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Guest Blogger: Juco All-American Answers Five Questions

Let's all welcome JUCO All-American from the Ole Miss blog, Red Cup Rebellion.  We've had some making fun of RCR this season, but we put the knives away before the game to ask each other five questions on the game.  Go visit RCR and see my answers to their questions as well.  Come back and call me a moron.

OK, we all know Dexter McCluster is awesome.  So why has Brandon Bolden gotten more rushing attempts (barely, but still, what's up with that)? 

Um... in some ways your guess is as good as mine. Let me say this. In practice during the Spring and Fall, Bolden was awesome. In the spring game, he only played in the first drive, but that drive was the Brandon Bolden show. He is a threat catching the ball out of the backfield but is a power runner capable of bulldozing defenders.

The problem this season has been that because of Snead's struggles, Bolden has been removed from the game. Opposing defenses stack the box when he's in, and he doesn't get a good head of steam running the ball before getting hit. He has still been serviceable, helping us beat the teams that are significantly interior to us in terms of talent, but he hasn't been what people expected, and a lot of that falls on the offensive line.

Dexter McCluster spent the first half of the season being a receiver first and a running back second. I think that the coaches were dissatisfied with the play of other receivers not named Shay Hodge, so they wanted to put their best playmaker out there to give matchup difficulties. The problem is that they didn't really use him there. He was a diversion at best, displaying an inability to get open on routes that seemed to be there last year. But more than Dexter's problem, it was still an issue with the offensive line. Jevan didn't have time to get him the ball.

Now, the coaches have realized what they should have at the beginning of the season. Dexter McCluster is essentially un-defendable. Give him the ball as much as possible, and let him win the game. Against Tennessee, McCluster got the ball as the halfback in the I, the fullback in shotgun two-back sets, slot receiver, and even split end. So in some ways, he was used the way they intended from the beginning. The only difference is that now he's primarily a running back who plays wide receiver in some situations.

I know that's not directly to the point of your question, but I think it answers it adequately.

Ole Miss has been incredibly efficient inside the red zone this season, scoring 94% of the time, and scoring a touchdown on 77% of red zone opportunities.  Why do you think that is? 

 It's a really astonishing statistic considering the problems we've had offensively. I think that it comes down to a few things. First of all, the teams that have beaten us have rarely allowed us into the red zone. That means that the stat gets great help against UAB, Southeast Louisiana, Northern Arizona, and Northwest Southeast Direcitonal Michigan (ok... I made that last one up), but it doesn't get hurt by our abysmal performances against Alabama and South Carolina.

The Rebels have a relatively strong gameplan in the red zone. We have four options for scoring play types between the twenties.

1.       Throw a corner route or timing route to Shay Hodge.

Seriously, we do this every single time we get in the red-zone. It makes sense because Shay is excellent in one-on-one situations, but it just isn't working. The throws haven't been there.

2.       Give the ball to Dexter McCluster. Let him do something.

Yeah. As I mentioned before, he's pretty good.

3.       Run conventionally

This doesn't work all that well, but we've gotten lucky a few times running up the middle in the red zone, and Brandon Bolden, as mentioned earlier, can run really hard.

4.       Play action pass to fullback or tight end

We do this often as well, but it hasn't gotten the results that most of our fans expected. From TE drops to QB miscues, the pass to the tight end isn't working for us. The passes to our fullback in the flats work fine, but Hartman (our starter) isn't really capable of getting more than 6 or 7 yards, and you need more than that to make a play this risky profitable.

Anyway, all four options are pretty reliable, and considering that we haven't been in the red zone much against quality opponents, the statistic looks excellent.

Most people focus on the Rebels offense, however the defense is in the top half of the conference in scoring defense, total defense, and rushing defense.  Give us your thoughts on the OM defense this season.  What should cause LSU fans to worry?

First off, our highly aggressive defense does a very good job of disguising blitzes. We'll motion to linebackers up to the line of scrimmage only to have them break back into coverage on the snap while the linebacker who stayed back blitzes against an unsuspecting offensive line. Defensive Coordinator has a few faults, but he's tremendous at drawing up blitz schemes.

