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Chad Kelly Named All-SEC by ESPN

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ESPN - After leading the SEC in passing yards (4,042), passing yards per game (310.9) and touchdowns (31) last season, Kelly is easily the best quarterback in the conference.

Kelly has already been named first team All-SEC by the media and has been selected to numerous preseason watch lists. Now he adds ESPN's All-SEC team to his preseason accolades. 

In his first year starting, Kelly broke 14 single-season records and led Ole Miss to its first Sugar Bowl since 1970 I broke down his 2015 season in some detail here last week.  

Ole Miss at Media Days 2016

When Hugh Freeze took the podium at SEC Media Days just four years ago before the 2012 season, the expectations regarding the program were nearly as low as they could go. Freeze said during that press conference the goal of the season was competing for 60 minutes in each game and getting the program out of the "wilderness".

I grew up an Ole Miss fan during some pretty bleak years over the past decade. As a kid, the first whiff of football season every year was when the preseason magazines hit the shelves. Nearly every year was the same process to the point it was essentially a tradition for me. Look at the win-loss projection the magazine provided and figure out how Ole Miss was going to win six games and make a bowl. That would constitute a successful season, and I would be happy with it. 

Flash forward four years, a "new normal" has been established in Oxford due to four straight bowl berths, back-to-back New Year's Six appearances, and back-to-back wins against the college football gold-standard Alabama.  

Hugh Freeze has changed that mindset and upped the expectations each season. Ole Miss returns the best QB in the SEC and one of the best in the nation in Chad Kelly along with a the talented core that already checked off the Sugar Bowl from Freeze and nearly every Ole Miss fan's bucket lists. 

Ole Miss' schedule is far from easy, as it includes the programs that have accounted for six of the last seven national championships in Alabama, Auburn and Florida State to go along already difficult SEC slate.  

"I like to call it pretty much a gauntlet," Evan Engram said. "We want to be the team to take the cake this year, so we accept the challenge week in and week out."

All Eyes on Kelly

While addressing the media, Hugh Freeze mentioned in particular Kelly's playing over the final seven games of the year. Over that span, Kelly tossed 17 TDs and averaged 311 yards per game in the air.

"I've been asked all morning about what he needs to do to improve," Freeze said. "I don't know that I can look at a lot of things and say, man, you're doing this really poorly, or -- he did everything for those last seven games pretty solidly."

Ole Miss has talent all over the field on both sides of the ball, but the 2016 season will go as No. 10 goes. He's every bit talented enough for Ole Miss to once again be in the championship picture again as the calendar turns to November. 

It helps that most of the SEC is in a much less stable position at QB. Last season, Kelly threw 31 TDs. There are nine SEC West QBs still on rosters that played last season. They threw a combined 35 TDs. 

Defensive Line Still a Strength

Losing a first-round talent in Robert Nkemdiche and still feeling very optimistic about the ability of the defensive line gives a good indicator in the quality of the program.  

"If you were to start to build a football team to compete in the Southeastern Conference, you would start with quarterbacks first and defensive line next," Freeze said. "We wish we had a little more depth (at defensive line), but we believe we're really, really talented there."

Jones along with Breeland Speaks, Marquis Haynes and Fadol Brown will no longer have the luxury of Nkemdiche being the focal point of offenses upfront and drawing so many double teams. 

"I think we are a faster defensive line," Jones said. "We are a little more powerful. So I think as a unit we will get better."

Ole Miss also gets one more season of Issac Gross in opponent's backfields after he missed nearly all of last season with an injury. Adding in impact freshman Benito Jones, Ole Miss has nice depth upfront. Freeze said he would like to have more of it, but defensive line depth is a lot like money. You always want more of it. 

Scenes From the Day

Ole Miss Football: 2015 Offensive Juggernaut

Rebel Offense Shatters School Records in Hugh Freeze's Fourth Season

By Adam Kuffner, Ole Miss Athletics Media Relations

When Hugh Freeze was hired as the 37th head coach in Ole Miss football history Dec. 5, 2011, then-Chancellor Dan Jones along with coaching search committee co-chairs Archie Manning and Mike Glenn knew they were getting one of the best offensive minds in football. Just four years into the Freeze era in Oxford, the Rebels have built a new normal of expectations for Ole Miss Football.

Last year, it was the Landshark defense that led the Rebels to an inaugural New Year's Six Bowl with the nation's best scoring defense. Fast forward to 2015, it's the offense that has reached record-breaking heights to pace the Rebels through another nine-win season (back-to-back 9+ regular-season wins for the first time since 1961-62).

Ole Miss started off 2015 on a torrid pace, becoming the first SEC team to score 73 or more points in back-to-back games. The 76-3 win over UT Martin in the season opener was the most points in a game since 1935. With that hot start to the season, it was evident that the 12 year-old school scoring record (442 in 2003) was going to be broken. That vision came to fruition in the 11th game of the season as the Rebels dominated rival LSU, 38-17, in the Magnolia Bowl. One week later, Ole Miss scored 38 points in Starkville for the first time in 34 years to win the Egg Bowl and enter the postseason scoring a school-record 483 points.

Ole Miss is averaging 40.3 points per game, which leads the SEC and ranks 13th in the nation. The Rebels eclipsed the 50-point plateau four times this season; in the previous 122 years of Ole Miss Football prior to 2015, just five times the Rebels managed to score 50+ points more than once throughout a season.

To score points, you need to find the end zone. The Rebels did that plenty of times throughout the 2015 campaign, scoring a program-record 62 touchdowns. In order to get to the end zone, you need to accumulate yards and drive down the field. How does 6,177 total yards sound? That's how many Ole Miss racked up through 12 games this season, the most in the SEC and 11th-most nationally. Again, the Rebels have themselves another school record.  

Freeze likes to spread the ball out, and the passing game has become the Rebels' bread and butter since his arrival. Senior quarterback Bo Wallace was the starting signal caller for Freeze's first three years at Ole Miss. In 2014, Wallace, along with multiple offensive weapons around him, helped Ole Miss earn a bid to the Chick-fil-A Peach Bowl. This year, junior Chad Kelly took the reins of Freeze's playbook and added his name to the list of great quarterbacks at Ole Miss.

After a position battle throughout fall camp, Freeze decided to give Kelly the start in the first two games, although Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade saw playing time as well. It was in that second contest that Kelly emerged as the clear starter due to his strong, accurate arm accompanied with moving the offense down the field like a well-oiled machine. The Buffalo, New York, native continued to do that the following week, leading the Rebels to another victory over No. 2 Alabama in the first road test of his Ole Miss career. Beating Alabama in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history, Ole Miss made noise throughout the country, once again becoming relevant.

Kelly continued to impress throughout the rest of the season, putting up better numbers than any other quarterback in Ole Miss history, including Archie and Eli Manning. He's tallied 3,740 yards through the air and is responsible for 37 touchdowns, both school records that were once held by the two-time Super Bowl MVP Eli. Kelly's seven 300-yard passing games is also the most by a Rebel quarterback. Speaking of Manning, Kelly was named a finalist for the Manning Award, which is presented annually to the nation's best quarterback. His statistics that lead all SEC quarterbacks and rank among the nation's elite have earned Kelly that recognition.

Along with his school-record passing mark, Kelly has also rushed for 427 yards on the ground. His program-best 4,167 total yards of offense is the sixth-most for an individual's season in SEC history. It's all impressive for someone who is a first-year Rebel.

Of course, Kelly's individual records and the team's offensive records would not have been reached without a plethora of talent around the quarterback. Let's start with Laquon Treadwell, who bounced back from his devastating injury last season. This year, he's been better than ever as a Biletnikoff Award finalist. Treadwell has caught 76 passes for 1,082 yards and eight touchdowns, including six 100-yard receiving games which is another school record. The Crete, Illinois, native went through a stretch where he was nearly impossible to stop, catching a touchdown pass in six straight games and going over 100 yards receiving in five of them; both achievements had never been accomplished before at Ole Miss.

