Five Takeaways From The Grove Bowl

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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
Matt Luke admitted on Saturday that he feels a great deal better about the running back position at the end of the spring than he thought he would at the beginning. Scottie Phillips and Isaiah Woullard are a pair of newcomers that have stood out throughout the entirety of the spring as this unit tries to replace the likes of Jordan Wilkins, the program's first 1,000-yard rusher since 2009. Phillip is a shifty back who has flashed breakaway speed at times during the spring. He had nine carries for 40 yards in the scrimmage and the top-rated junior college back in the country looks poised to become a heavy contributor next fall.

"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"
Though we didn't see a lot of the receiving corps in this scrimmage, Ta'amu's chemistry and timing looked pretty good for the most part with his wide receivers. He hit D.K. Metcalf on a 53-yard deep ball for a touchdown that resembled many of the team's quick-striking scores a year ago and then found him again on a short, back-shoulder fade a couple of drives later in the back right corner of the end zone.

"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
Dawson Knox sat out the spring as he nurses a foot injury that plagued him early last year. It opened the door for Ole Miss to try to find a second or third option there and Octavious Cooley has been a name the coaching staff has repeatedly spit out as a guy who has impressed this spring. Luke said Cooley has gotten control of his weight and has had as good of a spring as anyone on the team.

"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
The coaching staff has been vocal all spring about the need for this position to mature and younger guys have started to make some plays. Mohamed Sanogo led the team in tackles with five on this day. Josh Clarke had a sack as did Donta Evans, Willie Hibbler and Brendan Williams.

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."

5. Continuity
Last spring was a chaotic one in some senses as the Rebels were introducing new coordinators and systems on each side of the football. With both of them returning this spring, the Rebels were already ahead of where they had to start last year. It has made things easier on them and one can sense that with the way Longo and McGriff talk about guys picking up on things quicker and their instincts being better. It stems from not having to think as much about what they are doing and play more freely, something Luke has mentioned a lot.

"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."

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    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future!

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    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.

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    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.

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    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 much

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