K Jonathan Nichols

2003 Statistics

Coach: David Cutcliffe
40-22, 6 years
2003 Record: 10-3
at Vanderbilt WON 24-21
at Memphis LOST 34-44
at Florida WON 20-17
at Auburn WON 24-20
at Mississippi State WON 31-0
Oklahoma State WON 31-28

2003 Final Rankings
AP-13, Coaches-14, BCS-19

2004 Outlook

Fans in mourning over the loss of Eli should be pleasantly surprised as long as expectations remain realistic. The schedule is back-loaded with the most difficult conference games, so Spurlock should have time to gel with his line/receivers and build his confidence. Early tests at both Alabama and Wyoming will give competitive real-game experience for the new improv QB. As long as confidence does not inspire reckless play down the stretch, the offense will become better at protecting the ball, allowing the defense time to rest. The key will be whether Spurlock can mimic Manning's third-down efficiency and keep the chains moving because the defense will give the Rebels a chance in any close game. Expect the running game to be solid; however, yards-per-carry will be down as teams load up the box to force Spurlock to beat them. Inconsistency will lead to an upset loss along the way; nevertheless, Spurlock will make enough clutch plays to lead the Rebels to enough respectable wins for another quality bowl game. Coach Cutcliffe has the offensive mind to adjust to any defense and fully utilize his talent. A more conservative approach will be employed in 2004 to keep the program headed in the right direction. These young men will learn to play as a team due to Manning's exit, an asset most cannot see coming when the star leaves. But 21 men tend to be able to make up for what the one provided, and in this case leaders will emerge and the Ole Rebel machine will hum again. Low expectations will ultimately produce a surprising overall result to the '04 campaign, as few will see this team coming.

Projected 2004 record: 7-4
QB - 3.5 DL - 3
RB - 3 LB - 3
WR - 3.5 DB - 2.5
OL - 3.5 ..

Passing: Micheal Spurlock, 8-7-0, 118 yds., 2 TD

Rushing: Vashon Pearson, 94 att., 398 yds., 4 TD

Receiving: Bill Flowers, 39 rec., 543 yds., 1 TD

Scoring: Jonathan Nichols, 25-29 FG, 49-49 PAT, 124 pts.

Punting: Cody Ridgeway, 58 punts, 44.2 avg.

Kicking: Jonathan Nichols, 25-29 FG, 49-49 PAT, 54 long

Tackles: Eric Oliver, 104 tot., 73 solo, 3.5 TFL

Sacks: Ken Bournes, 3.5 sacks

Interceptions: Travis Johnson, 4 for 62 yds.

Kickoff Returns:
Bryan Brown, 8 ret., 22.6 avg.

Punt Returns: Mike Espy, 43 ret., 8.6 avg.


WR Mike Espy
OFFENSE: Chris Collins-WR, Justin Sawyer-C, Cliff Woodruff-OT, Eli Manning-QB, Tremaine Turner-RB, Ronald McClendon-RB
DEFENSE: Josh Cooper-DE, Jesse Mitchell-NT, Charlie Anderson-DE, Justin Wade-SLB, L.P. Spence-MLB, Travis Blanchard-WS, Wes Scott-WS, Von Hutchins-CB

Unquestionably, junior Michael Spurlock has the biggest shoes to fill of any player in the country. The Manning legacy and 45 school records may be impossible to live up to, and Spurlock must not even try to chase such goals. He is a very different quarterback than Manning, lacking size but making up for it with speed, footwork, and imagination. Though his experience is minimal, Spurlock did lead the Rebels to touchdowns on all four of his drives and has shown drastic improvements in terms of accuracy. He was a Student Sport first-team All-American as a senior who threw for 3300+ yards as he ran for 1100+. Michael can punt extremely well, too (quick kicks). He has the arm but must prove himself as a leader. If not, he will open the door for Ethan Flatt, especially if Spurlock has poor pocket-presence and/or cannot throw on the run. The 6'6" redshirt sophomore has a great physical upside; unfortunately, he struggles enough with mechanics that he'll likely be fighting to keep his backup job rather than to unseat Spurlock. Without Manning's ability to check at the line, whoever starts will be handing the ball off much more often in simplified schemes. But the running wrinkle of Spurlock could change that fact very quickly.