Alongside Treadwell, Kelly distributes the ball at an incredible rate. Ole Miss is one of four teams in the nation with seven or more players who have caught at least 20 passes this season. Quincy Adeboyejo and Damore'ea Stringfellow have combined for 12 touchdown receptions, while Cody Core has added 553 receiving yards in his final season as a Rebel. Kelly is one of the leading rushers on the team, but the running back trio of Jaylen Walton, Akeem Judd and Jordan Wilkins has produced 1,433 yards and 11 touchdowns.

Of course, the skill players wouldn't have success without the help of the offensive line. Providing protection for Kelly has been a veteran group led by Preseason All-America left tackle Laremy Tunsil and Kent Hull Trophy winner Fahn Cooper. Seniors Justin Bell, Aaron Morris and Ben Still are the elder lettermen that are spending their final year at Ole Miss as part of the most prolific offense in school history. Even freshmen Jordan Sims, Javon Patterson and Sean Rawlings have provided plenty of playing time, including starts, to assist in the effort.

Football is certainly a team game. The defense and special teams unit need to play well; however, as Ole Miss awaits its bowl fate, the high-powered offense paved the way for a possible berth to the Sugar Bowl. If the season ended today, New Orleans would be the Rebels' bowl destination. Ole Miss hasn't played in the Sugar Bowl since 1970, spanning almost half a century. But with Alabama in position to make the College Football Playoff, the Rebels would earn the bid as the second-highest ranked SEC team.

Wouldn't that be sweet?

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Midseason Checkpoint: Rebels Control Their Own Destiny

It seemed like it was just yesterday that the Ole Miss football team continued through the motions of fall camp, and we all were just ready for the season to finally begin. Fast forward with a little Talladega up-tempo offense and we find ourselves at the halfway point of the Rebels' 2015 regular season. Where has the time gone? Let's take a look at where Ole Miss has been, where they are now, and where they could be heading down the road.

First Half Review

Coming into the season, there was plenty of hype surrounding the program. The Landshark defense that led the nation in points allowed per game last year returned the majority of its unit despite losing All-Americans Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt. On the other side of the ball, quarterback Bo Wallace graduated but the Rebels returned nine offensive starters. The biggest question mark coming into the season was who would replace the three-year signal caller.

While there were three quarterbacks competing for the starting job throughout the spring and fall, head coach Hugh Freeze was hoping one would emerge and separate himself from the other two. All three quarterbacks saw action in the first two weeks, and the separation occurred in game two versus Fresno State. Junior quarterback Chad Kelly led the high-powered Ole Miss offense on seven straight touchdown drives in the Rebels' 73-21 victory. The job was his, and it could not have come at a better time as the Rebels prepared to head to Tuscaloosa to face the Alabama Crimson Tide.

Becoming the first team in SEC history to score 73+ points in consecutive games was an incredible achievement, but many people still wondered if the Rebels were for real. Heading into the third week of the season, even the fourth-year head coach was looking for the answer.

"If you ask me if we are ready for SEC play, I really don't know," said Freeze. "I think we have a confident football team right now that believes we can win. I believe we can win."

It turned out that the Rebels were in fact ready for SEC play. Ole Miss took the field with energy and ready to prove that the win over the Tide in Oxford last season was not a fluke. The special teams unit set the pace on the opening kickoff, forcing a fumble to give the offense perfect field position and put the game's first points on the board. It was one of five turnovers Ole Miss forced throughout the night, leading to 24 points. The Rebels led the entire game and limited the noise from the capacity crowd of 101,821 at Bryant-Denny Stadium; when the dust settled, it was Ole Miss who emerged victorious once again over Alabama, 43-37.

Powder blue helmets and all, the Rebels wore the same uniform combination from the last time they beat the Tide in Tuscaloosa (1988). The victory also marked the first time Ole Miss defeated Alabama in back-to-back seasons. Country music superstar Eric Church even realized the significance of the victory, and wanting to take part in the celebration, led the locker room in the Hotty Toddy chant after the game. The win was a big deal. It proved that the Rebels belonged among the nation's elite. Ole Miss became the talk of the college football world and rose to No. 3 in the AP poll. Senior Trae Elston even represented Ole Miss on the cover of Sports Illustrated.

While the victory was a monumental win, it was also just one game, like all of the rest throughout the season. The Rebels had to get ready for Vanderbilt and focus on the task at hand. The Commodores proved to be a feisty bunch, and the Rebels did not put together one of their best performances of the season. Nonetheless, Ole Miss protected Hollingsworth Field for a 27-16 win.

Sitting at 5-0 and No. 3 in the country, the Rebels had a big target on their backs and were getting everyone's best shot. Vanderbilt did it the week before, so it would be no surprise that Florida would do the same, especially under the lights of The Swamp. A perfect storm was brewing down in Gainesville. One week prior, Jim McElwain's Florida team rallied from 13 points down in the fourth quarter to shock Tennessee and keep the Gators' perfect season alive. The win seemed to have given Florida some new-found confidence, and that proved to be the case when UF and Ole Miss took the field. Florida came out firing on all cylinders; the offense converted on third downs to march down the field, while the defense kept the high-octane Ole Miss offense in-check and forced four turnovers. The result was a 38-10 win for Florida, handing the Rebels their first loss of the season.

The setback proved the difficulty of not only going undefeated throughout the season, but it also brought out the grind of playing in the SEC, especially away from home. The Rebels returned to their winning ways with a 52-3 thumping of New Mexico State Saturday afternoon as part of the Homecoming festivities. The offense racked up a season-high 665 yards, while the Landshark defense allowed a season-low 239 total yards.

Where We Stand

After taking a look at the first half of the season, let's bring things up to the present time. Ole Miss is 5-1 on the 2015 campaign, winning five of its first six games for the second time since 2003 and also in back-to-back seasons. The Rebels are 2-1 in SEC play with wins over No. 2 Alabama and Vanderbilt to go along with the loss to No. 23 Florida in The Swamp. Although the College Football Playoff rankings won't come out for another three weeks, Ole Miss is No. 12 in the Amway coaches poll No. 13 in the AP poll.

Last season, the Landshark defense led the nation in surrendering the fewest points per game. While the Landsharks still have their fins up in 2015, it has been the offense that has shined brighter. Coach Freeze has developed the Rebel offense into a well-oiled machine in his four seasons in Oxford. Averaging 46.8 points per game, Ole Miss has scored 281 points this year, which already surpasses point totals in five seasons this century. That's a pretty impressive statistic considering we still have at least half of the season remaining.

Kelly leads the potent offense, and the junior quarterback stands atop the SEC in multiple categories: passing yards (1,862), yards per completion (15.39), total offense (331.08 per game) and TD passes (14). A few of those categories rank among the top 10 in the country. He's thrown for over 300 yards in four of the six games, which already ties Bo Wallace and two-time Super Bowl champion/MVP Eli Manning for the most in one season. Again, this is at the HALFWAY point of the season. Finally, Kelly's past has been talked about ever since he arrived on campus and he has tried to put that behind him to become the best person he can be on and off the field. It has shown; the young man has matured and become a leader of the Ole Miss football team.

The wide receiving corps might be one of the best in the country, led by junior Laquon Treadwell, who has bounced back from that terrible injury he suffered versus Auburn last year. Treadwell has 35 catches, nearly double that of Quincy Adeboyejo who is second on the team with 18 catches, five of those resulting in touchdowns. Adeboyejo and senior Cody Core have been deep threats for Kelly, as Core averages over 20 yards per catch to be among the SEC leaders in that category. Don't forget about Markell Pack, Damore'ea Stringfellow and Evan Engram either; that trio has combined for 38 receptions. Needless to say, Kelly has options out in space.

On the defensive side of the ball, the Nkemdiche brothers lead the way in tackles. Senior Denzel Nkemdiche's 38 tackles are a team high and Robert Nkemdiche has tallied a Rebel best 5.5 tackles for loss. The younger of the siblings put together his own highlight reel in the big win over No. 2 Alabama, earning SEC Defensive Player of the Week honors. Robert is a do-it-all athlete that provides an impact whenever he's on the field. Need any more proof? He blocked a field goal and has found the end zone three times on offense thus far. Also on the line is sophomore Marquis Haynes, who has recorded 11.0 sacks in his short time at Ole Miss, already becoming a top-10 career sack leader for the program. In the secondary, Elston has four interceptions, including two pick sixes.

