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The Goal? Emulate Mississippi

The 2011 season was certainly one to forget for Ole Miss. The Houston Nutt led Rebels finished that respective campaign win-less in the SEC, obtained a 2-10 overall record, and were outscored by a average of 16-points per game.  Such under-performance led then Athletic Director, Pete Boone, to relieve Houston Nutt of his head coaching duties with three games remaining in the season. After coaching positions were vacated and the resulting dust settled at season’s end, Ole Miss hired a little known coach out of the Sun Belt Conference by the name of Hugh Freeze. By most accounts, this wasn’t lauded as a home run hire. Understandable when a coach, who only had one year of FBS head coaching experience, entered the nation’s premier conference. While many expected little out of Freeze, he outperformed all expectations. Not only did he salvage Ole Miss’ recruiting class with limited time (final Rivals rank 40th), he also led them to a 7-6 record after a blowout win over Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl.

Much like 2011’s Ole Miss Rebels, Kentucky had a season in which many would like to forget. Joker Phillips’ Wildcats also went win-less in the SEC, finished with a 2-10 overall record, and were outscored by an average of 13 points per contest. The lack of on field results led Athletic Director, Mitch Barnhart, to (thoughtfully) release Joker Phillips from his coaching responsibilities after an embarrassing home loss to Vanderbilt. Concluding 2012’s season, after many weeks of rumor and hysteria, the decision was finally made to hire Florida State Defensive Coordinator, Mark Stoops.  While Stoops has yet to coach a single down for Kentucky, what he and his staff have accomplished thus far is nothing shot of miraculous.  After yesterday’s signing day festivities, Stoops and Co. have done the improbable, they brought a top-30 class to Kentucky. This after many services placed the Cats 50th or below just weeks ago. The similarities between last year’s Mississippi squad and this season’s Kentucky team are incredibly eerie; knowing this, 2013’s plan for Kentucky Football should be to emulate Mississippi, a goal which is surprisingly attainable.

Something that allowed Ole Miss to compete right away was Hugh Freeze’s balanced spread offense. In his single year at Arkansas State, the Red Wolves were not only difficult to stop because of the spread, but also because of their balanced play calling. ASU ran over 1,000 plays, doing so with near 50-50 pass/ran distribution (500 pass, 516 rush). That spread attack was nearly repeated in Oxford this season as the Rebels passed on 43% of plays and rushed 57% of the time. Clearly not the same balance, but this modified spread attack was able to keep elite opponents on their toes as the Rebels averaged 28 points per game in SEC play.  Innovative offense is something Kentucky fans have been clamoring for, and our wishes have finally been granted. Last season, Neal Brown’s Texas Tech Red Raiders were outstanding at stretching defenses, passing 594 times while only rushing 399. The result: Texas Tech was among the nation’s elite offensive teams, scoring 37.5 points and averaging over 495 yards per game.  It may take a year, or even two, but this type of offense will give Kentucky a serious advantage.

Of course, Ole Miss’ spread offense requires a talented Quarterback to run the show, and the Rebels received that with JUCO transfer, Bo Wallace.  Sure, Wallace struggled initially, tossing 8 interceptions in his first five games, but after some work, he threw 22 touchdowns, completed 64% of his passes, and averaged over 8 yards per attempt last season. Additionally, his 9 rushing touchdowns gave opposing defenses something else to defend. It wasn’t always pretty, but Wallace’s maturation immediately helped guide the Rebels to respectability.  The Quarterback is highly important in Neal Brown’s Air Raid as well, luckily he has multiple options to choose from in Max Smith, Patrick Towles, and Jalen Whitlow. Provided that one can emerge as front-runner, their maturation will be paramount in Kentucky’s successes, just like Wallace at Mississippi. Luckily we have the offense for rapid growth. If you’re unfamiliar, the simplicity of the Air Raid is where its beauty lies. This “simplicity” allows Quarterbacks to quickly adapt and succeed immediately. For proof, examine players like Tim Couch, Graham Harrell, and Geno Smith who all flourished under this style of offense.  It’s a tall order, but if either Smith, Towles, or Whitlow attain even a fraction of Couch/Smith-like success,  Kentucky would undoubtedly have one of the nation’s most improved offenses, much like Mississippi.