Also, our defensive line is pretty ridiculous. At any given time, two defensive linemen are in the game who specialize in rushing the passer. The other two are good at stuffing the run. Our pass rushing specialists are DE Kentrell Lockett, DE Emmanuel Stephens, DT Jerrell Powe, and DT Lamarck Armour. All four are capable at getting into the backfield and disrupting the play. Our run stuffers are DE Marcus Tillman, DT Ted Laurent, and DT Lawon Scott. They're big bodies who excel at filling up holes and letting the linebackers make plays.

Our linebackers were a weakness at the beginning of the season, but they're starting to play very well. MLB Jonathan Cornell and WLB Allen Walker are both very complete players who can follow the ball well. SLB Patrick Trahan is a blitzing specialist, but he's not bad in coverage. There's no one in this group that's terrifying, but they're all adequate.

The secondary is certainly the weakness of the unit, but it's not awful either. We've seen a dip in production in terms of intercepting passes, but receivers are covered better than any year I've been following Ole Miss football.

The Rebels rank 5th in the conference in passing offense and only 8th in passing efficiency, even behind LSU, whose passing offense has at times made me want to strangle the life out of Gary Crowton.  Which begs the question, what on earth is wrong with Jevan Snead?

 Jevan's issues are a combination of three things.

  1. He has accuracy issues.

Jevan himself struggles a little with ball placement. He doesn't have a total inability to place the football,  but he does struggle with underthrowing or overthrowing targets. This leads to balls hitting the ground in front of receivers as well as balls flying over the heads of open pass catchers. It's frustrating.

  1. The offensive line has been consistently bad

We have struggled in pass protection all season. Jevan was even flushed out of the pocket by Memphis. It has been tough and has obviously gotten into his head. He has happy feet now, a new development for Snead. Last season, he was poised and calm in the pocket. This year, he's frightened. Couple this with Jevan's gunslinger (Brett Favre buzzword) mentality and accuracy issues, and it's a recipe for disaster.

  1. Receivers that aren't wearing #3 drop passes

None of us really know what we're going to do next year without Shay Hodge. Jevan often stares him down on plays, but who can blame him considering the fact that Hodge is the only receiver on our team who is reliable to catch the football. True freshman Pat Patterson has good hands too, but he can't get open very often. The other receivers on our team are just disappointing. Because of this issue, when teams have taken away Hodge, we haven't had an answer.

We try to avoid predictions at ATVS, but since you asked me, I might as well return the favor: what's the likely outcome of this game and why? 

Yeah. We try to force people to make predictions in order to later look silly. I'm actually the one who writes our prediction on Friday, and I've looked ridiculous three SEC weeks in a row. I said the Rebels would:

  1. Lose to Arkansas
  2. Beat Auburn
  3. Lose to Tennessee

I guess I'll predict LSU wins this one?

Let me explain.

LSU's offense has struggled a good bit, and if Jordan Jefferson isn't 100% ready to go, our defense will stifle you. We can stop the run when there's not a legitimate threat to pass. The times we have trouble against the rushing game are when quarterbacks can scramble or opposing teams call a lot of misdirection draws in odd situations. I imagine that Keiland Williams will be used in a generally normal way as a halfback and not in some sort of innovative spread gimmick. We can probably stop him at that. Even with a healthy Jefferson, I'm not concerned about your passing game. Sure, you have two excellent receivers, but we haven't seen many games where even Jefferson could get them the ball in space on a regular basis.

Now, I'm very afraid of your defense. I think that in the wrong situation, you could stuff us and make us look like Alabama and South Carolina did. The only thing I think we have going for us in that matchup is Dexter McCluster. You may be able to hold him in check, but he's going to have a few big plays, and that may be the difference in a low scoring affair.

So yeah. Ole Miss has the edge, but in a surprise twist (to please the sports gods), I'm predicting LSU to inexplicably win the game by three.

In reality, I think the Rebels will win 17-14.