Teams deal with injuries every year. It's part of the physicality of football. Unfortunately, the injury bug has hit the Rebels hard this season. Starting defensive lineman Issac Gross was lost for the season, while 2014 All-SEC honorees Tony Conner and C.J. Johnson required surgery and expect to miss at least four weeks with their respective injuries. On Saturday, a total of seven starters did not play versus New Mexico State.

Speaking of starters not playing, All-American offensive tackle Laremy Tunsil has not seen the field once this season, sitting out due to an NCAA investigation of improper benefits. Earlier this week, the NCAA finally announced its decision, suspending Tunsil for seven games, which means the junior will be able to return when Ole Miss hosts Texas A&M, Oct. 24. A fan favorite throughout his time at Ole Miss, Rebel Nation will be sure to give the big man a warm welcome when he emerges from the tunnel and steps onto Hollingsworth Field.

Looking Ahead

Fear not Rebel Nation; losses happen in college football. Yes they're disappointing, but the probability of going undefeated in a season is incredibly slim. Look at last season. A whopping zero teams ended the campaign unbeaten. The team that hoisted the national championship trophy lost by 14 points at home, in primetime, and to a team that finished the season with a 7-6 record. Florida is currently ranked No. 8 with a record of 6-0, and The Swamp has been known as one of the nation's most difficult places to play for opposing teams.

Memphis, unbeaten and ranked No. 22 in the coaches poll, awaits the Rebels. The Tigers have had two weeks to prepare for Ole Miss, and the Memphis faithful has been anxious for this nationally televised game (11 a.m., ABC). When the Tigers held on for a narrow victory over Cincinnati, Sept. 24, Memphis fans could be heard chanting "we want Ole Miss" throughout Liberty Bowl Stadium. The non-conference affair has plenty of implications. Memphis looks to remain unbeaten and in line for a New Year's Six bowl game, while Ole Miss hopes to improve to 6-1 and grab some momentum heading into the SEC West gauntlet.

The trip to Memphis will be the Rebels' third road game against a nationally ranked team. The schedule doesn't get any easier as the season progresses. Texas A&M, Arkansas and LSU will come to Oxford to face the Rebels. Ole Miss also has to hit the road for a matchup against Auburn on Halloween as well as face Mississippi State in Starkville for the season-ending Egg Bowl.

Yes, Ole Miss has a blemish on its schedule. However, the loss was against an SEC East opponent. Doing some football math, going 1-1 against their two cross-divisional opponents plus a victory over an SEC West foe (Alabama) equals the Rebels controlling their destiny to the SEC Championship game. Ole Miss' remaining five conference games are all against teams from the West, giving the Rebels control. It won't be an easy task due to the stiff competition in the division, but if Ole Miss takes care of business in each of those contests, we will be hearing "Hotty Toddy" echoing throughout the Georgia Dome in Atlanta.

Along with the vision of an SEC crown, the bigger picture is the Rebels' quest of making the College Football Playoff, which is still a possibility. Once again, it requires Ole Miss taking care of business and that starts on the road this weekend against Memphis. The sky is the limit for the 2015 Ole Miss football team. Coach Freeze and the Rebels know they have to focus on the weekly task at hand, taking one game at a time in order to get there. In this week's press conference, he mentioned the message to his team. "Do your assignment and your job to the best of your ability with great enthusiasm on that given play, and we'll see at the end of four quarters if that was good enough." The Rebels need to continue living up to their season motto and #TakeAStand.

The second half of the season is upon us. I'm sure the time will fly by, so buckle up and enjoy the ride. We'll see what happens down the stretch. Hotty Toddy!

Time to Take a Stand

It's finally here...game week! It's been 242 days since the Ole Miss Rebels last took to the gridiron for a clash of the helmets. After a successful 2014 campaign in which Ole Miss knocked off a No. 1-ranked team for the first time in school history and earned a bid to a New Year's Six bowl, Coach Hugh Freeze and the Rebs got back to work in the spring and have continued to work hard throughout fall training camp. The 2015 Rebels are anxious to run out on Hollingsworth Field inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this Saturday, the beginning of chapter four in the Freeze era.

"We are really, really excited to get it going, as I'm sure every team is," noted Coach Freeze. "We feel as though we have had a successful camp and now it is time to play."

The Rebels' fourth-year head coach fielded questions from the media on Monday, the first weekly press conference of the year
. The team's theme this year is "Take a Stand," and Freeze is optimistic that accountability from everyone will lead to a successful season.

"I like what I have seen in our attitude. I like the way we have taken care of business in fall camp - I just think when you talk about accountability, great teams understand that," said Freeze.

A veteran cast returns to help uphold that accountability. Three-year starting quarterback Bo Wallace is gone, but 18 starters are back, including seven from the nation's top scoring defense that limited opponents to 16.0 ppg last season. Five Rebels were named preseason first team All-Americans, while several others collected preseason All-SEC accolades. All five preseason All-Americans hail from the highly touted 2013 recruiting class and are now upperclassmen as juniors. One of those juniors Rebel Nation is excited to see return is wide receiver Laquon Treadwell. After suffering a gruesome leg injury against Auburn last season, Treadwell is healthy and ready to get back to action.

"I look forward to us throwing it to him for the first time, taking a hit, going to the ground and then bouncing back up and lining up for the next play," said Freeze. "I think that will bring a weird kind of smile to my face. I'll know that he's back."

The amount of talent returning is impressive, but there are also newcomers looking to make an instant impact. On offense, look for freshman Javon Patterson to start at left guard. On the other side of the ball, Tony Bridges has led the secondary in interceptions during fall camp. The JUCO transfer plans to fill the void left by All-American Senquez Golson, who is now a Pittsburgh Steeler.

Of course, the biggest question throughout the offseason has been who will replace Wallace at quarterback. The Ole Miss record holder in career total offense left some big shoes to fill, and three quarterbacks have been in competition for the job. Freeze announced today that JUCO transfer Chad Kelly will take the first snaps with the starters in practice and most likely lead the Rebel offense in its first series on Saturday. However, Kelly has not been named the official starter. Freeze expects both Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade to play Saturday, and he is confident with whoever is out there leading the way.

"It is a very close competition. I like all three. All three of them have different qualities that they bring," explained Freeze.

No matter who is at quarterback, the Rebels will be playing in front of a packed crowd at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday. Season tickets were sold out for the third straight season with a record 52,375 tickets purchased, the most season tickets sold in school history. Increasing attendance at football games has become the new normal at Ole Miss.

It all begins on Saturday at 11 a.m. CT. From the players on the field to the fans in the stands, the Ole Miss family will come together as the 2015 football season kicks off against UT Martin.

Time to Take a Stand!

Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review (April 7-13, 2015)

Ole Miss Athletics Week in Review

April 7-13, 2015

Baseball

- Ole Miss finished the week with a 2-2 mark to remain a .500 overall record for the season (18-18) as well as 7-8 in SEC play. After dropping a midweek game to Southern Miss in Pearl, Miss., the Rebels bounced back to claim a SEC road series over No. 1 Vanderbilt. Ole Miss dropped the first game before taking the final two games from the top-ranked Commodores. 

- Against Southern Miss, Connor Cloyd batted in the leadoff spot for the first time in his Ole Miss career, going 3-for-5 with two runs for a new career high in hits. Sophomore Colby Bortles added a pair of hits and two RBI, while senior Sikes Orvis drove in his team-leading 28th and 29th runs of the season with his eighth double of the 2015 campaign. 

- Bortles continued his hot hitting into the weekend. With Ole Miss trailing by four in the top of the ninth on Friday night, Bortles tied the game by belting the second grand slam of his career. The third baseman was also the last Rebel to hit a grand slam before tonight, going deep against Arkansas State, May 13, 2014. 

