By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – Melvin Harris talked about an expanded package for Ole Miss wide receivers, and his eyes brightened.
The Rebels have thrown for just 243 yards the last two games combined, a fact of little relevance – for now – because they’ve scored 97 points and earned wins against Fresno State and Kentucky.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt knows he’ll need the sum of his off his offense, not just parts, as the “A Teams” line up on the schedule.
Beginning this week at No. 8 Alabama and following with Arkansas and Auburn, the Rebels face SEC foes with a cumulative record of 15-2 and each ranked in the top 12.
Following the 42-35 win against Kentucky, Nutt said, “We can score more,” and pledged to get his receivers more involved.
That’s what South Carolina did in ending Alabama’s 19-game win streak with its 35-21 victory in Columbia last week. The Gamecocks were strong in the passing game, particularly with 6-foot-4 wide receiver Alshon Jeffery, who finished with seven catches for 127 yards and two touchdowns.
“They threw it up to a big, tall receiver, and he made some unbelievable plays,” Nutt said. “He made great catches, including a one-handed catch when he was completely covered.”
Harris, at 6-7, provides an even bigger target for Ole Miss quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, and he sees himself playing the role of Alshon Jeffery this week.
“He was a great competitor. He didn’t back down against them. I feel like I can go out and do the same thing,” Harris said.
Harris has emerged from the back of the pack to be what Nutt calls his “best receiver.” A third-year sophomore from near Atlanta, Harris has at times battled injuries, but his biggest asset in his surge in development has been his attitude.
“He comes to practice every day with a purpose. You can see it,” Nutt said.
You can also see a physical nature around the football, similar to what Jeffery showed against Alabama. Harris had two catches for 46 yards against Kentucky, once stopping his route, adjusting to the ball and coming back in front of the defender.
The idea of making that type of catch against Alabama motivates Harris.
“I’m very excited. This is one game I’ve been talking about all year,” he said. “During camp I was visualizing the defense being Alabama. I’ve been preparing a long time for this game. I can’t wait.”
Harris has nine catches for 170 yards and two scores. The team’s leading receiver is Markeith Summers with 11 catches for 242 yards and two touchdowns.
Since his Kentucky post-game comments, Nutt hasn’t had much to say on how he plans to get his receivers more involved.
Masoli, preparing for his third SEC game, said Jeffery was “tremendous” against the Tide. “You have to give him a lot of credit. He made great plays, and their quarterback threw a lot of great balls. We just have to execute our game plan. Our coaches will have a great plan, and it’s up to Melvin, Markeith and me to execute those pass plays when they’re called.”
Harris expects them to be called more.
Ole Miss players say last week’s open date was important for its rest and healing. Few spoke of its importance in developing different looks to present to Alabama.
But Harris does expect the wide receivers to be called upon more.
“We have a couple of new packages in, ready for this Alabama game,” he said. “I feel like coach Nutt has definitely expanded our roles. He’s throwing it a lot more. Masoli’s getting the ball to us great, and everything’s clicking right now.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600