Running Back
The backfield finally started producing for Manning once a new star from the back-by-committee emerged every game to carry the load. Gone now is much of the depth that allowed Cutcliffe to find the hot runner from the balanced group each week. Junior Vashon Pearson has the chance to be something the Rebels haven't had since Deuce McAllister: a workhorse. He has made significant improvements each season in terms of strength and field vision and hits the holes faster than fellow returnees Brandon Jacobs and Jamal Pittman. Pittman, however, returns with the best yards-per-carry at 5.1 and the size (6'2", 240) needed to compliment Pearson as a true power back. Like Pittman, Jacobs has struggled with injuries and considering how well Pearson blocks and catches out of the backfield, Jacobs will find it hard to get on the field in any situation, barring an exceptional spring. The athletic Lorenzo Townsend made a smooth transition to fullback and now should see an expanded role as another backfield option - look for his total of 25 touches from '03 to expand.

Wide Receiver
Depth is not the question at receiver, but whether the group was as good as Manning perhaps made them look is. Junior flanker Mike Espy has a name made for highlight reel catches and a 17yds-per-catch career average to validate his big-play ability. Espy works the field equally well inside and out and will draw enough attention to allow senior Bill Flowers to see predominantly one-on-one coverage. The 6'1" Flowers will win the bulk of those battles and with his sure hands, he will be Spurlock's go-to possession receiver. The deep threat is junior Taye Biddle who is not only the fastest Rebel, but also has improved his route-running enough to have a breakout season. Senior TE Eric Rice bolsters the unit with his complete package of leadership, size and both catching and blocking ability. With depth and experience, Spurlock will benefit enormously from one of the best receiving corps in the SEC, especially on third down.

Offensive Line
The offensive line returns experience at four of the five spots, accounting for over 100 total starts on a cohesive, veteran line. Guard Doug Buckles will be a preseason All-American and one of the best pass blockers in the country. His improved run blocking, which helped Ole Miss in '03 get over 50 more yards-per-game on the ground, might be even more critical as the Rebels place a greater emphasis on the running attack. Fellow senior, guard Marcus Johnson, an All-SEC second-teamer, will help dominate the inside. Johnson has started every game since redshirting and combines great awareness with mammoth size. The former All-SEC freshman Tre Stallings however, is one of the two keys. He'll protect Spurlock's blindside and provide another big body to run behind on the left as the Rebels search for a bookend tackle. Junior Chris Spencer, a former guard, is the other key. Chris will be one of the biggest centers in America (6'4", 320). Spencer has the work ethic and versatility to lead a unit which will control the trenches against almost anyone. He was named a first-team All-American with Parade, USA Today, and Reebok's ESPN, and was the number one player out of the 20th state in 2000. Look for the line's play, as they provide a solid running foundation, to be the key for the new QB's development.

With Manning gone, the offense needs a new catalyst and the defense must be that much better. However, one of the best recruiting classes in recent Ole Miss history should inspire confidence that the Rebels are on the up and have officially wrested in-state dominance from the Bulldogs. After winning four games by four points or less, another 10 win season is unlikely; another bowl game victory and a top three SEC West finish however, is not. The Rebels return six starters but without their statistical leaders in passing, rushing and receiving, this group will not initially match the scoring records set in the Manning era. The key will be adjusting the offense to fit Spurlock's style. Coach Cutcliffe will make sure Spurlock isn't trying to win games; though, at the same time, he must give him the freedom to create, especially with talented receivers to help accelerate his maturation. Throwing deep early should loosen things up enough for the learning curve to kick in as needed by mid-season. Don't expect a red zone efficiency over 90% again because the inexperience at QB. The offense will be at its best when once the Rebels learn to wear down opponents.