- After Ole Miss tied the game in the ninth, a two-out double by Henri Lartigue in the top of the 16th brought in the game-winning run. 

- The bullpen trio of Jacob Waguespack, Wyatt Short and Scott Weathersby combined to pitch 11 shutout innings. Add in starter Brady Bramlett, and the Ole Miss pitching staff kept the No. 1 team in the country off the scoreboard for 14 of the 16 innings. 

- Waguespack pitched three scoreless innings before Short added a pair of shutdown innings. 

- Weathersby was named SEC Co-Pitcher of the Week, the conference office announced Monday. Weathersby finished the game by lasting a career-long six innings and striking out a career-high 10 hitters. Weathersby retired 18 of the 21 batters he faced, including getting out of a bases-loaded jam with nobody out in the bottom of the 11th. 

- The 16-inning game was the second extra-inning game of the year for Ole Miss. The Rebels defeated then-No. 1 LSU in 14 innings earlier this season, rallying to tie the game in the ninth inning of that contest as well. The two games mark the first time in Ole Miss history that the Diamond Rebels have played two 14-plus inning games in one season. The 16-inning game also was the third-longest in program history. 

- One night after rallying behind four runs in the ninth and coming back to win a 16-inning thriller, the Ole Miss baseball team maintained the momentum by taking down No. 1 Vanderbilt for the second-straight game, 5-4, to claim a big SEC series on the road. With a victory over the Commodores, the Rebels improved to an impressive 5-4 against No. 1 teams in 2015. 

- Sophomore Errol Robinson provided the game-winning hit, a 2-RBI bases-loaded single in the top of the seventh, and the Ole Miss bullpen kept the Commodores off the board for the second-consecutive contest. 

- Senior Sam Smith came out of the bullpen to pitch two scoreless innings of relief, and Waguespack closed out the ninth to earn his first career save. For the entire series, the Rebels' bullpen did not allow a run to score in 15.2 innings of work. 

- Nine different Rebels recorded base hits throughout the afternoon as the team tallied 10 of them. Senior Austin Knight went 2-for-3 and added a walk to reach base three times. Holt Perdzock had a RBI double in his only plate appearance, and Cameron Dishon knocked in a run as well. 

- In his fourth career start, facing a No. 1 team for the second time in his career, freshman Will Stokes put together a career outing. The right-hander went a career-long six innings, surrendering four runs on seven hits to earn the first victory of his young Ole Miss career. 

- Ole Miss has won two-of-three series against No. 1 teams this season (Florida, Vanderbilt).

Football

- In front of a crowd of approximately 15,000 fans, Ole Miss closed out spring practice with the annual Regions Bank Grove Bowl on Saturday. The Blue team defeated the Red team 17-7, behind a pair of long touchdown passes, one by junior quarterback Chad Kelly and another by senior running back Jaylen Walton on a halfback pass.

- Kelly finished 9-of-19 for 104 yards with a touchdown and an interception. DeVante Kincade was 9-of-18 for 93 yards and also led the Blue team with 50 rushing yards on 10 carries, while Ryan Buchanan was 5-of-16 for 49 yards with an interception.

- Jordan Wilkins led all players with 62 rushing yards on six carries, while Eugene Brazley rushed for 44 yards on 10 carries with a touchdown.

- Damore'ea Stringfellow led all receivers with three catches for 98 yards and a TD, while Derrick Jones was the Red team's top receiver with three catches for 35 yards.

- Defensively, Fadol Brown, Issac Gross and Channing Ward led all players with 2.0 tackles for loss apiece, while both of Gross' TFLs were sacks. Cornerback Kendarius Webster finished with three pass break-ups, and linebackers DeMarquis Gates and Terry Caldwell totaled five tackles each.

Women's Tennis

- No. 25 Ole Miss won twice this past week, shutting out Arkansas-Pine Bluff 6-0 and then rallying to top Mississippi State 4-3. The Rebels earned the No. 9 seed in the SEC Championship and will face the No. 8 seed, Kentucky, in the second round Friday at 9 a.m. CT.

- The Rebels have now won 26 straight against Mississippi State.

- Sophomore Zalina Khairudinova clinched the win, rallying from an 0-3 deficit in the final set.  It marked the SEC match for her to clinch this year, as she also clinched the 4-3 win over Auburn.

- Senior Julia Jones became the seventh member of the 100-club, winning her 100th match against Arkansas-Pine Bluff.  At 27-7 this year, she needs three wins to become the 10th player to record 30 in a season.

- The Rebels finished the regular season 8-3 at home.

Men's Tennis

- No. 14 Ole Miss split its last regular season matches, defeating South Carolina 4-2 in Columbia, before falling to No. 8 Georgia 4-0 in Athens.  The Rebels earned the No. 4 seed in the SEC Championship and will face the winner of the No. 5 Vanderbilt vs. No. 12 Auburn/No. 13 Arkansas winner in the quarterfinals Friday at 4 p.m.

- This marks the 17th time for the Rebels to finish in the top third of the SEC and receive a first round bye in the tournament.

- The Rebels defeated South Carolina for the second time this season after dropping the doubles point.  It marked the second SEC opponent the Rebels have beaten twice this year, including Florida.

- Junior Stefan Lindmark became the fifth player in program history to go undefeated in the SEC at 8-0.  He owns a 12-3 record at No. 2 singles and has won six in a row. His win at South Carolina was also his 20th of the year.

- Senior Nik Scholtz clinched the win over South Carolina, his fourth clinch in the SEC and second on the road.

- In the latest ITA Attendance Race Standings, the Rebels are ranked fourth in average attendance (290) for the season. They finished the month of March third in total attendance and second in average attendance (336).

Track & Field

- Ole Miss had a very productive Friday in Starkville at the 2015 Border Clash, as Rebel athletes claimed four event titles, produced 11 new marks that rank top 10 in school history, and had six results that moved them into the top 40 nationally this season.

- The Border Clash, which pitted four schools from Mississippi against four schools from Alabama, saw the Mississippi men prevail 98-93 and the Alabama women win 108-61.

- For the men, Jalen Miller won the 100m (10.34), Robert Semien won the 110m hurdles (13.98) and Dempsey McGuigan claimed the hammer throw title (210-1).

- Craig Engels and Holland Sherrer went 2-3 in the 800m with times of 1:48.27 and 1:48.63 that rank them top six in school history and top 30 in the nation this year.

- The women were led once again by the quartet of Nicole Henderson, Shannon Ray, Khadijah Suleman and Jhorden Hunter, who won the 4x100m relay in 44.55 that ranks them third in school history and No. 8 in the NCAA this year.

- Racquel Moses was runner-up in the 400m hurdles (59.55) and Britt Ummels was runner-up in the 1500m (4:28.61).

- Ole Miss men who rank top 50 in the NCAA are Phillip Young in the triple jump (12th, 52-2.75), Miller in the 100m (17th, 10.34), McGuigan in the hammer (17th, 212-7), Engels in the 800m (19th, 1:48.27), Sherrer in the 800m (26th, 1:48.63), Semien in the 110m hurdles (28th, 13.98), Trevor Gilley in the 1500m (41st, 3:56.60), Adam Aguirre in the high jump (45th, 6-10.75), Branden Greene in the high jump (45th, 6-10.75) and Nathan Loe in the hammer (46th, 202-3).

- Ole Miss women who rank top 50 in the NCAA are Ray in the 100m (8th, 11.41), the 4x100m relay (8th, 44.55), Kierra White in the long jump (30th, 20-1), Hunter in the 100m (36th, 11.58), Moses in the 400m hurdles (37th, 59.55) and Fabia McDonald in the long jump (47th, 19-8.25).

Softball

- The Rebels continue to show improvement in the first year under the direction of head coach Mike Smith, improving in the win column and in statistical categories upon recent previous seasons. 

- The Rebels have 35 home runs on the season after hitting only 31 home runs a year ago. Freshman 1B Alex Schneider leads the Rebels with eight home runs on the year, while 10 different players have home runs - including eight with multiple home runs. 

