Ole Miss football must beef up its pass defense, if the Rebels hope to make a magical run in 2013.
As the No. 7 key to 10 wins this fall, new cornerbacks coach Jason Jones must lead a Rebel resurgence against the pass. Coming out of the pass-happy Big 12, it'll be interesting to see how Jones adjusts the way he calls plays in the SEC. That being said, the new Rebel is no stranger to the SEC, having started for two years at Alabama in the late '90s.
Last season, Ole Miss yielded 246.5 YPG through the air (No. 11 in the SEC). In comparison, five conference teams (Alabama, Georgia, Vandy, Florida and South Carolina) gave up fewer than 200 YPG against the pass.
Further, these same five clubs (plus Texas A&M and LSU) were the only conference schools to hold opponents under a 60-percent completion-percentage average per game. Not surprisingly, each of these seven teams, with the exception of a nine-win Vandy club, posted double-digit wins in 2012. That's a telling statistic.
Take note, Rebel secondary.
Limit opponents on average to under both 200 YPG passing and a 60-percent completion-percentage average per game, and 10 wins are quite likely to appear in the win column in January. Having only allowed opposing quarterbacks to complete 62.9 perecent of passes last season, Ole Miss is clearly within striking distance of falling below the magical 60-percent completion mark in 2013.
Further, only Tennessee (26) and Arkansas (24) allowed more passing touchdowns than the Rebels (22) last year. The combined record of those two teams was 9-15. Teams that yielded 17 or fewer scores through the air in 2012 (Alabama, Georgia, Vandy, Florida, LSU, Mississippi State and Texas A&M) went a combined 74-19. Again, the numbers don't lie.
Listen, Ole Miss, also try to keep scores through the air to 17 or fewer this season.
While Charles Sawyer and Senquez Golson return at corner this fall, Rebels like Carlos Davis, Dehendret Collins, Nick Brassell and Anthony Standifer should provide quality minutes in the rotation.
Additionally, free safety Cody Prewitt and rover Trae Elston will be supported by the likes of Chief Brown and Quintavious Burdette (both of whom looked solid this spring).
What about the hybrid "Huskie" position? Excellent question.
The official post-spring depth chart lists Mike Hilton starter ahead of Brishen Matthews at Huskie, but a true freshman safety named Tony Conner may well begin the season with the starting job.
The 6'2'', 203-pound Conner possesses the talent, skill and size to be an impact player from the moment he puts on a uniform. Despite being a true freshman in the SEC, the kid's got the potential to be a game-changer for the Rebel defense. Competition this summer should be fierce.
Inexperience and lack of depth (most evident late in the second half of games in 2012) were two downfalls of the Ole Miss pass defense in 2012, but that shouldn't be the case this fall. After taking their licks on big plays against teams like Texas and Georgia last fall, expect Rebel defenders to defend much better against the deep ball.
As stout as the Rebel defensive line and linebacking corps should be this year, the Ole Miss secondary should have have plenty of opportunities to create plays and cause turnovers.
In order to finish the year with double-digit wins, the Rebel secondary and defense should set goals of allowing no more than 200 YPG passing, an average completion percentage below 60 percent and no more than 17 scores through the air.
If they come close in those categories, 10-plus wins becomes quite a possibility for the Johnny Rebs.