in those situations.
"We have to be better," head coach Mike Bianco said. "The takeaway really is in the eye of the beholder. We obviously have not been good enough. Each of our last three SEC losses we have had opportunities to close it out and we didn't. But prior to that people were talking about this being the best bullpen we have ever had. The glass-half-full side of it would be that we've seen it, we just haven't executed well. It is a combination of a lot of things. The biggest thing is guys doing their jobs."
To Bianco's point, Ole Miss is 7-4 in one-run games and before a six-hour span on Sunday afternoon that mark was 7-2. It's not as if this is a theme with this team, but the Rebels would like to make sure it doesn't become one.
"You can't blame the bullpen or just one guy," Ryan Olenek said. "One pitch can change the whole game. We are just trying to work to get better as a team. It is not necessarily the bullpen or one thing, it is a couple of mistakes we need to tighten up."
Some of it is merely the ever-teetering fortune that comes with the game of baseball. A ball finding a hole or a pitcher being squeezed on a close ball-strike call can alter the outcome greatly in close-game situations.
"Some of it is just baseball," Bianco said. "Some balls have found holes and made it more difficult. How to change that fortune is to make better pitches."
Ole Miss sits at 8-7 in league play at the halfway mark and right in the thick of things in a crowded SEC Western division. A large reason for that is the torrid pace Ryan Olenek is on. The junior outfielder is hitting .508 in league play with seven extra-base hits, two home runs and 11 driven in. Olenek has been consistent for the Rebels throughout his career. He's always been an aggressive hitter at times to a fault. This year, he thinks he's been able to harness that aggression without helping the opposing pitcher out.
"I made it kind of hard on myself sometimes the last couple years by swinging at bad pitches," Olenek said. "This year I have had better pitch selection."
Bianco's watched Olenek grow from a budding freshman whose hot bat he couldn't take out of the lineup down the stretch in 2016 to one of the best hitters in the conference. Olenek is second in the SEC with 56 hits on the season, just one knock off of the league lead, and 30 of those have been in league play.
"He's always been aggressive, but he's been able to get better pitches (this year) and to be overly-aggressive chasing pitches out of the zone," Bianco said. "If you pitched him really tough I think sometimes he would get himself out by being overly-aggressive. I think that is one thing. The other is that he feels good about himself and is playing with confidence. When you dod that you tend to barrel up a lot of balls."
True freshman Tyler Keenan isn't far behind. He's hitting .350 in conference play with four home runs. He has been as consistent as one can be as a freshman in this league.
"I go up there looking for one pitch and if I get it I am going to swing," Keenan said. "If not, I am going to fight until I do."
A lot of newcomers fall victim to the uptick in velocity and the quality of breaking balls, but he's plunged forward through the slew of adjustments pitchers have thrown his way and the different ways he's been pitched too. This past weekend, it was the Commodore staff hurling more off-speed stuff at him and trying to jam him inside. Keenan hasn't missed a beat.
"A lot of freshmen a don't freshmen don't play like they are capable of and the reason is the mentality," Bianco said. "They make the game different and more difficult than it has to be. There is a lot of pressure playing in front of large crowds, and they let it affect the way they play the game. Tyler is a great competitor, enjoys the game and those moments. The guys who are really good figure that out quickly.
Ole Miss hosts Arkansas State on Wednesday and will hand the baseball to freshman lefty Jordan Fowler. Bianco said he'd like to save Houston Roth to come out of the bullpen this weekend to add some depth as well as get Fowler more extended outings. First pitch is slated for 6:30 p.m. CT.
Ole Miss held its annual Grove Bowl on Saturday, marking the culmination of spring football as the team breaks for the summer until the resumption of fall practice. On a wet and chilly afternoon inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the defense held the offense to 21 points and won the scrimmage as it was spotted 27 points to begin the day.
Several players were held out as a precaution to some minor but nagging injuries and the coaching staff was able to get a look at some younger and inexperienced players. Here are five takeaways from the game and Ole Miss' spring football season overall.
1. Newcomers at running back
"They really stood out starting in the first week," Luke said. "You saw some flashes of Scottie out there today. You saw his burst. You saw some toughness from Isaiah Woullard. He is a smaller guy but he always falls forward. I am really pleased with the running backs."