- Ole Miss has also successfully stolen 76 bases on the year after only attempting 60 steals in 2014. 

- The Rebels hit the 23-win mark last week, defeating Samford in a midweek contest to pass the win total from a year ago and with five wins in SEC play surpassed the win total from last season as well. It also is one win away from totaling the number of SEC wins over the previous two seasons combined by the Rebels.

Observations from the Best Seat in the House -- April 12

The baseball team claimed claimed their second series of the second over the nation's top-ranked team in dramatic fashion. The football team wrapped up spring practice. And the men's and women's tennis teams closed out their respective regular seasons and will compete in their respective SEC Tournaments this week. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- For the baseball team, the weekend turned on one swing of a bat, a grand slam off the bat of Colby Bortles to tie Vanderbilt 5-5 in the top of the ninth Friday night. The Rebels later won the game in the 16th inning and carried the momentum and claimed the series with a 5-4 win in the series finale Saturday.

"Over the years, we have played really well against the No. 1 team, and we have come out on the right side of a lot of those games," said head coach Mike Bianco. "But I don't know if I have ever been more proud of a team to come on the road against the No. 1 team, after losing a midweek game, and face a team this talented; we just played great all weekend long."

- In case you missed it, check out the highlights of the Rebels' 6-5 win Friday night, including the game-tying grand slam by Bortles and the go-ahead RBI double by Henri Lartigue in the top of the 16th.

- It was the Rebels' second series win over a No. 1 team, improving to 5-4 against the nation's top ranked team with a 2-1 mark against Florida and Vanderbilt and a 1-2 mark against LSU. And as Chase Parham of Rebel Grove/Rivals.com noted, it was the first time Ole Miss back-ended an SEC series win since 2011 against South Carolina. The Rebels also back-ended a series win over Louisiana-Lafayette in the Super Regionals last year.

- Tip of the hat to the Ole Miss bullpen, which threw 15.2 scoreless innings this weekend, highlighted by senior Scott Weathersby, who went a career-long 6.0 innings and allowed just two hits with one walk and a career-high 10 strikeouts. He came into the game with the bases loaded and nobody out in the 11th inning and struck out the first two batters he faced and then got the third batter to fly out to end the threat.

- Freshman Will Stokes, making his fourth career start, put together a career outing and earned his first career win. He went a career-long six innings, giving four runs and scattering seven hits with a walk and four strikeouts.

- With the series win, Ole Miss back to .500 overall (18-18) with a 7-8 mark in league play at the halfway mark of the Southeastern Conference series. The Rebels have 20 regular season games remaining, including SEC home series against Alabama, Mississippi State and Texas A&M and SEC road series at Auburn and Missouri.

- Aaron Fitt of D1Baseball puts the Rebels "in solid at-large position despite their .500," due in part to their No. 1 strength of schedule in the nation entering Saturday and two marquee series wins over top-ranked foes.

- The football team wrapped up spring practice with the Grove Bowl on Saturday. The Blue team, quarterbacked by Chad Kelly, got the better of the Red team, quarterback by Ryan Buchanan, by a score of 17-7. The game featured big plays for both teams, including a 66-yard touchdown pass from running back Jaylen Walton to wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow on a halfback pass. Check out the recap, final stats and more here.

- Head coach Hugh Freeze said he would have given Buchanan a slight lead at quarterback going into the Grove Bowl, adding that even if he says that he had the lead, it was so minute and so small and so far from being over, and he may feel differently after watching the film from Saturday. Freeze also entertained the possibility that the competition might continue a couple of games into the season.

- Other than Freeze saying that Buchanan held a small lead entering the Grove Bowl, the most interesting thing to come out of the post-Grove Bowl media opportunity was co-offensive Dan Werner, who said they tweaked a few things in the running game, specifically that they got some ideas from some other teams that run similar offenses. The running game, based on what coaches have said and what we have seen in open scrimmages, appears to have taken a step forward.

- Someone asked me who would be my MVP of the Grove Bowl. I would say probably either Jordan Wilkins, who finished with 62 yards rushing on just six carries, including a 28-yard run, or Stringfellow, who hauled in three receptions for 98 yards, including that 66-yard touchdown reception. 

- Perhaps the play of the Grove Bowl was cornerback Tony Bridges, who appeared to have gotten beat by the receiver, then recovered and broke up a deep pass down the sideline. Both him and fellow cornerback Tee Shepard impressed throughout the spring.

- The men's tennis team earned a split on the final weekend of Southeastern Conference play, including a key 4-2 win on the road at South Carolina that helped the Rebels earn the No. 4 seed and a double-bye in the SEC Tournament this week. Ranked No. 14 in the nation, Ole Miss can likely play their way into hosting for the NCAA first and second rounds.

- Junior Stefan Lindmark finished the season undefeated in the SEC (8-0), becoming the fifth player in school history and the first since 2009 to go undefeated.

- The women's tennis team won both its matches this past week, sweeping Arkansas-Pine Bluff 7-0 and defeating Mississippi State 4-3. With a win over UAPB, senior Julia Jones became the seventh player in program history to win 100 singles matches. With the win over Mississippi State, the Rebels have now won 26 straight against the Lady Bulldogs.

- Check out Josh McCoy's photo galleries from this past week. He was all over Grove Bowl week, from the Chucky Mullins Courage Award ceremony, to the Grove Bowl, to the other activities on campus.

- Check out Ole Miss Sports Productions' season recap videos for your Ole Miss men's basketball and women's basketball teams. Great work as always by their talented team.

- The major league baseball season began this past Sunday, and six former Ole Miss players began the season on opening-day rosters. That number has now grown to seven with the recent call-up of Matt Tracy, giving the program an SEC-best seven former players on major league baseball rosters.

- I sat down with Director of Athletics Ross Bjork to discuss the state of Ole Miss Athletics. Look for the full question and answer with him on the official website early this week . We discussed a wide range of topics that will be of interest for fans.

Quarterbacks Make Final Case of Spring Practice

At one point, co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said, all three quarterbacks had completed around 66 percent of their passes, a testament to how close the competition has been this spring. Going into the Grove Bowl, Freeze said one had a slight lead, but even that might have changed after the game itself Saturday.

"After one drill I'd like that one, after the next drill I'd like that one," Freeze said. "So, I go back and forth. In the totality of spring, going back before today, I would say that Ryan Buchanan had a lead in my mind. That certainly doesn't mean that he is going to be the starter. After today I will go back and watch the film and put it with our cumulative stats and everything else that we are judging on them. We will see where it is after today. 

"Again, even if we say that he has the lead, it is so minute and so small and so far from being over. That is everything being transparent and that is how I felt today. I might feel differently come Monday. I will watch the film this weekend and we will see." 

Junior quarterback Chad Kelly had the best statistical day of the group, completing 9-of-19 passes for 104 yards with a touchdown and an interception. Sophomore quarterback DeVante Kincade was 9-of-18 for 93 yards and also rushed for 50 yards on 10 carries, while fellow sophomore quarterback Ryan Buchanan was 5-of-16 for 49 yards with an interception.

"I feel like I really improved since the start of camp," Buchanan said. "Like I have said from the beginning, being behind Bo, you don't get as many of the first-team reps and don't go against the first-team defense. This spring, we had a chance to do that, and gradually I feel like I improved with my decision-making.

"I feel like I have made improvements, but I know for a fact that I can do way better," Kincade said.

Earlier this spring, Freeze said he expected the competition to continue into the middle of fall camp, but if it stays as close as it appears to be right now, it might continue into the season itself.

"If they are as close as they are now, I could see us going a couple games making sure we have done due diligence in naming a starter," Freeze said. "But, I do not want to do it beyond that or even if that. It wouldn't shock me to go into week one planning to give them all reps to look at how they do when the lights come on. We won't go too long like that. I don't mind playing a couple, but you need to have a guy that is your guy when the time comes." 

Revamped Running Game

Ole Miss returns its two leading rushers from last season in senior running back Jaylen Walton (106 carries, 586 yards, five touchdowns) and sophomore running back Jordan Wilkins (52 carries, 361 yards, one touchdown), but the Rebels appear to have made some changes in the ground game.

