New Coordinators Help Address Critical Areas

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Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze had specific deficiencies that he wanted his coordinator hires to address. On offense, he wanted to improve the rushing attack, third down efficiency, and red zone scoring. On defense, Freeze wanted his new coordinator to have a record of stopping the run, limiting explosive plays, and keeping teams out of the end zone in the red zone. Phil Longo and Wesley McGriff were hired because they fit those criteria. 

Ole Miss' offense has been dynamic in many categories since Hugh Freeze arrived in Oxford. Longo will look to continue that success while also filling some voids that have hampered the high-powered Rebels from being a truly great offense. 

The Rebels struggled to find balance on offense, many times leading to drives stalling out in the red zone. Since Longo took over as Sam Houston State's offensive coordinator in 2014, only one team in all of Division 1 football scored more red zone touchdowns. The Bearkats found the end zone in the red zone 145 times. 

While Longo runs a variant of an "Air Raid" offense, he's not bashful about running the football. Sam Houston had more than 4,500 passing yards and 2,000 rushing yards in 2016. No FBS team will accomplish that in 13 games this season. 

Sam Houston State converted on 47 percent of opportunities this season on third down in 2016. In the FBS, that would have ranked 19th in the nation. Ole Miss ranked 65th this season on third down at 40 percent. The best way to help out a struggling defense is to keep the offense on the field, and that was something Ole Miss didn't do enough of this year.

As for Wesley McGriff and the defense, it's easy to see how Freeze decided to go in that direction. Ole Miss' defense really struggled in 2016, and McGriff brings a track record of limiting some of the weaknesses. 

In 2015 before McGriff arrived, Auburn's defense struggled in the areas Freeze mentioned as wanted his defensive coordinator to improve. 

McGriff Effect

Auburn Defense Before and With McGriff

        2015 2016

YPG         405.2 348.4

Rush YPG 182.7 124.8

Plays of 10+ 190 144

Red Zone TD % 51.0 34.2

Check, check, check. While McGriff doesn't have prior coordinator experience, every big name on the defensive side of coaching has to get an initial opportunity. Ole Miss' defense needed new energy after the poor 2016 season, and it seems like McGriff will bring just that.

Know the Opponent: Murray State

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Know the Opponent: Murray State (5-5) 
KenPom ranking: 162  

Ole Miss returns home to face Murray State in its first home game in nearly two weeks in a matchup of two strong offenses.

Murray State on Offense: Once again, Ole Miss faces an above-average offense that can shoot. The Racers score 37.8 percent of their points from behind the arc, the 39th-highest percentage in the nation. Four players on the team have already made double-digit 3s on the season. Ole Miss' 3-point defense will have to be better than it has been this season, as opponents are shooting nearly 43 percent against the Rebels. 

Junior guard Jonathan Stark is shooting 46 percent from 3 and is the player to watch on offense. He takes the most shots on the team, but he's also extremely talented at finding an open teammate. His assist rate is just outside of the top-50 nationally. 

What makes Murray State so efficient on offense is how careful the Racers are with the ball. Their turnover percentage is one of the best in the nation. However, due in part to their 3-point reliance, the Racers don't get to the free throw line with great regularity. 

Murray State on Defense: While the Racers are efficient offensively, the same can't be said about them on the other end of the court. Teams have shot the ball very well against Murray State, and Ole Miss enters the game ranked 68th in 3-point percentage nationally. The Rebels need to take advantage of that and put up a big number to counter Murray State's offense. 

While Murray State doesn't turn the ball over on offense much, the defense doesn't force many either. Ole Miss needs a clean game in that department. The Racers have also let opponents get to the free throw line frequently. Drawing fouls and getting to the line is already a strength for Ole Miss, so the free throw disparity could be a deciding factor in the game if both teams continue their trends.

Haynes' Return a Boon for Ole Miss Defense

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Ole Miss' defense will look for 2017 to be very different than 2016, but the Rebels will return a very important piece to make that happen in Marquis Haynes. Haynes announced on Wednesday that he will return for his senior season. 

"After talking with my parents and Coach Freeze, it's best that I return to school and play my senior season as an Ole Miss Rebel," Haynes posted on Twitter. 

Haynes has been a constant presence in opposing backfields during his first three seasons, racking up at least seven sacks in each of them. The only other Power 5 players that can say the same since 2014 are likely first-round selections in this year's NFL Draft Myles Garrett (Texas A&M) and Derek Barnett (Tennessee). 

