As we did last week with the guys from Crimson and Cream Machine, we're also doing Q&A segment with the guys from Red Cup Rebellion. You can find their Q&A about UTEP here, but here are some thoughts on Ole Miss following their win over Central Arkansas.
MinerRush: Much has been made of Ole Miss QB Bo Wallace's first performance in a Rebel uniform. Do you think you can expect him to continue to play at such a high level for the rest of the year?
RedCupRebellion: Well, it's tough to say what to expect from Bo Wallace. Do I expect him to be 20-24 even after two drops and a ball that's batted at the line of scrimmage? No. I do think he's a capable quarterback though, and some of the throws he made under pressure were absolutely beautiful. I think his success is tied to our offensive line though, and that could be a problem. He certainly can make the throws he needs to, and he's a capable enough runner to keep linebackers honest.
He's an interesting player. In practices, he's not noticeably better than Barry Brunetti. Apparently he's a gamer though. Even last season, before he passed for over 5,000 yards in junior college, his coach wasn't sure he'd win the job in practice. Obviously he's not going to throw for 5,000 yards for us, but I do think he's a stable quarterback who will make throws when they're there. That's all we can ask for after lackluster QB play since Eli Manning (other than Jevan Snead's two years and arguably the one year we had Jeremiah Masoli).
MR: I noticed that one of the areas of concern for Ole Miss is the offensive line. Is this a lack of talent or depth, or are guys just dinged up right now?
RCR: Yeah. The offensive line is pretty rough, and it has nothing to do with depth. We just don't have players who are ready to play yet. They're good people and have put in a lot of work to get where they are. Unfortunately, there comes a point where that's not enough. LT Emmanuel McCray has trouble with pass rushing defensive ends, and C Evan Swindall is often abused by defensive tackles. Maybe they'll come along, but past samples would suggest that won't happen.
I think a lot of it also has to do with the fact that they've spent the past three years preparing for Houston Nutt's style of offense. That asked them to be big and strong but didn't require any speed or endurance. Hugh Freeze's offense on the other hand is very fast paced, and the spread nature requires offensive linemen who can move around quickly, particularly when helping runs out of the shotgun. If guards can't pull quickly enough, the plays just aren't going to work.
MR: While they strapped down in the second half, the Rebel defense gave up 24 points, at home, to an FCS school. Do you think this an area of concern moving forward, or was that just the defense settling in to a new system?
RCR: It's likely a little of both. I certainly don't expect us to field a storied SEC defense this year. We struggle at linebacker and defensive tackle, and our secondary is banged up. To show our problems at DT, a 250 pound true freshman arrived in June and has won the starting job. He's quite good, but his size is going to be tough to work around when we're not playing Central Arkansas.
I do think though that our defense has promise. Our linebackers are still having a little trouble with assignments and getting off blocks, but most are quite young. Our leading tackler against UCA was Denzel Nkemdiche, a starting safety/linebacker hybrid who is just a redshirt freshman. We're going to take our lumps, but we're improving. Also, sophomore defensive end CJ Johnson is a bad, bad man. Don't make him angry. You wouldn't like him when he's angry.
MR: Hugh Freeze has said that he wants to run a fast paced offense, and it worked out fairly well in week one. How does the fanbase feel about his coaching strategies, and about him as a coach in general?
RCR: When he was hired, there were a lot of people who were mad or just disappointed. I personally wanted a bigger name but felt like Freeze was as good an option as any we could likely get when it came down to actual coaching ability. I think the fans who were upset are probably starting to realize that. Generally, we're almost all taking the approach that even if Freeze doesn't end up working out at Ole Miss, it likely won't be because he doesn't understand the X's and O's of offensive football. Unfortunately, there's more to being successful, particularly at Ole Miss, than that.
I personally love the way he runs the offense. He mixes screens, designed runs, read options, and mid-ranged passes together nicely. Against UCA, we saw several long passes, though I'm not sure that's going to be a staple of our offense moving forward. We just don't really have the speed at receiver necessary to run tons of fades or deep posts.
MR: What are Ole Miss' keys to the game, if they are going to win?
RCR: Ole Miss has to protect Bo Wallace and stop the run. I'm certainly not trying to suggest that UTEP can't pass the ball. I know that Oklahoma was an anomaly. I'd still feel better about you being forced to play into our secondary and pass rushers than I would seeing you pick up 5 and 6 yard runs seemingly at will. There were times last year when we saw opposing teams do that, and it's the most frustrating way to lose.
As for protecting Wallace, he was just phenomenal against UCA even with poor offensive line play that led to immense amounts of pressure. If we can actually get him a little bit of time, I think he could have another big game. I'm certainly not predicting this, but if Wallace led a rout of UTEP, I would feel much better about our chances against the Longhorns next week.
MR: Final thoughts/Prediction on the outcome of Saturday's game?
RCR: I think it will be close. The line as of this writing is Ole Miss at -7.5. I don't think it will go that way. I'm tempted to even predict a loss (win by UTEP), but the offense was so strong in our opener that I just have to think we could probably win a shootout. I'll say Ole Miss 35 - UTEP 31.
Big thanks to the guys from Red Cup Rebellion for taking some time out to do these Q&A segments with us. You can also hear what they have to say tomorrow, as "The Rush" Podcast will make a return after a couple week break.