5 Things We Learned From The Grove Bowl

The annual Grove Bowl is always an exciting time for Ole Miss fans.  And this year’s game had plenty of excitement, culminating in a failed two point attempt for the Blue team in overtime to give the Red team a 24-23 victory.  The game was full of highs (like quarterback Barry Brunetti’s 78 yard rush) and lows (like the pressure both teams quarterbacks were under throughout the game).  Here are some things you need to know about the Rebels first spring game under Hugh Freeze.

1.  The race for the starting quarterback position is still wide open after the spring
Both Bo Wallace and Barry Brunetti played well in the spring game.  Wallace is certainly the more polished quarterback of the two, throwing for 240 yards on 16-26 passing.  “Off the top of my head I thought Bo (Wallace) had the best day… he kept us on schedule for the most part,” Coach Freeze said about Wallace’s performance.  However, Brunetti is certainly the more athletic of the two and capable of breaking a big play at any point of the game, a fact Coach Freeze acknowledged.  “Barry (Brunetti) had some explosive plays too,” and while he only threw for 62 yards, Brunetti rushed for 136 yards with 78 of those yards coming on a long run to set up a touchdown to force overtime.  Coach Freeze would not give the starting job to either of the two quarterbacks after the spring game, and when asked if he saw a scenario where he would play them both come the fall he said, “That is a good question… if I had to say today we would probably play them both.”

2.  The front seven (especially the defensive line) look like the strength of this years Rebel team
Every time a quarterback (whether Wallace, Brunetti, Maikhail Miller, or even Evan Ingram) went back to throw the football he was getting pressured.  The defensive line was relentless in the Grove Bowl, especially CJ Johnson.  “CJ (Johnson) is a handful to block.  He has some explosion and a quick twitch off the edge, and we struggled with that all spring,” Coach Freeze said about his standout defensive lineman.  If the Rebels are going to be able to compete in the SEC this season they must get stellar play out of their front seven and pressure out of their defensive linemen.

3.  The lack of depth on the offensive line is going to be a serious issue for the Rebels this year
On the flip side of the stellar defensive line play is the poor play of the offensive line.  Both the Red and the Blue team struggled all game to give their quarterbacks time to throw the football, and that is not good news for the team that finished second to last in the SEC (ahead of just Kentucky) with 33 sacks allowed last season .  “That has been the story all spring,” Coach Freeze said, “Whenever we do any of our drop back stuff we get pressured.”  It is going to take more than the spring to get the offensive line up to speed, but hopefully they get their problems solved before the start of the conference schedule.  Otherwise, it could be a long year for whoever the quarterback is, and Ole Miss fans everywhere.

4.  The receiving core is extremely talented
And if the quarterback (whoever he may be) is given enough time to hit the open man expect the wideouts to make big catches and plays in space.  Vincent Sanders had five receptions for 89 yards, Ja-Mes Logan caught three balls for 88 yards, and Dante Moncrief snagged two touchdowns including one that put the Red team up in overtime.  “I asked for it the first play, but we were trying to run some other plays,” Moncrief said, “Then it came down to a play we needed.  So I said ‘coach give me a chance and believe in me’ and he gave me a chance and I made a play.”  This is the type of attitude this receiving core is going to need if they are going to make a bowl game this season.

5.  This program still has a long way to go
As good as some things went for the Rebels this spring, fans need to remember that this team is still trying to learn the ins and outs of Coach Freeze’s system.  “No I do not think we got everything in that we wanted to, but we made the most out of the days we had,” Freeze said.  There is only so much you can do during the spring, and if your team is learning a completely new system it is going to take longer than one spring to do so.  Add to the new system road games against Georgia, LSU, Alabama, and South Carolina and this might not be the best season for Ole Miss.  Rebel fans need to be patient this season, except the fact that the team is going to take some lumps, and understand that it is going to be a process to get the program where it needs to be.  After all, if Rome was not built in a day, why would you think Ole Miss football can be built in a spring?

CJ Hurt covers college football for MemphiSport.  Follow him @churtj09 for insightful tweets about college football.

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