Far too many players won’t be part of the plan for Ole Miss against No. 6 LSU, but the Rebels will have Carlos Davis, who turned into a team leader in special teams coverage last year.
A walk-on running back then who has since been moved to the secondary, Davis was forced to sit out the first six games of this season after the NCAA said he played in six games before cleared academically last year.
Even though depth on special teams improved with the freshman class, some starters — like Mike Hilton and Jeff Scott — and key reserves were still a part of those units.
“(Depth) took a hit this week. I think we’ve been pretty solid all year on those. A lot of that had to do with the additional depth of just one signing class that we added. Kids like Temario Strong played on every one of them. Mike Hilton. Those are two really good special teams players,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “We’re going to have to call on some guys to play even more snaps because of that. We get Carlos Davis back which will help. It’s good to have him back. Great cover guy.”
Davis didn’t start on the kick coverage unit until the middle of last season and finished with seven tackles. When he wasn’t making tackles he could be counted on to get down the field promptly and force the play inside.
Special teams depth was also a problem last year when the Rebels gave up touchdowns in the return game in the last two weeks, one of those to LSU’s Odell Beckham Jr.
Beckham’s 89-yard punt return was part of LSU’s 21-point fourth quarter, tying the game at 35 with 9 minutes, 10 minutes to play.
Coaches say that was an example of lack of depth. Cody Prewitt, the starting free safety, left the game injured, and the backup who took his place did the right thing but didn’t do it fast enough.
“The guy we punt in was a younger guy that wasn’t quite ready, but he had to step up in a critical part of the game late in the game. He did his job but got held up way longer than he should have, and when you look at the coverage he was the hole that was missing,” said Tom Allen, special teams coordinator.
While Davis has been ineligible this season Allen has used him as an example to newcomers for how to cover on special teams.