Even if the standard is lowered to five sacks in each of the last three seasons, Alabama's Jonathan Allen is the only Power 5 player to join the club. Haynes has been as consistent as anyone at getting to the quarterback. 

With Haynes returning, the Ole Miss defensive line looks to again be a strength for the team. D.J. Jones and Fadol Brown are big losses, but Haynes, Breeland Speaks, and Benito Jones are a very experienced, talented core for the new defensive coordinator to build around upfront. 

While the Ole Miss defense had issues in 2016, the defensive line was a consistent force. Ole Miss ranked 10th among Power 5 schools in pressuring the quarterback. Obviously, Haynes was a big part of that as the Rebels' best pass rusher. 

Haynes had three fewer sacks this year than last season, but sack numbers don't really tell the story. Ole Miss faced nearly 200 fewer pass attempts in 2016 than in 2015. And now, Haynes has one more season of making life difficult for offensive tackles and quarterbacks.

Know the Opponent: Virginia Tech

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9552054.jpegKnow the Opponent: Virginia Tech (7-1) 
KenPom ranking: 36 

Ole Miss faces one of the most well-rounded teams in the nation Sunday in Blacksburg, Virginia. Virginia Tech. Va Tech's offensive efficiency ranks 24th nationally, while their defensive efficiency also strong at 67th. Road wins against quality opponents are always gold stars on resumes in March if the Rebels could find a way to knock off the very talented Hokies. 

Virginia Tech on Offense: The Hokies can definitely score from anywhere. Virginia Tech ranks in the top-50 nationally in both 3-point shots and 2-point shots. Adding to that, the Hokies are in the top-25 nationally in not turning the ball over. It's not hard to see how making shots not making mistakes would make for an efficient offensive team. The 3-point shooting is especially worrisome for Ole Miss, as the Rebels have been one of the worst teams in the nation in defending the arc this season. The Hokies haven't been a team to crash the offensive boards this season, so when Ole Miss has to make sure each miss from Virginia Tech ends the possession. 

Individually, the Hokies are led by center Zach LeDay. When he's on the court, he accounts for more than 25 percent of all shots Va Tech takes. He's drawn fouls at a high rate this season, and Sebastian Saiz getting into foul trouble would spell trouble for Ole Miss. 

Virginia Tech on Defense: While offense is the strength of the team, it's not like the Hokies take the other side of the court off. While teams are able to shoot a respectable percentage from the field, most teams only get one shot each time down the floor. Teams have not been grabbed many offensive rebounds against the Hokies. On top of that, teams don't normally make a living getting to the free throw line. Only 15 percent of points against the Hokies come from the charity stripe, the 22nd lowest percentage nationally. Virginia Tech doesn't make it easy for opponents on offense. 

A plus for Ole Miss is that Virginia Tech hasn't been a defense that has forced many turnovers this season, ranking 318th out of 351 teams in steal percentage. Obviously, taking care of the ball on the road against a team as efficient as Virginia Tech is necessary to have a chance late in the game. Despite the turnover problems, Ole Miss is still the fifth-best offense in the SEC in terms of efficiency. If the turnover numbers go down, Ole Miss is tough for anyone to slow down. 

Archie to Receive Gold Medal from NFF on Tuesday

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Ole Miss legend Archie Manning will be receiving the National Football Foundation (NFF) and College Hall of Fame Gold Medal on Tuesday, December 6, at the 59th NFF Annual Awards Dinner. 

The highest and most prestigious award presented by the National Football Foundation, the Gold Medal recognizes an outstanding American who has demonstrated integrity and honesty; achieved significant career success; and has reflected the basic values of those who have excelled in amateur sport, particularly football. 

Archie will also be presiding over the Hall of Fame ring ceremony for this year's inductees as NFF Chairman. 

Fans can watch live streams of both the NFF Annual Awards Dinner (, starting at 7 p.m. CT, and the morning press conference (, starting at 8 a.m. CT, on ESPN3.

Know the Opponent: Memphis

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Know the Opponent: Memphis (6-1) 
KenPom ranking: 89 

Ole Miss is presented another opportunity on Saturday to grab a nice win when Memphis travels to the Pavilion for the Tigers first road game of the season. The Rebels let an opportunity slip by against Middle Tennessee with an awful first half, but a win against Memphis would put that game firmly in the rearview mirror. It will be interested to see how Andy Kennedy tweaks the rotation, given the spark that Breein Tyree gave the Rebels in the second half on Wednesday. 