QB Micheal Spurlock


Returning Starters/
Key Players
QB Micheal Spurlock-Jr (5-11, 200) Ethan Flatt-So (6-6, 218)
Robert Lane-Fr (6-3, 220)
FB Lorenzo Townsend-Sr (6-2, 235) Rick Razzano-Sr (5-11, 240)
RB Vashon Pearson-Jr (6-0, 205) Brandon Jacobs-Jr (6-1, 235)
WR Bill Flowers-Sr (6-1, 193) Mario Hill-Jr (6-1, 195)
WR Mike Espy-Jr (6-0, 195) Taye Biddle-Jr (6-1, 175)
Kerry Johnson-Sr (6-3, 193)
TE Eric Rice-Sr (6-3, 240) Jimmy Brooks-Jr (6-4, 270)
OT Bobby Harris-Jr (6-4, 300) Antonio Sanders-So (6-3, 285)
OG Doug Buckles-Sr (6-5, 305) James McCoy-So (6-3, 312)
C Chris Spencer-Jr (6-4, 310) Tony Bonds-Jr (6-4, 308)
OG Marcus Johnson-Sr (6-6, 320) Ryan Jones-Jr (6-4, 302)
OT Tre Stallings-Jr (6-4, 317) Marcus Cohen-Fr (6-5, 305)
K Jonathan Nichols-Sr (6-0, 180) Ian Turner-Fr (6-1, 165)



Defensive Line
Only DT Daniel Booth returns as a starter; still, with five juniors and seniors leading the way on the depth chart, experience will not be a major concern. Once knocked as being undersized, the line came on strong and didn't allow a back over 100yds in the second half of the '03 season. The three Bs inside, Booth, and juniors Michael Bozeman and McKinley Boykin, average 6'3", 290 and will again plug the middle. They'll have to pressure the quarterback to continue the Rebels' current 29 game streak of at least one sack because DE remains a question mark. Senior Cory Robinson needs to use his physical tools to become a playmaker while junior Jayme Mitchell must become stronger to utilize his 6'6" frame effectively. Both have untapped potential and will be the pivotal keys to defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach's 4-2-5 scheme.

Especially with only two linebackers on the field, the importance of the position cannot be overlooked. Speed is critical to roam underneath in the middle of the field and Ken Bournes will be the Rebels' catalyst. He has cut down on his DE size and, with his aggressiveness, he will fly to the ball. His athleticism compliments the savvy of senior SLB Rob Robertson. He won't have nearly as many tackles, but will play mistake-free. While senior Brian Lester provides depth and consistency, watch out for Patrick Willis. Only a sophomore, his astounding physical development has coaches talking about him being the force at LB.

Defensive Back
As hard as it might have been for Rebel fans to see B.J. Symons light up the secondary for 661yds, the humbling experience helped this unit down the stretch. Junior Travis Johnson returned from suspension to prove that at 6'1", he can be the Rebels' shutdown corner. Having been thrown to the wolves as a freshman, Trumaine McBride enters as the other leading CB candidate. He'll have to beat out fellow vertically challenged sophomore Bryan Brown (5'9") whose athleticism and leaping ability will draw attention. Soft-spoken junior Bryant Thomas is rock-solid and with his size, he would be a great pair with Johnson if he ups his aggressiveness. Fewer questions linger at safety with the return of two starters and enough young depth to offset any potential injuries. FS Eric Oliver, the emotional leader of the secondary, plays like a linebacker and will again lead the team in tackles. Junior SS Kelvin Robinson impressed everyone with his 67 tackles and should be better with RS freshman Danny Bell pushing him. Hard-hitting Charles Clark and WS Iroko Ayodele round out the Rebels most talented defensive unit.

