Happy Wednesday, everybody, and welcome to the Ole Miss Wake-Up Call — your daily sports page for everything Ole Miss sports.
Eugene Brazley knows what it means to wait your turn. Brazley has been a backup’s backup since his redshirt freshman year. He’s waited in the wings behind I’Tavius Mathers, Jeff Scott, Mark Dodson and Jordan Wilkins. Brazley had 26 carries in 2014, 22 carries in 2015 and it looked like he was destined for more of the same in 2016, until this summer. That’s when Wilkins was declared academically ineligible. Then Eric Swinney went down early in the season opener. Suddenly, Freeze didn’t have another experienced running back to send onto the field.
Finally, it was Brazley’s turn, and the junior running back from New Orleans is taking advantage of the moment, knifing his way through the Memphis Tigers for 124 yards rushing in what could prove to be the breakout performance Ole Miss has been waiting for from a running back.
“Eugene has been very patient,” Hugh Freeze told the Ole Miss Spirit when he met with reporters after practice on Tuesday. “In today’s time, no one really cares about the process anymore. Everybody just lives for a single event, which is a bad way to live in my opinion. He’s a great testament of how you really handle the process because instant success happens for very few people. It takes some patience and a lot of work. Probably some failure along the way. It was great to see him get his opportunity. The line did block well and we had a good plan. Some of those blocking schemes that ended up being the best against that defense, he’s really good at because he’s patient and he can accelerate. That does a nice job of setting up the blocks at the second level. He really had a nice game.”
Brazley showed a burst against Memphis that Ole Miss hasn’t seen since Jaylen Walton. At times, he resembled a slightly bigger Dexter McCluster, darting through holes for big gains and beating defenders to the outside to get around the edge and head upfield.
To demonstrate his quickness, here’s a Brazley stick and move from last year:
Memphis may have been Brazley’s coming-out party, but he handled his moment in the spotlight with pure class, like a guy who had seen his chance coming and already knew the right things to say.
“Yeah, it wasn’t just me, it was all the offense — the O-line, the coaches had a good game plan, we practiced all weekend and through the week,” Brazley said after the game. “We planned this, so we won the game during the week, not just on Saturday. We win the game through the whole week.”
With a work ethic like that, I suspect we’ll be seeing many more carries for Brazley this season.
If Ole Miss can keep getting bursts of yards from Brazley and Akeem Judd to balance out the passing game, the Rebels will be in really, really good shape offensively.
Wanted: a linebacker who can fill the gaps
For all of Freeze’s great recruiting, after five years there’s still one huge hole on the Ole Miss roster: linebacker. The lack of depth at the position is plaguing the Rebels defensively, and that was especially true when DeMarquis Gates missed the Memphis game due to suspension.
Freeze is frustrated with the play Ole Miss is getting at linebacker, reported the Ole Miss Spirit.
“We have to find someone who can get it done at the Mike LB, and right now we aren’t getting it done,” Freeze said in his postgame press conference on Saturday. “That was not good enough tonight. I was surprised because we are keeping it very simple and we should have been able to execute tonight. I talked to them after the game and asked them what happened, and they said, ‘It was coming at them fast.’ I said, ‘Sure it is, it’s football.’ I have to communicate with them better and hopefully this open week will help us tune in better.
“We have to do a better job of getting those guys coached up. It’s on us as coaches and a staff. We took a step back tonight at linebacker and at a couple of secondary slots. We have to do better.”
Defensive coordinator Dave Wommack told the Clarion Ledger that he knows exactly how he intends to spend the open week.
“Finding a Mike (middle) linebacker,” Wommack said. “I want to see them step up, hit somebody in the hole, make their reads, fit their gaps and do all the things a middle linebacker is supposed to do. I want to see them be more aggressive in what they do.”
The Rebels hope to have Gates back for Arkansas but need more help from Rommel Mageo and Detric Bing-Dukes. If they don’t find the answers they’re looking for, Ole Miss may even look at other players.
“In our normal Huskie package, we need a D.T. Shackelford type of guy … and we haven’t had that the last two years,” Wommack said. “We’re going to look at everybody. We’re going to look at Shawn Curtis, we’re going to look at Willie (Hibbler). We’re going to be able to look at everybody that we can. They only may be able to do a few things, but they need to do them well and physical when they do them.”
This will be a position to keep an eye on throughout the season, especially in recruiting. Ole Miss has to find some help at linebacker.
Basketball is coming
There comes a time when a head coach has been associated with a program for so long that he becomes synonymous with the program itself. That’s what has happened to Ole Miss basketball with head coach Andy Kennedy. Now entering his 11th season, it’s hard to even remember who coached the Rebels before Kennedy. Kennedy has been at Ole Miss so long that his career overlapped with Ed Orgeron’s term as the football coach by two seasons. Kennedy started at Ole Miss in 2006. Orgeron departed in 2007. That’s a long time. And here’s the kicker: Kennedy is now the dean of SEC basketball coaches.
And so here we are, getting ready for another Ole Miss basketball season with Kennedy, the all-time winningest coach in Ole Miss history.
Kennedy will be trying to coach the Rebels back to the NCAA Tournament for the third time, and he’ll be doing it using his not-so-secret formula of finding talented transfers. It worked with Marshall Henderson. It worked with Stefan Moody, and now Kennedy is hoping to find success with a pair of transfers in Deandre Burnette and Cullen Neal. Burnette is the talented scoring threat who transferred from Miami. Neal is the capable point guard from New Mexico State. Kennedy is counting on the talented duo to spark the backcourt and leaning on senior Sebastian Saiz to carry the load in the paint.
Kennedy discussed his expectations of his players at his first preseason press conference on Tuesday (Video provided by djournal.com’s Parris Alford).
Ole Miss basketball gets underway with an exhibition game against Morehouse on Nov. 3 and the regular season officially starts on Nov. 11 against UT-Martin at The Pavilion.
SEC Runner of the Week
Cross country’s Sean Tobin earned the SEC Runner of the Week honor after winning the Joe Piane Notre Dame Invitational with a 5-mile time of 23:31.9. As a runner who plods out 9 and 10-minute miles, I’m here to tell you, 5 miles in 23:31 is fast.
— Ole Miss Track&Field (@OleMissTrack) October 4, 2016
Around Ole Miss sports
- Addie Forbus is a talented scorer, but she also plays mean defense for Ole Miss soccer.
- The volleyball team is seeking its second straight win when it faces LSU today.
- Former Ole Miss great Kris Mangum was named to the 2016 SEC Football Legends class.
Ole Miss today
- Volleyball hosts LSU at 7 p.m. (ESPN).
- Men’s tennis is at the ITA All-American Championships in Tulsa, Okla.
- Women’s tennis is at the Riviera All-American Championships in Pacific Palisades, Calif.