CATEGORY: FOC College Football



Noel Mazzone, father of three young children, understands the growing up process. He also understands it in relationship to his offensive unit at Ole Miss.

“Last year, we were crawling,” Mazzone said. “This year, there are days when I see us up on our feet and walking around a little bit.”

When Tommy Tuberville was named head coach, he promised the Rebels would have a one-back, pro-style offense that would offer excitement and “take us into the next century.”

Mazzone was painfully aware the offense he inherited ranked no better than No. 10 in any statistical category in the 12-team SEC. The rapport between players and the coaching staff was strained.

“I also knew I was sitting in my office in Minnesota (quarterbacks coach) and looked out the window with about eight feet of snow on the ground. When Tommy called and asked me if I’d come, it took me about a second to say yes.”

Last season, Mazzone set modest goals, beginning with building personal relationships between staff members and players. “A lot of coaches and players at other schools talk about being a family, but it’s lip service. Here, we mean it.”

On the field, the numbers goals weren’t modest: 25-400-150-250-0. Those numbers were to reflect per game averages of points, total yardage, rushing offense, passing offense and turnovers.

“I knew those goals were very high, but I believe in high goals. But more than one person laughed at us,” Mazzone said. “We didn’t reach those goals every game, but people stopped laughing at us and started paying attention to our offense.”

The final numbers output was 19-346-125-221-1.5. A definite improvement in each category from the previous season. Not bad. Especially with a team that was learning to walk.

The red zone ceases to exist

Mazzone, who refuses to criticize any individual player to the press, knows the areas that need improvement. Ole Miss struggled in the red zone, inside the opponent’s 20-yard line. There were a few individual disappointments and precious little depth.

“If the situation had been perfect, I wouldn’t have been hired,” Mazzone said. “But we’re on the way. We’ve recruited good players. We’re getting more familiar with this offense. We’re not thoroughbreds yet, but at least we’re colts that will eventually grow up.”

Figuring in to the immediate future is quarterback Paul Head, who played well after spelling Josh Nelson in the final three games last year. Head was 24-of-41 for 401 yards and five touchdowns in selected scrimmages charted by Mazzone.

Running back Artie Moore has been the biggest surprise of the spring, while Mazzone believes his offensive line “is a little more solid and definitely deeper” than it was at this time last year. Omar Edwards, Skip Joyce and redshirt freshman Joey Embry have been productive.

Wideout Ta’Boris Fisher and tight end Kris Mangum, an All-America candidate, remain the featured performers.

“We think we’ve solved a lot of our problems in the red zone,” Mazzone said. “From now on, it’s the green zone. We don’t want our players to get down there and stop. We want them to get down there and go.

“This spring, we’ve really emphasized two things. Protect the ball. Finish the drives. I’m never going to be happy until we’re perfect. But we’re better; we’re better.”

Chris Burrows covers Ole Miss football for the Daily Journal

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