By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze declared spring football a success Saturday, though it was a little hard to follow if you were looking for traditional scoring.
The offense outscored the defense 15-12 in the Grove Bowl, using a point system designed by Freeze that awarded production such as sustained drives of 30 yards or more by the offense or stops and takeaways by the defense.
What mattered most to Freeze was that his team successfully followed through on the basic tenets of his springtime plan: effort and physicality.
“If you really want to be in the upper echelon, spring practice has to be physical. It has to be demanding,” Freeze said. “We made a distinct decision that we were going to press the accelerator a little bit and try to have an extremely physical, competitive spring. It was planned.”
The reward of such a plan can help develop a team’s mindset, but the risk can subtract a team’s players.
In Freeze’s first two springs with Ole Miss, the risk outweighed the reward.
Allowing big hits also played into the effort category.
The spring work ethic was immensely helpful for key new names on the roster – and a very important old one – as the Rebels try to develop the pass rush they didn’t have a year ago.
“Not having C.J. Johnson for eight or nine games last year really hurt our defense,” defensive coordinator Dave Wommack said.
Johnson led the Rebels in sacks two years ago but appeared in only four games in 2013 before being shut down for surgery on an ankle. It was in spring drills last year that he sustained a broken leg.
“After we lost C.J., I really don’t know how many times we won a one-on-one pass rush from that point on,” Freeze said.
Now Johnson is healthy, and the Rebels have added ends Fadol Brown, a transfer from Florida International, and prep school transfer Marquis Haynes, a member of the 2013 signing class at North Carolina.
The quickness is noticeable.
“When you run Fadol and Marquis out on the field, it just changes the way we look,” Freeze said. “Those guys have definitely changed our team.”
That’s good news for a team that averaged just 1.54 sacks a year ago, 96th in the NCAA.
Haynes had two sacks Saturday.
Now as football transitions into the off-season time of conditioning and weight-training Freeze wants to see the same effort and focus.
“I’ve coached a lot of spring football. I can’t remember one being better in the area of effort,” he said. “There are a lot of things we can clean up. I certainly believe we got the most effort out of the young men that we put on the practice field for 15 days.”