Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said he was able to install about 50 percent of his up-tempo offense during spring practice.
The question of who will lead that offense remains.
Quarterbacks Barry Brunetti and Bo Wallace will battle for the starting job in fall practices.
“I said all along it wouldn’t shock me for that competition to extend into the early parts of the season,” Freeze said. “It may not. One may totally separate themselves.”
Brunetti, who transferred from West Virginia before last season, started two games and played in five in 2011. He completed 19 of 35 passes for 144 yards and no touchdowns while gaining 110 yards on 33 carries.
Wallace transferred from Arkansas State — where he redshirted as a true freshman when Freeze was the coach — to East Mississippi Community College before arriving at Ole Miss for spring practices.
Both had decent performances in Ole Miss’ Grove Bowl spring scrimmage. Wallace completed 16 of 26 passes for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He also rushed for 17 yards and a touchdown. Brunetti was 4 of 10 passing for 62 yards and rushed for a team-high 109 yards on 14 carries.
One concern Freeze has about running a hurry-up type offense is the team’s depth.
“That is going to be a juggling act in Year 1,” Freeze said. “How many consistent plays we can do of up‑tempo without putting us at a disadvantage because of our lack of depth right now I think is something that we definitely have to weigh in on.
“I don’t believe that we can go out in Year 1 with the situation we have and sell out to that for the entire game, or even for long, consistent periods. I think we would be putting our defense and offense both in some precarious situations.”
One of Freeze’s biggest hurdles is the same for any first-year coach: getting players to buy into a new system.
Freeze also has to battle consistent criticism from college football “experts” who say the Rebels won’t win much in 2012 thanks to their lack of talent while playing one of the toughest schedule in the nation. He said he instead focuses on the positives and “winning the day is the process of getting out of the wilderness.”
“I’m thrilled we have a core group of guys that have bought in,” Freeze said. “I think we’re setting around 60 percent of our team that has bought in. I think you need to get it to about 80 percent to have a fighting chance.
“Hopefully, we can get that done before the fall.”
Freeze said the leaders among the group who have “bought in” include defensive back Charles Sawyer, who he called a “maniac” in the weight room, linebacker Mike Marry and receiver Donte Moncrief.
Freeze was asked about the importance of the annual Egg Bowl between Ole Miss and Mississippi State and how MSU coach Dan Mullen has kept the rivalry “stoked” year-round. Freeze didn’t seem ready to add to that, though.
“At this point I don’t see that as necessarily a priority today,” Freeze said. “I’m sure there will come a time when that happens again. I give credit to Coach Mullen’s staff and his kids for being able to capture the momentum. We know that Ole Miss holds an advantage in the all‑time series, just haven’t recently. We accept that. We don’t run from it.
“Our kids will understand the importance of that game, I assure you.”