OXFORD, Miss. – In Saturday’s Grove Bowl, Ole Miss fans will have the opportunity to see the Rebels in extended action for the first time since the team’s 31-28 Egg Bowl win over Mississippi State last November.
Following the Chucky Mullins Courage Award ceremony Saturday morning, fans will head over to Vaught-Hemingway to take a look at how the team has progressed during spring camp. The annual Grove Bowl, which begins at 1:00 p.m., features a running clock and a 27-0 initial lead for the defense, as announced by head coach Matt Luke after Tuesday’s practice.
Four things to watch in the Grove Bowl
1. Rotation of the running backs
Running backs coach Derrick Nix has not settled on a permanent replacement for Jordan Wilkins, and he may not have to rely on just one back.
With talented newcomers in junior college transfer Scottie Phillips and freshman Isaiah Woullard, along with returner Eric Swinney and former defensive player Armani Linton on hand, Coach Nix has plenty of options for the running backs rotation. With D’Vaughn Pennamon and D.K. Buford out this spring with injuries, the newcomers are gaining valuable experience. It will be interesting to see who starts in the spring game.
2. Matt Corral
It’s clear senior Jordan Ta’amu is the starting quarterback for the Rebels, but how far has freshman quarterback Matt Corral come this spring?
Earlier this week, Corral said he’s comfortable with the Ole Miss offense and is benefiting from the help Ta’amu has been giving him. During spring, Corral has looked quite sharp at times. He has tremendous arm strength and looks confident standing in the pocket. Corral’s continued progression will be important since Ole Miss has had to rely on its second string quarterbacks in each of the past two seasons after injuries to the starter.
3. Tight ends
The Rebels have seven tight ends on the roster. Junior Dawson Knox led the group in 2017 with 10 catches for 324 yards. Knox is the frontrunner to lead the tight ends in 2018. The growth of Octavius Cooley and the size and athleticism of Jason Pellerin, however, does add another dimension for the offense, and may allow offensive coordinator Phil Longo to go with a two-tight end set at times.
The Ole Miss linebackers are perhaps the most-watched position group on the team. Linebackers coach Jon Sumrall knows his players have the talent to excel. “They’ve got more than enough ability for us to be successful,” Sumrall said last week.
The Rebels have six linebackers returning from last season’s 6-6 team: Zikerrion Baker, Detric Bing-Dukes, Josh Clarke, Donta Evans, Willie Hibbler, and Mohamed Sanogo. Bing-Dukes, the most experienced of the group, has been the leader and mentor in the linebacker room. Sumrall has raved about his progression both on and off the field.
“He’s seen the good, the bad, the ugly,” Sumrall said of Bing-Dukes. “I think because of that (he) is really poised. He doesn’t panic and understands the growth of what it takes to keep getting better.”
Redshirt reshman Clarke appears to have moved up the depth chart as of late.
“That dude will run and he will hit and he will trigger,” Sumrall said of Clarke. “It’s exciting to watch him get better at some certain things. He’s got some good energy and a little bit of an edge about him that I like.”
Clarke, fellow redshirt freshman Baker, and sophomore Sanogo are three linebackers from the Rebels’ 2017 recruiting class that Sumrall will count on to strengthen the defense.
Grove Bowl info:
The Ole Miss spring game begins at 1:00 p.m. and will be televised live on ESPNU.