It will likely be replacement-by-committee to some degree in terms of replacing Wilkins. D'Vaughn Pennamon - who did not participate in spring ball due to injury - and Eric Swinney are the most experienced backs on the roster. Armani Linton is continuing his transition to the offensive side of the football and Phillips and Woullard have been stood out.
"I have been really impressed with the running back room this spring," defensive end Ryder Anderson said. "They really have blown everyone away. They have shown a lot of really good things."
It will be interesting to watch to see if anyone emerges as a bell cow-type back for the Rebels and also how the carries are divided next fall. Phil Longo has some intriguing and versatile options there.
2. Jordan Ta'amu Being "The Guy"
"Our timing is becoming great," Metcalf said. "Jordan is a leader and a quarterback that can handle anything."
Ta'amu says he's taken an active role in trying to become more of a leader as he enters the fall knowing this is his offense and his team.
"I know this team has my back," Ta'amu said. "I want to be a leader and an example for other guys out there, being a vocal leader. It is going well for me right now."
Ta'amu was 12-20 for 190 yards with three total scores with the final one coming on the ground with a 10-yard keeper in the second half.
3. Tight ends
"I love Cooley," Ta'amu said. "He is a big target and is a great blocker. I am glad to have him alongside Dawson Knox."
Luke and Longo have both hinted at using more two-tight end sets next year as Cooley continues to emerge. Longo would like to see his conditioning improve so he can be on the field for a longer stretch of time in an an offense that hinges on tempo.
"Cooley is a bright spot from the spring," Longo said. "He has done a lot to get himself going. I think he made a lot of plays this spring. He is a big boy making a lot of plays this spring. He is a great blend of physicality inside the box. I think both he and I would tell you he needs to get in better shape so he can handle six, seven or eight-play drives. When he gets tired he is not the same player. I think he feels the same way. He is a heck of a football player."
Gabe Angel and Alex Faniel also caught balls from this position in the scrimmage. Cooley had three grabs for 46 yards.
4. The linebackers
Detric Bing-Dukes is an older player who the staff says has taken strides forward this year and he will most certainly be tasked with being a primary contributor at linebacker this fall.
"We saw some big improvement," defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. "You can visibly see Bing-Dukes got better. I like his commitment and attention to detail. His communication skills have really gotten better. I think the linebackers have improved a lot. We are young at that position. Josh Clarke is impressive, long and can make plays. I think they have a lot more knowledge of this defense. I think their first year they weren't as sure. I always tell them a great defense is a noisy defense."
McGriff said stopping the run has been priority number one this spring.
"The biggest goal has been to stop explore plays, particularly in the running game," McGriff said. "The second was to take away the deep ball. I think our guys have done a tremendous job of taking ownership in securing their gap and doing their responsibility."
"The spring this year was a lot different than last year because of the knowledge base," Longo said. "To have 37 players coming back with the knowledge of terminology and fundamentals lets them be able to turn around the guys who don't know it and coach them up. We have a lot of players coaching players right now. The progress has happened faster this year."
Yolett McPhee-McCuin's name consistently trickled into the conversations that Ole Miss Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork had in his pursuit of a new face for his basketball program.
Eventually, she became the frontrunner in Bjork's mind, and on Friday afternoon McCuin spoke with a sense of eagerness and excitement as she was introduced as the Rebels' next hoops coach inside The Pavilion.
"She is a proven winner," Bjork said. "She is a recruiting machine. She develops players. The interpersonal relationships she develops with our players is a must in college athletics."
McCuin, or "Coach Yo" as she as she is affectionately known by many, comes to Oxford via Jacksonville University, where she won an Atlantic Sun championship and took the program to three consecutive postseason births. She owns the most 20-win seasons in the history of the school and the conference title was also the first in program history
"People kept saying 'Have you hear about Coach Yo? Have you spoke with Coach Yo? Yo, have you met with Coach Yo?'" Bjork recalled. "When you do you will be blown away, and that is exactly what happened in the process. This is her calling. She was made to teach and lead."
McCuin has worked in the Big East and the ACC, as well as across the globe overseas.
Her teams are known for their physicality and toughness by her colleagues. She says the product she puts on the floor is a reflection of herself.
"It will be a fun style," McCuin said. "People want to have fun. It will be hard work. It will be gritty and blue collar-like. But we are going to have a lot of fun on the floor."
She has a vision of what she wants to build and says the first step in the process is to assess the roster and then bring in staff to help recruit and pad depth.