 

The turnaround Hugh Freeze brought the Rebels in his first season was incredible; not only did they win five more games than the previous season’s total, but they also landed a monster recruiting class the following year which included the nation’s top prospect. Likewise, things are looking up in Lexington; Stoops landed Kentucky’s best recruiting class in history and brought in an innovative offense to boot.  However, keep in mind the type of improvement Ole Miss experienced is not typical, many programs take two, or even three years to trend upward after a 2-10 season.  While it’s unlikely Kentucky will be able to replicate the exact results of Freeze’s Rebels, that’s perfectly acceptable.  Often times in football, significant and noticeable improvements occur with only a slight increase in record.  But, even though the odds are stacked against Kentucky, the goal is simple; be like Ole Miss, the most improved team in college football. Judging from the level of incoming talent and innovative schemes on both sides of the ball, Stoops and his staff are certainly aiming to do just that.

 

 

Article written by Jonathan Schuette

23 Comments for The Goal? Emulate Mississippi



  1. VOTE
    8:01 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Vote Kyle Wiltjer for best 6th man! ESPN wants to know who the best 6th man is. Announced just a few minutes ago on ESPN during Indiana vs. Illinois game. #best6thman. VOTE NOW!



  2. Tierra
    8:03 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    What does this have to do with the bachelor?



  3. Tierra
    8:04 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Please quit posting this crap on here this is a bacholer website.



  4. Catlogic15
    8:12 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Interesting trivia for fans of the movie “The Blind Side”. Hugh Freeze was Michael Oher’s high school coach. Different name for movie purpose, but that’s him.



  5. Ridge Runner
    8:22 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    I’m not going to be as quick to coronate Ole Miss this early. I hope I’m wrong and I hope I am but if the NCAA isn’t breathing down their neck within 2 years, I’ll glady say I was a pessimist.

    Right now, I’m just glad we are being what and who WE are.



  6. kZ
    8:23 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Actually a really well written story…



  7. JBR
    8:32 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Yep, good write up.



  8. Roland
    8:33 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    UK football doesn’t need to be like Any other program.



  9. leedee
    8:45 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    I thought Hugh Freese was the name of a Spiderman villian.

    Boy, is my face red.



  10. Jason
    8:48 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Justified GIF for the win!!!!!!!!



  11. TaterTort
    8:52 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Just to point out one major difference: Ole Miss’s recruiting classes under Houston Nutt were much, much better in the three years leading up to Freeze’s hire than anything Joker ever did. Ole Miss’s cupboard wasn’t nearly as bare as ours is going into next year. Something to temper our fans enthusiasm just a bit.

    Ole Miss recruiting rankings per Rivals:
    2009- 18
    2010- 18
    2011- 19

    Kentucky recruiting rankings per Rivals:
    2009- 41
    2010- 50
    2011- 61



  12. JRock
    8:52 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    The only thing I might question about your article is the existing players at Ole Miss, when Hugh Freeze took over, were probably better than the existing players at UK when Mark Stoops took over. Time will tell if CMS and his staff can get us to a bowl game next season.



  13. Scott
    8:57 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Love the clip from Justified!



  14. Realistic expectations
    9:02 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Anybody expecting or demanding, or yes even thinking we will go to a bowl game next year is honestly setting stoops and themselves up for failure. 5-7 would be a big step. 4-8 is probable. It’s gonna take more than one recruiting class like that one to win more than 2 games in the SEC.



  15. BBN
    9:21 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Oxford, Mississippi, the Ole Miss campus and football facilities are also much nicer than Lexington and the UK campus / facilities sad to say. That makes a huge difference in recruiting. UK will never achieve the same recruiting results as Ole Miss.