Manning and the offense had been there for three years, yet it took an improved defense to make a run at the SEC West crown. This group will be better considering their big game experience; plus, '04 recruits Garry Pack LB and Chris Bowers DE could contribute right away. The only way they struggle is if the offense under-performs and they spend too much time on the field. Confidence in the secondary will help them surpass their 15 interceptions and the team should earn at least 28 sacks, especially if the line generates pressure. They will be well-coached and have already proven that they can be relied on to win games, just ask Ron Zook. Expect them to contain and frustrate teams; only veteran teams willing to be patient will have success against this bunch.


FS Eric Oliver


Returning Starters/
Key Players
DE Jayme Mitchell-Jr (6-6, 280) Dedrick Clark-So (6-4, 286)
NT McKinley Boykin-Jr (6-2, 285) Andrew Wicker-So (6-5, 275)
DT Daniel Booth-Sr (6-4, 281) Michael Bozeman-Jr (6-2, 290)
DE Cory Robinson-Sr (6-4, 260) Viciente DeLoach-Fr (6-4, 230)
SLB Rob Robertson-Sr (6-2, 230) Patrick Willis-So (6-2, 225)
MLB Ken Bournes-Sr (6-2, 265) Brian Lester-Sr (6-2, 246
CB Travis Johnson-Jr (6-1, 191) Nate Banks-Fr (5-11, 180)
CB Trumaine McBride-So (5-10, 180) Bryan Brown-So (5-9, 195)
SS Kelvin Robinson-Jr (6-1, 220) Iroko Ayodele-Sr (6-2, 205)
FS Eric Oliver-Sr (6-2, 215) Thad Rhodes-Jr (5-11, 195)
WS Charles Clark-So (6-0, 195) Danny Bell-So (6-2, 205)
P Cody Ridgeway-Sr (6-2, 190) Hunter Bray-So (6-1, 200)




No difficulty penciling in Jonathan Nichols here. The All-American senior and Groza finalist will be a favorite to win the award as the Rebels will be settling for even more FGs. He has an excellent chance to lead the nation in scoring and break even more school records.

Likewise at punter, there is no position battle as senior Cody Ridgeway and his 44.2 yards-per-punt will comfort Cutcliffe during the Rebels' many field-position battles. Ridgeway will make a run at All-SEC. The team will again net over 39 yards per try in field position battles.

Return Game
Mike Espy is back as a reliable punt returner (8.6ypr) while CB Bryan Brown will most likely be the featured kick returner alongside either Pearson or Jacobs. Kick coverage, like the return game, will be solid, though rarely spectacular.


Michael Spurlock didn't disappont the Ole Miss fans. Displaying a comfortable 11-for-18, 183 yard passing performance in the Grove Bowl, he's showing a solid grasp of the offense. He also gives the Rebel offense more "giddy-up" (than Manning). We'll see some option packages that will utilize those wheels. RB Vashon Pearson should be a REAL big surprise in the SEC, provided he stays healthy. The offensive line needs to hold up better than it did this spring; QBs had defenders in their faces regularly. The number of TOs must improve as well. Fumbles and INTs plagued the offensive units during practice. FB Rick Razzano was charged with aggravated assault this offseason and was placed on probation. He could miss a game or two early, depending on the disciplinary actions taken.

Defense was very aggressive this spring, especially in the secondary. These guys have great eyes for the ball. What's even more impressive is the number of turnovers returned for TDs this spring. The Rebel defense is getting the message across that if you give them the ball, they'll take it to the house! Red zone defense was also strong for the boys of the Grove. This either speaks volumes of how great the defense is or how poor the offense
is - bet the 'D' has been waiting for Manning to leave so they could start strong early (like this). DT Michael Bozeman was honored as the most improved defensive player, capping a solid spring. Charles Clark stepped into the starting role at WS and impressed everyone. He's quick to the ball and brings some real pop, which is exactly what the WHIP (safety) is called to do. The Rebels need to get solid play from their front seven and develop depth in that area from the holdovers, as well as the newcomers.

DE Corvelli Haynes (jr)
DB Larry Kendrick (jr)