We press on with another opponent preview: Ole Miss.
Ole Miss Rebels
- Head coach: Houston Nutt (4th season at Ole Miss, 22-16; 19th season overall; 133-86 at Murray State, Boise State, Arkansas and Ole Miss)
- 2009 record: 4-8 (1-7, 6th SEC West)
- Returning starters: 9 (6 offense, 3 defense)
- Total offense: 399.8 ypg (6th SEC, 43rd nationally)
- Total defense: 399.2 ypg (11th SEC, 81st nationally)
- Series: Auburn leads 26-9
- Last meeting: Auburn won 51-31 last year in Oxford
- Consensus prediction: Sixth in SEC Wast
Five-week schedule glimpse
- Oct. 15: Alabama
- Oct. 22: Arkansas
- Oct. 29: at Auburn
- Nov. 5: at Kentucky
- N0v. 12: Louisiana Tech
We’re coming up to the home stretch, finishing off the October slate with Ole Miss. The Tigers crushed the Rebels last year in Oxford, really hitting their offensive stride (this game was when Mike Dyer started taking over). Houston Nutt worked wonders with the recruit left over from the Ed Orgeron era, but things are getting a little restless in Year 4 after a sub-par season.
To find out just how heated Nutt’s coaching seat might be, I went to David Brandt of the Associated Press in Mississippi. You can follow him on Twitter here, and basically anything sports-related from Mississippi will have his byline on it. Here are his answers to a few questions:
AB: Houston Nutt gave up a large part of control this offseason, handing the offensive coordinator position and play-calling duties to David Lee, who worked with him at Arkansas, and bringing in Gunter Brewer from Oklahoma State as passing game coordinator. How big of a difference will these moves make?
DB: It shouldn’t be a seismic change. Lee and Nutt have a lot in common when it comes to offensive philosophy. They both are big on establishing the run to soften the defense and then try to hit for big gains with the passing game. Considering Barry Brunetti and Randall Mackey, two dual-threat quarterbacks, are the top two contenders for the starting job, the Rebels should feature a heavy dose of running. Brewer was an intriguing hire after he helped Oklahoma State to some huge offensive years as co-offensive coordinator. He’ll be asked to guide a talented incoming class of WRs, including Tobias Singleton, Nick Brassell and Donte Moncrief. Their development is crucial in determining how much the Rebels will throw.
AB: The Rebels gambled with Jeremiah Masoli and had mixed results. Masoli played well but the team still managed only four wins, without grooming a quarterback for this year. Nathan Stanley left the team in spring, adding to the problem. Between Randall Mackey, Zack Stoudt and Barry Brunetti, who is going to win the competition?
DB: I’d say Brunetti. He’s intelligent, is a dual-threat and seems to be less mistake-prone than the other two. Brunetti isn’t as good as Masoli, but he does provide a lot of the same skills. Mackey is almost the exact some player as Brunetti, but with a higher risk-reward. Mackey has a very good arm and can really make spectacular plays happen, but it remains to be seen how good his understanding of the offense will be by September. Stoudt is a classic drop-back passer who flashed a good arm during spring practice, but I can’t see him winning the job unless Brunetti and Mackey really struggle.
AB: The offensive line returns four starters and should be among the better units in the SEC. Brandon Bolden is back at tailback after a 976-yard, 14-touchdown season, along with backup Jeff Scott. Is the running game enough to offset the inexperience at quarterback?
DB: I really do think Ole Miss will score points this season, it’s stopping somebody that will be the problem. The offensive line has 10 guys returning who started at least one game last season — including seasoned tackles Brad Sowell and Bobby Massie — and they’re gigantic. Bolden and Scott are two solid options in the backfield, and can provide a one-two punch. Bolden is more of a bruiser while Scott is all speed. The quarterback situation is unsettled, but I do think one of the three will be a decent option since they won’t have to carry the full load.
AB: Ole Miss got a huge boost when defensive tackle Kentrell Lockett was awarded a sixth year of eligibility after tearing his ACL last season. But what else does the defense have, especially now that linebacker D.T. Shackelford is out for the year with an ACL tear? Will the defense be better than 11th in the SEC like it was last year?
DB: I’ll be honest –- I doubt it. If the Rebels could just be middle of the pack in the SEC, they’d be thrilled. There’s some good pieces returning, like Lockett, LBs Joel Kight and Mike Marry and cornerback Charles Sawyer. But there’s also a lot of question marks at a lot of positions –- especially at defensive tackle and in the secondary. The Rebels need quick development from a lot of people to show marked improvement. That’s not impossible, but it’ll be tough.
AB: Nutt had the state in his pocket after winning back-to-back Cotton Bowls in his first two years. But after missing the postseason last year after going 4-8 and watching state rival Mississippi State pass by in the standings — and do so in a loud way — is Nutt’s support in Oxford dwindling? What does he need to do this year to shift the momentum back his way?
DB: The shine has certainly worn off of Nutt’s tenure after such an embarrassing 2010 season. But I don’t think reasonable Ole Miss fans expect miracles right away. A good UM season will happen if two goals are reached: 1) Making a bowl, and 2) Beating Mississippi State. Nutt needs both to get his stature back. If he goes one for two, he’s probably fine, but his seat will still be warm. If he goes zero for two, it could be a very interesting offseason in Oxford. But remember, Nutt’s buyout is a hefty $6 million. That’ll make Ole Miss think twice before making any decisions.
NCAA ’12 says …
No. 19 Auburn 42, Ole Miss 21. The Tigers bounce back with a big offensive performance, racking up 442 yards. Dyer finished with 130 rushing yards and three touchdowns. Barrett Trotter added 151 passing yards and two scores, one to Dyer and one to Quindarius Carr. Jake Holland led the defense with 10 tackles, Demetruce McNeal had a pick and Jeffrey Whitaker had five tackles and a sack. The win lifted the Tigers to 6-3 overall (making them bowl eligible) and 4-2 in the SEC.
We’re cruising now. Only a few teams left. Big thanks to David for helping me out with this one.
Up next: Georgia.