Any school that boasts Houston Nutt as its head coach needs a blog with a unique point of view -- and that's certainly what we have here at SB Nation with Red Cup Rebellion, our Ole Miss blog. It's an entertaining view of everything going on in Oxford. RCR's Juco All-American took time to answer a few questions for Ole Miss week.
You might have noticed there's some talk out there that Ole Miss might have a decent season this year. How much of that are Ole Miss fans buying into? Is it a "wait-and-see" attitude, or a "pack your bags for Pasadena" attitude?
It depends on who you're talking to. A significant portion of our fan base has already chugged the "Atlanta or Bust" Kool Aid and will accept nothing less than an outright SEC West title. The other camp, as one would expect, is looking in the complete opposite direction with prognostications of four or five loss seasons and another early December spent in Oxford. I'd say both camps are justified in their attitudes. While this is the greatest chance we've ever had at representing the West in Atlanta, we are Ole Miss. Remember, it wasn't but two seasons ago when Ed Orgeron was "coaching" his teams to thrilling "victories" over Louisiana Tech and Northwestern State.
As always, there are some fans who are talking undefeated seasons. A few of those fans seem a little more reasonable now, but most fans are realistic. Our fans will be happy with nine or ten regular season wins. Less than that, and they're pissed. More, and Nutt gets another contract extension and a raise. We actually wrote an article that was picked up by CBSSports.about this situation.
Who worries you more in the SEC West: Alabama or LSU?
Alabama by a wide margin (or margarine if you don't understand the English language). LSU does not worry many of us at all. I have to admit that most of my worry comes from the fact that we beat LSU 31-13 last season while losing to Alabama. Unless John Chavis is just that good of a defensive coordinator, I wouldn't bet the farm on LSU. They were dominant over no in-conference foe last year, with their largest margin of victory over an SEC school coming in the form of a 34-24 victory over a horrible Mississippi State team. Their deceptively dominant Peach Bowl victory (Georgia Tech turned the ball over seven times while garnering only ten fewer offensive yards than the Bayou Bengals) is really all they are going on to build up their expectations. People are talking about Jordan Jefferson, but I'm not buying it yet. He was mediocre against us in a loss, lost to Arkansas (completing less than 50% of his passes against their porous secondary) and averaged 5.7 yards per attempt against Georgia Tech. In case you were wondering, that's worse than Tyson Lee AND Wesley Carroll did against GA Tech. Sure, LSU won that game is strong fashion, but it wasn't because of Jefferson. Charles "I only rushed for 10 yards on 10 carries against Ole Miss" Scott should continue to be an overrated back on an overrated team. Why isn't QB uncertainty as big a problem for Alabama as LSU? Because Alabama hits teams in the mouth with the running game, and they don't let up. They don't fall behind by enough that passing becomes essential, and when they do, they have Julio Jones. I'm not certain McElroy will be good, but I think it's safe to say he'll play better than Jefferson in 2009 since he won't be asked to do nearly as much. Alabama will have a stingy, almost air-tight defense. Scoring against Alabama will be like birthing a child: rare, painful, and messy. If the Rebels can get into the endzone early and force a turnover or two, then I like their chances against Alabama. Otherwise, Alabama's an "L."
Also, Alabama's coach is Nick Saban while LSU's is Les Miles. Miles is a buffoon. How do you win only 7 regular season games with the talent LSU had last season? Baffling.
It's hard to say. The loss of any All-American at any position is tough, and we lost two. On the defensive side, Peria Jerry absolutely took over the trenches at times. There were many games where he was simply unblockable. He is not the biggest, fastest, or strongest defensive tackle I have ever seen, but he is by far the hardest working. Jerry looked at every single one of his would-be blockers in a way which silently communicated, "look, friend, I'm gonna run right through you; do whatever you think you can to stop me, because you'll need it." His never-say-never attitude got him through the SEC and should provide him with a long, fruitful NFL career.
Michael Oher was as consistent a left tackle as Ole Miss has ever had. He frustrated his blockees by utilizing his great footwork and long, powerful arms. Jevan Snead was able to spend a little bit of time in the pocket and sustain many drives due to the excellent blocking ability of Oher.
Considering the aforementioned, if I had to choose who would be more greatly missed, I would say Oher, simply because his replacement has a whopping zero minutes of playing time at left tackle. Bradley Sowell, while possessing a legitimate, NFL-ready frame, isn't even half the lineman Oher was in terms of skill and experience. He could become acclimated to the game and become a good tackle, but I don't see him quickly, if ever, becoming a great tackle. At defensive tackle, Ole Miss will be utilizing a rotation of Ted Laurent, Lawon Scott, and Jerrell Powe -- all of whom have legitimate SEC playing time. While none of them will become the 300 pound skull cracking man-monster that Peria Jerry was, the three of them could be quite effective as a unit.
You might know that Houston Nutt has a reputation for being somewhat conservative on offense. Do you think that's fair, and do you see any sign he's going to give Jevan Snead the green light to let it rip this year?
Houston Nutt's reputation for being a conservative playcaller is quite fair. I saw plenty of games at Arkansas where Nutt would run on first, second, and usually third downs. When they didn't run on third down, they ran hooks to the first down marker. It's a very valid concern. However, the Houston Nutt that coached at Arkansas isn't the Houston Nutt who's coaching in Oxford. That's a bigger topic than I want to get into right now, but suffice it to say that he isn't afraid to spread the field now. I'm sure a lot of that has to do with having an incredible quarterback on the team, something he never had at Arkansas. However, a more pertinent answer is that offensive coordinator Kent Austin's hand is working at Ole Miss. Austin came from the CFL, where he coached the Saskatchewan Roughriders to the Gray Cup. Austin likes to throw the ball all over and is incredible at working to get receivers open in space.
But that doesn't answer the question fully. We still run the ball a ton. Why not? We have three reliable backs (four if you include do-it-all Dexter McCluster as a halfback). Ole Miss' bread and butter is the running game. Our MO is to swing hard in the first half, get up by a good bit, then ride out the second half. Against ULM, we threw twice in the second half and won 59-0. Why mess up a good thing?
So I guess my answer is that Nutt is still conservative. We're still going to run when we're up and trying to hold onto leads. However, when we need to throw, it's not something we're afraid to do. Jevan Snead is a great talent, but when the game was on the line with the ball in his hands at the beginning of last year, he floundered. It's when the pressure was alleviated, with the emergence of the running game, that Snead was able to flourish. If you'll watch replays of last year's games against LSU, Mississippi State, and Texas Tech -- games which saw Jevan Snead absolutely dominate -- you'll see the pro set, I-formation, shotgun with three and four receiver sets, and the single-wing triple-option (Wild Rebel) among many other arrangements. What Ole Miss runs is hardly the one-demensional rushing attack Houston Nutt is perceived to utilize. The unlikely convergence of an SEC head coach who has mastered rushing attacks, a former SEC QB and CFL star who is artful with the development of his passing game, and a total badass has made this Rebel offense the best one led by someone not named Manning.
Thanks to Juco-All American and be sure to visit Red Cup Rebellion for all your Ole Miss news and commentary.
MONDAY: Ole Miss Aspires to Old Heights
TUESDAY: Rebels Roll Call
WEDNESDAY: Gridiron U Preview
THURSDAY: Ole Miss Has a Quarterback, But Can They Protect Him?; The New Future of Ole Miss
LATER TODAY: Houston Nutt and the Expectations Game