  16. Dr. Funke
    10:31 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Hugh Freeze is the next big time coach in college football. He has a top ten class this year. Ole Miss will be competing again very soon.



  17. Bluecat
    10:33 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    This UK team will SURPASS what Ole Miss was able to do, just watch and see!, Our coaches are more innovative and have the brain skills to out perform opponents. Coupled with their youthful exuberance. Last years Texas Tech finished 2nd in the nation in scoring offense, while Stoops defense finished as the second best in Div 1 also. UK is loaded with enough skill position players to make for an “instant” turn around and THATS what is causing much of the EXCITEMENT. I can hardly wait until the opening kick off and Commonwealth stadium needs to be PACKED on April 13th for the Spring game to show support for what is now happening!



  18. NL
    11:09 pm February 7, 2013 Permalink

    Im excited, but I don’t know if 7-6 is feasible. We need to win:
    -the three easy ones
    -Missouri
    -1 of either Vandy, Louisville, and Tennessee
    -1 of either Alabama, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida
    -And a bowl game
    I guess its possible…



  19. Big Whoop
    6:06 am February 8, 2013 Permalink

    Let’s get real here. Enthusiasm is one thing, but bold predictions without context is silly. Last year, we lost to Florida 38-0 in Gainesville and Vandy 40-0 in Lexington. Arkansas beat us 49-7. UL beat us 32-14. We scored more than 20 points in only two games. We were one of the best punting teams in the country. Some, apparently, have forgotten just how bad we were last year.

    Don’t put this much pressure on Stoops in his first year with 5,6,7 or 8 win predictions. If we win 4 or 5, it will be a significant improvement from 2-10. Another 2-10 season with lower scoring and scoring margin by our opponents would be significant improvement. Beating WKU would be an improvement.



  20. bigbluelou
    6:45 am February 8, 2013 Permalink

    Great comments. Mark Stoops should be crowned “Coach of the Century” (this and last) if next years team wins 6 games and goes to a bowl. Next year will present probably the toughest schedule in the history of UK football. All the teams we are playing in the SEC should be improved and even Vandy should be a top 20 team. I am thankful that we FINALLY have a real coach and staff who truly understands what it is going to take to win in the SEC. You are NEVER going to win with 40-60 ranked classes. Never. The ENTIRE firmer staff was a JOKE (pun intended) made up of lazy old men. The truth hurts, but it is the truth. I have no ill will towards them but their results speak louder than words, especially when you compare what the new staff did in just TWO months! It is going to take a couple more top 25 classes to turn this shipwreck around. To borrow a phrase from Cal, let’s just enjoy the ride now that we have REAL coaches leading the way.



  21. Bluecat
    7:55 am February 8, 2013 Permalink

    Sorry #19, With your attitude and low expectations, Stoops would ask you to leave the room!. The “difference” presently in place is the positive energy Stoops&Staff bring to the players. There is enough talent now infused into the program to blend with the returning players when shown how to win and have that winning attitude to turn this thing around. You’ll see what i’m talking about. Stoops/Brown and company never would have accepted this job if the thought the task was impossible. You mention the former staff and players, that era is dead and buried, any and all semblances to it no longer exist. All of it represented a losers mentality.
    Beginning last Dec 2, a newbirth
    in Kentucky Football began. You
    will not recognize the product on the field. Go to the Blue/White game and see for yourself. The power of positive thinking and its only going to get better! Our returning players
    will play with “positive energy” and with an attitude not thought possible with the former staff.
    Mixed with our new players, winning is now a reality instead of an impossible dream, remind yourself that the past is no longer acceptable at UK.



  22. BillDozer
    9:13 am February 8, 2013 Permalink

    #19….talent and inexperience was definitely a reason we lost those games, but coaching played the biggest part in getting your tails whooped.



  23. stickman
    9:25 am February 9, 2013 Permalink

    Want to recruit like Ole Miss? Do like they did and start making it rain. And the lowest denomination I’d suggest is $100s.