"We tweaked a few things," Werner said. "We got some ideas from some other teams that run similar offenses and it's been really good for us."

Despite just 10 healthy offensive linemen by the end of the spring, one of the areas where Freeze was most pleased this spring was the running game, and it showed in the Grove Bowl. 

Wilkins led the way with six carries for 62 yards, highlighted by a 28-yard run, but sophomore Eugene Brazley and redshirt freshman Akeem Judd had their moments as well. Walton even threw a 66-yard touchdown pass to sophomore wide receiver Damore'ea Stringfellow on a halfback pass.

"We have a bunch of good backs," Werner said. "They're in a situation where they have so many guys who are really good players that they have to compete. When you get a chance to run the ball, you better make a good run."

Jones, Hampton Among Spring Surprises

Freeze has said they are searching for more consistency at the wide receiver position, but when asked earlier this week who has been the biggest surprise of spring practice, the first name that came to his mind was junior wide receiver Derrick Jones.

Jones credited another year in the program and the confidence of playing on just one of the ball for his breakout spring. In the Grove Bowl, he led the Red team with three catches for 35 yards.

"It gives me a lot of confidence, knowing that I'm going to be in this spot and keep working at one position, and not wondering if I'm going to be a cornerback or a receiver," Jones said.

Sophomore defensive back C.J. Hampton was another name that Freeze mentioned as players who have impressed this spring. After a year learning behind All-American safety Cody Prewitt, Hampton is now competing for playing time at free safety, and he was named the most improved defensive player of the spring.

"Cody was on hard me last year," Hampton said. "He wanted me to learn. He always said I was good enough and that I had to learn it fast. I learned it, and I'm rolling with it now. I still talk to Cody a lot now."

Three and Out: Grove Bowl Edition

Three areas to watch as Ole Miss splits into two teams for the annual Regions Bank Grove Bowl on Saturday.

Can Someone Emerge in the Quarterback Battle?

By all indications, sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade and junior college transfer Chad Kelly have split reps evenly this spring. 

The coaches have charted every throw and every drill, but there does not appear to be any true separation, and head coach Hugh Freeze has said he expects the competition to continue into the middle of fall camp.

Freeze and co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner were both generally pleased with the play of all three quarterbacks in their last scrimmage, but Freeze did say that Buchanan graded out the best of the three.

What does their last opportunity to impress the coaches before summer workouts and fall camp hold? 

As with previous observations of the quarterbacks, there's a caveat: The offense is not yet at full strength, particularly along the offensive line, where the Rebels have just 10 healthy players.

Physical Play on the Outside

More than any other matchup on the field, I found myself watching the wide receivers and tight ends working against the defensive backs. The play is physical, and the players appear to take each play personally.

Perhaps the most physical on the offensive side of the ball, Laquon Treadwell, will not be participating in the Grove Bowl, but Quincy Adeboyejo, Cody Core and Markell Pack have all returned from their respective injuries. Derrick Jones has also been one of the biggest surprises of spring practice and he's another player to watch.

On the defensive side of the ball, Tony Bridges and Tee Shepard are long, athletic and physical, and they pride themselves on being able to play on an island by themselves. Kendarius Webster is another long, athletic and physical corner. Like Derrick Jones, C.J. Hampton has been another surprise of spring practice.

It should be fun to watch on Saturday.

Battle in the Trenches

The Ole Miss defensive line was one of the most talented units in the nation last year. This year, the group may be even better with a year of maturity and experience for returnees and the addition of a trio of redshirt freshmen in Victor Evans, Garrald McDowell and Breeland Speaks and junior college transfer D.J Jones.

That being said, one of the areas where Freeze has been most pleased this spring has been in the running game, a credit to an offensive line that continues to deal with injuries and a group of running backs that may have found their stride this spring. Akeem Judd is one name that has popped up a lot this spring.

Junior Jeremy Liggins, who has transitioned to offensive tackle, and redshirt freshman Jordan Sims and freshman Javon Patterson, who have both come a long way this spring, are three players to watch along the offensive line.

By splitting into two teams, with five healthy offensive linemen each, it may be hard to tell if there's any improvement in the running game on Saturday, but it's something to watch nevertheless. And it will certainly be something to watch when the Rebels will likely have a full complement of healthy players come fall camp.

Observations from the Best Seat in the House -- March 29

Ole Miss celebrated one of the most successful years in school history. The women's basketball team saw its season come to an end in the Sweet 16 of the Postseason WNIT. The football team continued spring practice, and we're now less than two weeks away from the Grove Bowl. Here are some thoughts and opinions on the week that was:

- The Ole Miss athletic department held the fifth annual Rebels' Choice Awards Monday night. Five different sports took home multiple awards, led by the football team, which took home five awards. Check out the full show here.

- The parity among the various sports and the caliber of candidates for each of the awards are a testament to the recent renaissance over the last calendar year that has included a College World Series appearance, a New Year's Six bowl appearance and an NCAA Tournament appearance in men's basketball, among other accomplishments.

- The Ole Miss women's basketball finishes the season with a 19-14 record, the best record since the 2006-07 season that ended in the Elite Eight. The Rebels lose three seniors from this year's team in Tia Faleru, Danielle McCray and Amber Singletary, but they will return a talented group that will look to lead the program back to the NCAA Tournament for the first time, also since that 2006-07 season.

- In the Sweet 16 of the Postseason WNIT, Head coach Matt Insell faced off against his father Rick Insell for the second time this season. Good read from The Clarion-Ledger's Riley Blevins on what MTSU billed as Family Feud II.

- The 2015 WNBA Draft will be held Thursday, April 16, and graduating senior Tia Faleru is ranked No. 21 in the WNBA Senior Class Elite 25. The draft contains three rounds and 36 overall picks.

- The baseball team was unable to sustain the momentum from a series win over No. 1 Florida, going 1-4 on the week, dropping both games of a doubleheader against UAB and then losing two of three on the road at Arkansas. The Rebels sit at 14-14 and 4-5 in SEC play, ahead of a midweek matchup at Memphis on Tuesday and a three-game home weekend series against Tennessee.

- The softball team also traveled to Arkansas, picking up their second straight series win, sweeping the Razorback and running their winning streak to six games. It was the first three-game sweep of an SEC foe since the final weekend of the 2012 season. They also showed up in support of the baseball team for their series opener on Thursday, before starting their own series on Friday.

- The football team wrapped up week three of spring practice with a two-hour practice inside the Manning Center on Saturday, a practice that resembled a scrimmage with 7-on-7 play and 11-on-11 live action. Check out my spring update, as well as my feature on Laquon Treadwell, who's about 80 percent back from injury.

- All three quarterbacks did good things on Saturday, and head coach Hugh Freeze and co-offensive coordinator Dan Werner said as much. Freeze also said he does not expect to name a starter until about midway through fall camp.

- Saturday was also my first live look at the team, including a talented group of newcomers. Tony Bridges, D.J. Jones, Chad Kelly and Javon Patterson have all drawn high praise from the coaches, and all four players looked the part on Saturday.

- A couple of plays also stand out from Saturday. Kelly put a couple of deep balls out there, one on the first play of 11-on-11 action and another to Quincy Adeboyejo that would have gone for a touchdown, if it wasn't called back. Another play was Damore'ea Stringfellow making a one-handed grab on a fade route against Bridges. Watching those two go against each other was something to watch.

- Here's more from Freeze about Kelly: "His arm strength is pretty dang good. He gets it out there and he puts the right amount of air under it. We threw some good deep balls with him today. He hit Quincy on one, and he threw a couple of other nice ones... Chad's arm is a little stronger than we have been used to."

- Here's more from Werner about Kelly: "It's amazing how quickly he picks the stuff up. He's been a really quick study."

- The 13th-ranked men's tennis team finished a brutal 10-day stretch that included five SEC matches, the last three all on the road in a span of five days. The Rebels went 3-2, including a 1-2 over the final three games this past week. The highlight of the week was Nik Scholtz, who erased six match points to deliver a 4-3 win at No. 24 LSU on Friday. The Rebels are now 13-6 overall and 5-3 in the SEC.

