5 things Ole Miss needs to accomplish during its spring game
Name: Grove Bowl
Time: 1:00 p.m. ET Saturday
Location: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (Oxford, Miss.)
Format: Split-squad scrimmage (pending team health)
The Ole Miss Rebels will take part in an organized game for the first time since an embarrassing 39-point loss to TCU in the Peach Bowl last New Year’s Eve. The Rebels have battled injuries throughout the spring practice season, but Saturday’s Grove Bowl will still serve as a progress report on the team’s growth this spring as it aims to build from last season’s nine-win mark.
Here are five things the team needs to accomplish during its spring game:
FIND SEPARATION IN THE QB COMPETITION
All three quarterbacks in the running to replace Bo Wallace as the team’s starter will be on display during Saturday’s action, and while head coach Hugh Freeze remains adamant he won’t choose a starting quarterback until training camp, this will be the first opportunity for fans to decide for themselves who looks best. The perceived favorite is junior college transfer Chad Kelly, who has looked sharp in spring ball and has stayed out of trouble off the field. Redshirt sophomores Devante Kincade and Ryan Buchanan looked overwhelmed as injury replacements last season, but with the starting job up for grabs we’ll get to see how far along both players are as they pursue the position. Although Freeze won’t make a call regarding his starter on Saturday, it would be nice to see one guy seize the job in this high-profile scrimmage.
DEVELOP OFFENSIVE LINE DEPTH
The Rebels endured most of the spring season with only eight healthy offensive linemen, and they just raised that number to 10 in time for Saturday’s split-squad scrimmage (the format will be amended if 10 linemen can’t go on Saturday). Laremy Tunsil, Robert Conyers and Aaron Morris, three guys who are expected to start or compete for starting jobs this fall, are all out for Saturday’s action. Tunsil may be the best tackle in all of college football this fall once he fully recovers from a broken leg suffered against TCU. Thus, the Grove Bowl will serve as an opportunity for other linemen to show their worth and for Freeze to assess his depth at the position. And considering the Rebels’ injury woes up front, that depth could play a major factor when the new season arrives in September.
PROGRESS THE PLAYERS RETURNING FROM INJURIES
Treadwell is listed as questionable for the Grove Bowl, and even if he plays it’s unlikely he’ll be a full participant. There’s really no reason to push the envelope with Treadwell anyway considering he is among the best wideouts in the entire SEC and entering what is likely to be his final year in Oxford before departing for the NFL. The Rebels will benefit from the opportunity to examine guys like Derrick Jones, Cody Core, Quincy Adeboyejo and Markell Pack before Treadwell returns and before Van Jefferson and DaMarkus Lodge arrive this summer. With a new quarterback taking command of the offense, loading up with playmakers on the outside gives Freeze and his staff a lot of flexibility on offense in looking to the fall. Treadwell resting on Saturday would also give tight end Evan Engram, entering his third year in Oxford, an opportunity to carve out an ever larger role in the offense for the coming season.
DETERMINE THE PECKING ORDER AT TAILBACK
Rising senior Jaylen Walton should assume the starting job in the backfield again next season, but Walton is not a traditional back who will carry the ball 20 times a game or rush for 1,000 yards in a season. He carries the ball sometimes, he catches pass sometimes, and sometimes he watches while other tailbacks perform the more traditional roles of the position in the modern age of college football. I’Tavius Mathers and Mark Dodson have transferred and four-star signee Eric Swinney won’t arrive until the summer, meaning for a player Jordan Wilkins this Saturday’s game could go a long way in determining how much he’ll play this fall.
FIND REPLACEMENTS FOR DEPARTED TALENT
Ole Miss lost two All-American defensive backs, an All-SEC linebacker and a six-year veteran leader at linebacker off last year’s team, and Saturday’s game will be the first opportunity for fans to check out the potential replacements at those positions. For guys like Christian Russell, Tee Shepard and Tony Bridges, a strong game on Saturday could cement starting jobs for the fall; a poor showing could put them in jeopardy of losing playing time if they can’t make up for it during training camp. Final decisions won’t be made on Saturday, but it would be nice for Ole Miss to see some flashes of excellence from those players as they aim to duplicate the achievements of last year’s historically great Landshark defense.