By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
Ole Miss finished its first year under new coach Hugh Freeze with a bowl game and a winning record at 7-6. After an impressive 38-17 victory against Pittsburgh in the BBVA Compass Bowl, here’s a look back and a look ahead:
Biggest surprise: Quarterback play was a big question mark last off-season. Junior college transfer Bo Wallace didn’t sufficiently answer that question in the spring and August camp but became just the third Ole Miss quarterback to throw more than 20 touchdown passes in a season. He also won The Conerly Trophy, which is awarded to Mississippi’s top college football player.
Biggest disappointment: Upon the signing of senior tight end Jamal Mosley then-Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt raved about the athleticism of his new junior college transfer.
Mosley had a chance to really impact the new offense but was inconsistent. Though he finished with three touchdown catches, fourth on the team, he had just 15 receptions, seventh on the team.
Ultimately, grades kept him out of the bowl game.
Offensive MVP: Wallace got better as the season moved along. Though he has to find a way to reduce his interceptions – 17 on the year including two in the bowl game – he showed the toughness of playing through a shoulder injury for the final eight games.
He had surgery on Tuesday.
Wallace showed an ability to stand in the pocket and was also a key element in the run game.
Defensive MVP: Redshirted as a safety as a true freshman, Denzel Nkemdiche burst onto the scene at linebacker with team-highs of 82 tackles and 13 tackles for loss. He also had three interceptions, five pass break-ups and four forced fumbles.
Emerging Star: Freshman safety Trae Elston had 61 tackles and broke up six passes. Known as a fierce hitter, Elston became a household name with Ole Miss fans when one of those hits was deemed worthy of a one-game suspension by the SEC. He started eight games.
Five to watch in 2013: Five who could play much bigger roles next season include freshman DE Channing Ward, freshman RB Jaylen Walton, sophomore CB Senquez Golson, redshirt freshman WR Vincent Sanders and senior OL Patrick Junen.
Ward showed flashes of athleticism, though his late arrival to camp cost him the chance to develop like the other freshmen. Walton was a factor on special teams and in the bowl game showed a toughness to run after contact. Golson broke up three passes and all three of his interceptions came over the last three games. His development will be affected by what he decides to do with baseball this spring.
Sanders emerged over the second half of the season as a reliable No. 2 receiver, and Junen will move into the right guard spot, the only vacancy on next year’s line.