- In women's tennis action, Julia Jones won her 97th and 98th career matches, and she might have a chance to win her 100th career match next weekend. The 21st-ranked Rebels are now 11-8 overall and 3-7 in the SEC.

Freeze, Players Talk Quarterback Competition

Through the first seven spring practices, or three weeks since the start of spring practice on March 3, there does not appear to be any separation between sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade and junior college transfer Chad Kelly. 

Whether you talk to head coach Hugh Freeze, or one of the quarterback competitors, they all have one overarching goal for the position: consistency.

"We're charting every single throw, and it's really close between all three," Freeze said. "It really depends on the day. Ryan has had his great days, Kincade has done well at times, and so has Chad. We're compile it all after this week and look at it again, but it's really close."

"All of them look great," sophomore wide receiver Laquon Treadwell said. "It's still a learning process for them. They don't have a lot of experience going live against the first-team defense and doing all the things we do every day, but they all look good and they're all making plays."

Every snap and every series, Buchanan and Kincade said, it's a challenge to stay consistent and do the little things right to separate themselves in the quarterback competition.

"I feel like I have gotten progressively better each camp from fall to spring the last couple of years," Buchanan said. "The biggest thing is you have to do it life. I can sit in meetings and know exactly where everything is supposed to be, but you have to make on-the-second decisions when you're out there."

"Every day, you have to bring it, no matter where you are," Kincade said. "Anywhere you go, it's going to be a competition. You have to bring your 'A' game every time you're on the field."

Every practice, they face a defense that boasts seven returning starters from the nation's No. 1 scoring defense. 

They're also short-handed on the offensive side of the ball with only eight healthy offensive linemen as well as injuries to sophomore wide receiver Markell Pack and senior wide receiver Cody Core, joining Treadwell and senior wide receiver Collins Moore, who were already being held out.

"We can force our defense to be in some vanilla looks and we look a lot better then," Freeze said. "When they're who they want to be, it's been quite challenging to have successful plays for sure."

Injuries and Opportunities Along the Offensive Line

The Rebels were already without a trio of offensive linemen at the start of spring practice and the injury list has only grown longer three weeks into it.

"We're struggling to just stay healthy," Freeze said. "We're losing kids to some freak injuries that have certainly made reps more difficult. That's part of the game. 

"On the offensive line, we're down to about eight guys. It's a struggle. There are a lot of good looking ones standing on the sideline. At receiver, Markell (Pack) and Cody (Core) are hurt. Laquon (Treadwell) and Collins (Moore) are already out. We're facing some adversity right now offensively."

By name, according to Freeze, junior Laremy Tunsil, senior Aaron Mooris, sophomore Daronte Bouldin, junior Robert Conyers, sophomore Christian Morris, junior Talbot Buys, sophomore Davion Johnson and redshirt freshman Sean Rawling are offensive lineman that have been ruled out for spring practice.

The eight healthy offensive lineman, Freeze also said by name, are senior Justin Bell, freshman Javon Patterson, senior Ben Still, junior Jeremy Liggins, senior Fahn Cooper, redshirt freshman Jordan Sims, sophomore Rod Taylor, junior Jacob Feeley, and redshirt freshman Tyler Putman.

"We have who we have for spring," Freeze said. "Hopefully, Markell and Cody are not out significantly long. On the offensive line, it doesn't look like we will get any of them back for spring."

Freeze praised the effort of the younger and less-experienced players, stepping up and having to go a lot of reps with the first-team and second-team offenses. Of the injured offensive linemen, Freeze said he is hopeful they will be ready for summer workouts.

Those injuries along the offensive line have also presented an opportunity for younger players, such as Patterson, an early enrollee, and Liggins, who has moved to offensive tackle.

"He's getting all the reps he wants," said Freeze of Patterson. "He's having to go with the one's some and the two's some. He's getting all the reps he wants. All of them are. I'm really pleased with him. He's going to be a really good player. I'm really excited about him."

"It's going really well," said Freeze of Liggins. "He has really good feet. He's picked it up as well as I would have hoped. There are times, just like with any offensive lineman, where you get these strange looks that you really didn't work on in individual work that may be moving a little fast for him. That's not just him. That's all of them. I really think he's a talented kid there."

QUOTABLE

Freeze, on the defense: "Defensively, I'm really, really pleased. I think we have a chance to be really good on that side of the ball. Certainly, it's going to make us better going forward having to practice against the speed and length that our defense plays with."

Freeze, on Saturday's scrimmage: "It's been a very physical spring thus far. I'm hoping that Saturday, when we get there, we will have enough healthy guys to have a quality scrimmage to see if we have made some significant improvements because we have spent an enormous amount of time on technique and individual work."

Freeze, on quarterback Chad Kelly: "I'm really pleased with everything he's done to this point. It's a process. I'm very aware that any of these young men can make a decision that's wrong. He's got very little rope to do that with, but i'm really with him to this point. He studies film. He's a competitor. He's a team guy. That's been my experience with him thus far."

Freeze, on cornerback Tony Bridges: "He's a long, athletic corner and he's physical. Him and Tee Shepard, they're both playing really well at corner right now. They're a little too aggressive sometimes, particularly when they're on an island. They're very aggressive and long."

Freeze, on wide receiver Laquon Treadwell: "We're probably going to hold him out. He goes through all the one-on-ones and routes versus air, but we haven't put him in any team situation yet."

Freeze, on linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche: "Denzel is having a really good spring. Really solid. He's fine. He's 100 percent."

Treadwell, on Kelly: "Chad is competing. He's learning and he's making plays. Every day, he's competing and that's going to help the team a lot."

Buchanan on the quarterback competition: "They're tracking each throw and each decision, and I know I have to make the most out of every single snap and every single series I go in and do the best I can."

Buchanan, on Kelly: "He has a great arm. He can spin the ball really well. He's getting used to the playbook and getting used to having to make decisions against our defense, but he's good. He's a good quarterback."

Kincade, on the quarterback room: "It's fun competing. I love competing. If he makes something good happen, I tell him. If I make something good happen, he tells me, and we tell Ryan the same. We all share with each other."

Quarterback Competition Begins in Earnest

Ole Miss began spring practice Tuesday, and for the first time under head coach Hugh Freeze, the Rebels will have a starting quarterback not named Bo Wallace. With the graduation of Wallace, sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade, as well as junior college transfer Chad Kelly, will split equal reps this spring.

"We're going to be very thorough in our evaluations by charting every single drill that they do," Freeze said. "We'll look at stats from those. It's going to a very competition three-man deal. They will be in a constant rotation, and everyone will get equal reps with the 1's and the 2's. The main thing you want to see is who can handle hard coaching and who can understand what we're trying to get accomplished with what we have called and then being able to execute and take care of the ball, which is always a priority."

It's the first true quarterback competition in Oxford since the 2012 season, when Wallace beat out Barry Brunetti for the starting job. In that case, Freeze did not name Wallace his starting quarterback until two days before the Rebels' season opener against Central Arkansas, and it may a similar case this season between Buchanan, Kelly and Kincade.

"It would probably have to be so clear-cut for me to do that this spring, knowing the personalities of who I'm dealing with and the time between now and fall," said Freeze of naming a starting quarterback in the spring. "A lot of dynamics play into that. It's probably not going to be a clear-cut decision at the end of spring and will continue through summer workouts. It's time for that room to be the leaders of this team. With that, comes some responsibility, and we have them to understand that throughout summer workouts."

Changes on Defense

Freeze had already announced one position change during his National Signing Day press conference. That change was moving Jeremy Liggins to offensive tackle, although he will likely continue to play some tight end and "Wildcat" quarterback. But there are also changes on the other side of the ball.

The changes on the defensive side are familiar, but they are notable. Freeze announced that senior Mike Hilton, who has started a game at every defensive backfield position, will start the spring at one of the safety positions, as they try to find the best rotation in the defensive backfield.