Tigers On Offense: The good news for Ole Miss is that Memphis is not a team that shoots 3s with great regularity. Just 25 percent of Memphis' points come from behind the arc, the 276th-most in college basketball. That's noteworthy because the Rebels have not been able to stop teams from shooting from deep. Ole Miss is near the bottom of the barrel in 3-point defense and percentage of opponents' points from long range. 

Memphis is very effective in what they do, though. They shoot 58 percent on two-point shots, 11th in the nation. Adding to that, Memphis has been one of the best teams so far this year at crashing the offensive class, ranking inside the top-30 in basketball. Ole Miss will have to be especially strong on the defensive glass to keep Memphis from being able to rack up extra opportunities. Dedric Lawson can make Ole Miss pay if the Rebels don't put a body on him on rebounds. 

Lawson can do a little bit of everything and do it well. He shoots over 50 percent, averages 20+ points, grabs nearly 12 rebounds a game, and leads the team in blocks. 

One of the few things Memphis has not done well this season is hit free throws. The Tigers are one of the worst teams in the nation at hitting their freebies, barely making 60 percent of them. 

Tigers On Defense: Ole Miss has to cut out the turnovers that have haunted the team through the early part of the season. The 14 in the first half took away any chance of a win against Middle Tennessee. Nearly 22 percent of Ole Miss' possessions have ended in a turnover, one of the worst marks in the country. Despite that, Ole Miss is still above the D-1 average in offensive efficiency. If Ole Miss does drop the turnovers to more of a norm for an AK team, the team can score. 

Memphis has been very good against the 3 so far in this season, allowing opponents to shoot barely over 30 percent. Three-point offense has been a strength for Ole Miss, ranking second in the SEC in 3-point percentage. 

That doesn't mean it's easy to score inside against the Tigers, though. Memphis reject nearly 15 percent of opponents' shots, ranking 32nd in the nation. Lawson has already turned away 15 shots in this young season. However, Ole Miss hasn't been a team to get shots blocked this season.

Know the Opponent: Middle Tennessee State

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Middle Tennessee State (6-1) 
KenPom ranking: 108 

The next six days could go a long way in building the Rebels' postseason resume, and that stretch begins tonight with Middle Tennessee State. The Blue Raiders return seven players that knocked off No. 2 seed Michigan State in the first round of the tournament last year. Kermit Davis has built a consistent winner that competes for a Tournament bid each year. 

Blue Raider Offense: Middle Tennessee has a very efficient offense based largely on the fact that they don't turn the ball over much. Their turnover percentage of 14.6 ranks 12th in the country. For comparison, despite playing one more game than Ole Miss, the Blue Raiders have 26 fewer turnovers. 

When he's on the floor, expect forward Jacorey Williams to be the Blue Raiders' catalyst on offense. According to KenPom, he accounts for more than 1/3 of Middle Tennessee's shots when he's on the floor. He leads his team with 21.6 points per game. While Ole Miss tries to get down the court quickly on offense, MTSU would much rather slow the game down and get the ball inside to Williams. 

If the game is to be decided in the last minutes, MTSU has struggled with freebies this year. They're shooting below 60 percent as a team. 

Blue Raider Defense: Ole Miss has struggled with turnovers, although some of them have been self-inflicted. Those have to be eliminated against an MTSU defense that can make life difficult on an offense. Nearly 1/4 of MTSU's opponents' possessions have ended with a turnover, one of the best marks in the nation. Teams have struggled scoring inside on the Blue Raiders and had to rely on the 3-ball to score points. That's due in part to MTSU being one of the best teams in the nation at blocking shots. While Ole Miss will need to make shots, they need to be careful to not fall in love with the deep ball and keep Saiz involved inside. 

Kennedy Quotable: "Kermit and I go way back. I have great respect for him. He's a friend of mine. Every time I get close to the game I wonder 'Why in the world would I schedule them' because they're good. They're going to be tough, and they're not going to give us anything free. It'll be a good challenge for our team."

Rebels' Most Valuable Senior: D.J. Jones

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Jones,DJ_091716_JM.JPGDefensive tackle D.J. Jones has been recognized by the Jackson Touchdown Club as the Most Valuable Senior on the Rebels' football team.

He will be recognized with the award tonight during the C Spire Most Valuable Senior Program at the River Hills Club in Jackson, but will be unable to attend while recovering from an elbow injury he sustained in the Egg Bowl.

A native of Greenville, South Carolina, Jones has anchored the Ole Miss defensive line as a starter in all 12 games this season. He finished the year with 30 tackles, 3.0 TFLs, 2.0 sacks, an interception, a fumble recovery and three quarterback hurries. He had a standout game in the win over Memphis, recovering a fumble and making his first career interception.

