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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!

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.

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.

Looking at CB, OL, WR and RB Depth

Sophomore defensive end Fadol Brown and sophomore cornerback Kailo Moore returned from their respective injuries, while sophomore Tee Shepard remains out with a toe injury. The results from Shepard's MRI performed on Saturday are being sent to Birmingham, head coach Hugh Freeze said, and there could be another update on his status as early as tomorrow.

"I'm always optimistic, but this is something that I'm not really familiar with," Freeze said. "It's a tendon on the bottom of his big toe. If it's completely torn, it definitely needs surgery. If it's not, there have been some who played through the year and then gotten it fixed. I just want to wait for the guys who do that all the time to tell us what they think."

Freeze remains confident in the depth at cornerback, a position bolstered by the return of Moore and the addition of freshman Kendarius Webster, who had previously been practicing in a green, non-contact jersey prior to Saturday's open practice. 

It might also mean a larger role for junior Mike Hilton who has practiced at both corner and Huskie and senior Cliff Coleman who has practiced at both corner and safety.

"The guys who we have are definitely better, and Ken Webster is added to it, now that he can go," Freeze said. "He's going to be a good player. Kailo is back. ... That's one place where we have some capable guys."

One position where depth remains a concern, Freeze said, is offensive line, where there was some shuffling Monday. Freshmen Rod Taylor and Sean Rawlings were practicing at tackle, with senior Carlton Martin moving inside to guard. 

In the center position battle, which has gone back and forth throughout fall camp, junior Ben Still and sophomore Robert Conyers split first-team reps, with Still receiving the majority of them.

Junior Fahn Cooper appears to be the backup at left tackle, if they were to be without sophomore Laremy Tunsil, as he took some reps at left tackle with the first-team offensive line, similar to Pierce Burton last season. In the same look, Taylor took reps at right tackle with the first team. 

Freeze also mentioned tight end and wide receiver as areas of concern with depth. The wildcard in the wide receiver group is sophomore Damore'ea Stringfellow, a transfer from Washington, who has run half the time with the second-team offense, as Freeze and the Rebels await word on an appeal to be immediately eligible.

"There are some depth issues there," Freeze said. "We have to stay healthy. Some of those young kids, Sammie (Epps), Markell (Pack) and Dayall (Harris) are going to be good players. Will they be ready Aug. 28? I don't know. That's a good question, and we'll see. If String's appeal would come through, that would certainly help, but I really have no time frame to know when it would be coming and what the response would be."

Running back, similar to corner, is a position where Freeze feels they have quality depth, led by juniors I'Tavius Mathers and Jaylen Walton, the team's two leading returners. Because of their experience, Freeze said you have to give a nod to them, but the other backs have also received their share of reps in practice.

"I'm pleased with all our running backs," Freeze said. "That's another place where we have quality depth. I'm not afraid to play any of them at this point. (Mark) Dodson is just like the rest of them. They're tit-for-tat in a lot of things. There are some that do some things better, but I wouldn't be afraid to play any of them."


NOTABLE

Seven different offensive linemen received first-team reps during individual drills: Cooper (left tackle and right tackle), junior Aaron Morris (left guard), Still (center), Conyers (center), junior Justin Bell (right guard) and Taylor (right tackle).

In special teams work, Pack, junior safety Trae Elston, sophomore safety Anthony Alford, junior cornerback Carlos Davis, Mathers and Walton returned kickoffs. Davis, Elston and Pack also returned punts.

Redshirt freshman Will Gleeson and freshman Gary Wunderlich split reps at punter, with Gleeson on the first team and Wunderlich on the second team. Gleeson practiced both the traditional punting and rugby-style punting but significantly more of the latter.

With junior Issac Gross out due to injury, senior Bryon Bennett has worked with the first-team defense at defensive tackle, so he would be appear to be the team's third defensive tackle in the rotation with Gross and sophomore Robert Nkemdiche. 

Similarly, freshman Marquis Haynes continues to receive reps with the first-team defense at defensive end, even with the return of Fadol Brown, so it appears to be Haynes, Brown and junior C.J. Johnson in the rotation there.

QUOTABLE

Freeze, on Kendarius Webster: "As long as he's full-go on the contact, he's physically gifted enough. Where he is understanding our stuff, he's still a little behind in that. If there's no one place that is the easiest to pick up on stuff, it is corner."

Freeze, on Mark Dodson: "He's physical. He runs with great balance and finishes with good pad level. He takes care of the football when he runs it. In pass protection, he's pretty decent. He measures up quite nicely with the rest of them."

Freeze, on Rod Taylor's conditioning: "As you go through camp, you're leg weary, but he's pushing himself to get through it. He loves to play. He's a gym rat and loves to play the game. I don't worry about his conditioning. It will get there."

Dodson, on the running back competition: "We know that when we're in there, we have to make something happen because we have another man who has the same talent as us, so we're out there doing what we can and taking advantage of every opportunity."

Dodson, on separation among the running backs: "What I think will make the difference is when we get into game situations and who can do what. Picking up the blitz will be number one thing. Can you stand your ground and know your blitz packages?"

Brown, on his foot, having missed some practice due to injury: "It felt pretty good. I felt pretty good going forward, but when I get to planting on it, it kind of bothered me a little bit, but I'm going to fight through it."

Brown, on the defense: "We're definitely executing a lot better, flying around. That's what Coach (Dave) Wommack and Coach (Chris) Kiffin stay on us about: effort. That's what we're focusing on right now: executing and giving maximum effort."

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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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