"We think we he have a lot options (in the secondary)," Freeze said. "We're going to start Tony (Bridges) and Tee (Shepard) at cornerback and start Mike Hilton at one of the safety positions, knowing that he's played them all and can do that. If we think there's a better rotation, we won't hesitate to move them around"

Freeze also said that senior C.J. Johnson will get a look at Mike linebacker, a position that Freeze called their biggest question mark right now. Johnson was originally recruited as a linebacker and began his Ole Miss career at the position, and he will join senior Christian Russell and junior Temario Strong in looking to replace Deterrian Shackelford and Keith Lewis.

"We are going to see this spring," said Freeze of Johnson playing Mike linebacker. "I don't know (how he will perform), it is hard to say. I know he can run and tackle. I know he is smart and really understands the defense. It is a different role, playing there. But that's where we are going to put him and see how it goes this spring. We can always move him back down to the defensive line. We are going to see how he performs this spring."

D. Nkemdiche, Treadwell Return from Injury

The Rebels will be without a trio of offensive linemen in junior Laremy Tunsil and senior Aaron Morris, two returning starters, as well as sophomore Daronte Bouldin, but the Rebels will welcome back a talented trio of players in junior wide receiver Laquon Treadwell, senior linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche and junior cornerback Tee Shepard.

"I expect Denzel and Quon, both, to be back," Freeze said. "Denzel, right away. Quon, after spring break. He will do some things but not a lot this week. Robert Conyers will go after spring break also. The others, Daronte (Bouldin), Aaron (Morris), and Laremy, will not participate in spring practice. Tee will be full-go. Carlos Davis, we'll see where is after spring break."

With the injuries along the offensive line, it is a great opportunity for freshman offensive lineman Javon Patterson, an early enrollee, who was rated a five-star prospect and listed as the No. 1 offensive guard in the nation by 247Sports.com.

"I told him yesterday that we he will get all the reps he wants, and then some," Freeze said. "It's going be good for him. He's going to get plenty of reps. i'm really excited about him. He's exactly the type of student-athlete you want. He's a great kid, first, and he's going to be an outstanding player. Getting him enrolled early and getting an extra spring with him will be big for him. He will get plenty of reps to get looked at this spring."

What They're Saying: National Signing Day

Head coach Hugh Freeze and his staff landed a top-15 class for an unprecedented third straight year Wednesday. Including mid-year enrollees, the 22-member class boasts 18 players rated a four-star prospect or higher by at least one recruiting service, the most in program history, including the seventh and eighth five-star prospects signed under Freeze.

As of Thursday morning, the major recruiting service rankings currently list Ole Miss at No. 15 (247Sports.com), No. 16 (Scout.com), No. 17 (247 Composite), No. 19 (ESPN) and No. 21 (Rivals.com).

Here are some National Signing Day links related to the signing class as a whole:

VIDEO: Hugh Freeze on Ole Miss' 2015 recruiting class via CBSSports.com

VIDEO: Mississippi Teams Capitalize on Success via SEC Network

VIDEO: Hugh Freeze on troubled QB Chad Kelly: Players deserve second, third chance via FoxSports.com

VIDEO: Ole Miss' Chris Kiffin talks D-Line, defensive backfield depth in 2015 via Courtney Cronin from the Clarion-Ledger

Rebels weather hectic final few days of recruiting, writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

Roller coaster day for Rebels, writes Parrish Alford from the Daily Journal

Ole Miss: 2015 Signing Class, writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

Ole Miss Rebels QB Chad Kelly can rewrite story, writes Greg Ostendorf from ESPN.com

Why troubled QB Chad Kelly is worth the risk to Hugh Freeze, writes Bruce Feldman from FonSports.com

Here are some related National Signing Day links to stories related to individual signees:

Doral Reagan's Shawn Curtis changes mind, signs with Ole Miss, writes Veronika Quispe from the Miami Herald

Former Pitt commit surprises by inking with Ole Miss, writes Riley Blevins from the Clarion-Ledger

South Aiken's Rasool Clemons signs with Ole Miss, writes Kyle Dawson from the Aiken Standard

Linton overcomes trials to become coveted recruit, writes Courtney Cronin from the Clarion-Ledger

VIDEO: Sandy Creek's Eric Swinney talks about heading to Ole Miss via WSB

Can Swinney help Ole Miss at running back? writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

Riverside defensive end Joe Anderson signs with Ole Miss, writes Andrew Lopez from NOLA.com

Winter Garden West Orange slot receiver Jalen Julius picks Ole Miss over Notre Dame, writes Alicia DelGallo from the Orlando Sentinel

Ole Miss lands potential return specialist in Julius, writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

VIDEO: DaMarkus Lodge commits to the University of Mississippi via WFAA

DaMarkus Lodge reveals why he picked Ole Miss in exclusive with Bleacher Report, writes Damon Sayles from Bleacher Report

DaMarkus Lodge give Ole Miss a big win on signing day, writes Hugh Kellenberger from the Clarion-Ledger

Rivals.com named Ole Miss and DaMarkus Lodge the best fit in their National Signing Day Award

Scout's Take: DaMarkus Lodge to Ole Miss Rebels, writes Gerry Hamilton and Tom Luginbill from ESPN Insider ($)

Ravenwood's Jefferson signs with Ole Miss, writes Sam Brown from the Tennessean


Rebels Ink Nation's Top JUCO Quarterback

Ole Miss officially announced the signing of Chad Kelly, a NCJCAA first team All-American selection and rated the No. 1 quarterback in the nation by the all the major recruiting services. 

Kelly, the nephew of Hall of Famer Jim Kelly, looks to step in and battle rising sophomores Ryan Buchanan and DeVante Kincade for the opportunity to replace record-setting senior quarterback Bo Wallace, another former EMCC standout. 

"Bringing in a JUCO quarterback is something we gave a lot of thought to as far as creating the depth and competition we needed to," head coach Hugh Freeze said. "We followed Chad throughout the year and we were very, very impressed with the job he did running the offense for East. Probably toward end of year, once I had some face-to-face conversations with him, he came to a couple games and then the official visit, and I did my home visit with he and his family after their championship game, and I was convinced he was the guy we wanted to go on. It was something that happened over time."

"When Ryan is confident and going through his reads, he's really smart with the football," Wallace said. "DeVante is a great athlete, great player, and he has a great arm. And I have watched Chad play. He's going to be a good player, too. He's a talented kid. He signed with Clemson out of high school, and then you watch him at East. He really ran that offense well. He threw a lot of touchdowns and not a lot of picks, so he should come in and definitely compete."

The 6-foot-3, 220-pound Kelly completed 66.9 percent of his passes and threw for 3,906 yards with 47 touchdowns and eight interceptions, as he led East Mississippi Community College to a 12-0 record and the national championship. His 47 touchdowns was tied for the nation's lead and his 3,906 yards ranked second in the nation.

In limited action this season, Buchanan is 12-of-22 for 75 yards with an interception, while Kincade is 15-of-17 for 116 yards with a touchdown and has rushed for 90 yards and a touchdown. Sophomore tight end Evan Engram has seen a difference in them with the anticipated addition of Kelly.

"Our coaching staff, we recruit the best in the country," Engram said. "That's no shock to us. It's just going to better us and better this team, add more depth. We got to have depth in the SEC. That definitely starts a fire under them. I know Chad's a good quarterback, definitely, because he's coming here. We wouldn't be bringing anybody who's not good enough. That sets a fire under Ryan and DeVante. It's going to be an interesting battle."

Buchanan and Kincade have received a lot of reps with the number-one offense in bowl practices this week due in part to the coaches taking it easy with Wallace, who suffered a sprained ankle against Arkansas on Nov. 22.

"They have responded wonderfully," Freeze said. "They have had great practices the last few weeks, and I think both of those guys have bright futures. At this level, if you want to be great, you have to create competition. Both have responded really well. They're not concerned about the competition, and I don't think Chad is either. We'll get them all here in the spring and figure out what's best for the team."


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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!

    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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    in post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels

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