McCuin called Ole Miss "prime real estate" between the facilities and the league it competes in. She's long wanted an opportunity in the SEC and now finally has her shot.
"I was blown away," McCuin said. "When Ole Miss opened up I was so excited. This is the SEC. This is the best conference in the country. I do my research, too. Ross is a phenomenal leader, and his vision is infectious. We can do the unthinkable and unimaginable here."
She boasts a 94-63 record as a head coach and knows it will take a lot to build the program back up to a high standard, but she is prepared for it.
"I am a fierce competitor," McCuin said. "If you come to the games you are going to enjoy the product on the floor."
The daughter of a basketball coach and a teacher, Bjork said this is what McCuin was meant to do, and she seemed eager to get to work in her new home.
"I am going to give you everything I have," McCuin said. "There will be no coach in the country that is going to outwork me. I believe there is opportunity here to be successful, but it takes work. Hopefully you can join us for the ride."
Matt Corral's first taste of spring football has gone by quickly. From the natural adjustments any kid going from high school to college has to make, to the amplified speed of the game to trekking across the country from California to Mississippi to start a new chapter of his life, he's taking it all in stride.
"Culture shock," Coral said with a grin. "But I love it here. The people are really nice and I love the football. I don't think it can get better than this."
He even admits it still doesn't all seem real sometimes.
"It was surreal to me at the beginning thinking that I am really in college and in the SEC," Corral said. "This is really happening. That blew over after a couple weeks and then I started to get into the groove of things, getting in the film room when I am supposed to and doing the extra stuff the coaches have asked me so I could have possibility of getting on the field in my freshman year."
The four-star All-American's commitment and eventual signing in December seemingly served as a a firm shove of momentum for Matt Luke's first recruiting class as permanent head coach. He arrived on campus in January as an early enrollee with the purpose of getting a head start in spring football. The first step? The speed of the game.
"The only adjustment is being smart and knowing what you have to do quickly is all it really is at this level of football," Corral said. "It's making quicker decisions, way quicker than you made in high school."
"I was always taught the game doesn't speed up. Of course guys are bigger and faster but you also have the same number of guys just as big and fast."
Corral thinks he has adjusted nicely to the quickness of the defense and the need for him to process reads quicker. He has some help, too. Corral is benefitting from throwing to one of the more dynamic receiving corps in the SEC. That alone has called for some adjusting on his part.
"It's ridiculous," Corral said. "The first week I was out there in seven-on-seven, my balls were a little off because I am not used to how big and fast they are. That closed-quarter speed they have when the ball is in the air is something I had to adjust to. It wasn't hard."
He's also gained assistance from entrenched starter Jordan Ta'amu, a guy whose 2017 story alone is enough to help Corral understand he must be ready at all times. The old cliché says the back-up quarterback is only one play away, but in reality that is precisely the case. Ta'amu has helped Corral with the playbook among other things, knowing he was once in the freshman's shoes and acknowledging the importance of having him ready next fall.
The uncanny sense of calmness Ta'amu exudes has rubbed off on Corral as well, much like it did to his teammates when Ta'amu was inserted as the starter late last season.
"I do see the calmness in Jordan," Coral said. "He is very poised and the way he carries himself on and off the field shows what type of person he is."
That said, he knows there is a lot he needs to improve on and work towards between the spring and the fall.
"It is just a matter of you knowing the playbook like the back of your hand," Corral said. "The playbook is simple. It is good because it works, but it is similar to what I ran in high school. A little different because some concepts don't work in the SEC that do in high school, but it is very similar."
Luke acknowledge his freshman quarterback has made great strides and thinks he could step into game action to run the offense in a limited capacity right now if needed.
"You can see the lightbulb go off a little after eight or nine practices," Luke said. "When you get out there in a game with people watching it is a little different, but the knowledge is definitely increasing.
He's also grateful that Corral will have ample time in the offseason to develop further.
"The good thing is he has two more practices, then a summer and an entire fall camp to get even better," Luke said. "The arm talent is there. It is just more of being able to function without thinking. You don't play as fast when you are having to think. The talent is definitely there and you see him making strides. That is encouraging."
This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades
Fiftyyears fan said:
How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC.in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note
Karen Holden said:
Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team.in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance
Trent browning said:
Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very muchin post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia
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Jamie laverty said:
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