In two seasons since transferring from East Mississippi Community College, Jones racked up 69 tackles, 8.5 TFLs and 6.0 sacks, while playing in every game with 14 starts.

Jones is known as one of the Rebels' strongest players, boasting the ability to bench press 430 pounds and squat upwards of 700 pounds. At an even 6-foot and weighing 321 pounds, he also has a 31.5-inch vertical jump and can dunk a basketball.

The Jackson Touchdown Club has been presenting the Most Valuable Senior awards every year since 1946.

Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note

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The 2016 season began with high hopes and expectations. Those are the things that accompany a No. 12 preseason ranking. Instead, it became a season of injuries, what-ifs, close calls and disappointments. Instead of championships, the season came to a close with a losing record in a lopsided Egg Bowl loss. 

In a way, the Egg Bowl encapsulated the season. Ole Miss was able to survive the first half and fortunately head to halftime down only by a touchdown, 27-20. That was despite settling for two field goals and having a pass intercepted in the end zone. Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze emphasized on Monday how this game would be a shootout and that Ole Miss had to score touchdowns in those scenarios. 

Still, after missing those opportunities, Ole Miss was very much in the game. The defense delivered a hard to come by three-and-out to start the third quarter, and Ole Miss marched down the field. Once again, the red zone proved hazardous. Mississippi State stuffed Akeem Judd on 4th-and-1. Instead of a game-tying drive, the Rebels came away with nothing, and Mississippi State dominated from that point on. 

Four Bulldog touchdowns and many rushing yards later, the game, and the season, came to a jarring end. Ole Miss failed to find any answer, staying scoreless in the half. The game was a 60-minute synopsis of what the season has been like for Ole Miss. Once again a second half doomed the Rebels. Instead of taking advantage of an opportunity, the Rebels were unable to do so. That leads to a five-win season. 

It's a shame that is the brutal conclusion to the season, especially for a senior class that meant so much to the program and raised the standard expected from the players that put on the Ole Miss uniforms. It was inconceivable that Ole Miss missed a bowl at the beginning of the season. Obviously, it happened. As someone that has been around Ole Miss football for years, that's a culture change from just a decade ago. 

The seniors didn't get an opportunity to finish though, because sometimes that's how football goes. Ole Miss played a difficult schedule, didn't stay healthy and let close games get away from them. That's how their college careers end, as unfortunate as it is for the players that helped carry Ole Miss back to New Orleans. 

Now the onus falls on the underclassmen to not let this become anything but a blip on the radar on a long-term scale. Leaders like Chad Kelly, Evan Engram, Issac Gross, and John Youngblood are out of eligibility. Now, it's up to the young guys to take over leadership roles and come back next year with a renewed vigor and not let a season like this happen again.

Notes from Freeze's Press Conference

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It's Egg Bowl week. That should be enough motivation for the players and coaches. The game means an extraordinary amount to this university and theirs. Ole Miss has faced adversity, but now they have a chance to go to a bowl game with a win against their rival. Their offense will be a challenge. Ole Miss has to score TDs in the red zone when they get opportunities. It could easily be who scores the most touchdowns. They have a good scheme and their QB makes them efficient in the run game. It's going to be a great atmosphere as the Ole Miss fans show up to help the Rebels defend the Egg Bowl. 

Ole Miss is a beat up team. John Youngblood talked to the team this year. He can't play though. Evan Engram and Issac Gross are both questionable for Saturday. Sean Rawlings and Robert Conyers will try to go. They need the young guys on the team to realize how important this game is because Ole Miss will need them against State. 

Shea Patterson is where any freshman would be in this situation. He had a great game against A&M, but there were things he didn't understand. Some of those things carried over against Vandy, but he also had about 10 drops. He missed some too, but those drops could have made his game very different. There were a lot of good things he did on Saturday, but he still has a ways to go. He got out of the pocket at times when he didn't have to. He was anxious. More reps would be the answer to that. The best teacher is experience. 

It's the coaches' job to get the team ready for this game regardless of the team's record coming in. It's going to be a battle. The players have to place a premium on preparation. 

Ole Miss didn't respond very well to Vandy's defensive change after the success on the two early scoring drives. 

Stringfellow had his hand stepped on during practice last week, which affected him against Vandy. It wasn't a normal game for Ole Miss' WRs. 

Ole Miss has to win first down against State because of how difficult stopping a running QB is on third and manageable.

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Recent Comments

    Tiffany J. Moore said:

    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 much

    in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia

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