By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – The Ole Miss offense has had its struggles this season. If Kentucky coach Joker Phillips looked at the whole season, he might describe the Rebels in less glowing terms.
But Phillips has gone back only four games and sees a unit on the rise as the Rebels and Wildcats meet Saturday afternoon at Kentucky’s Commonwealth Stadium.
Ole Miss is No. 115 in total offense, averaging 283.63 yards a game in the latest NCAA statistics release
Aside from a 141-yard performance against No. 2 Alabama, the Rebels have surpassed 370 yards in three of the last four weeks.
An arrest to quarterback Randall Mackey, a fractured ankle to running back Brandon Bolden and inconsistency on the line have all contributed to problems on offense.
“We started back at the Fresno game, and they’ve expanded their run game every week,” Phillips said. “The way Mackey’s playing, it’s evolved into more of a Wildcat offense, a single-wing offense. They have weapons in the running game that can hit home runs.”
The running game is on Phillips’ radar, because Kentucky, like Ole Miss, has struggled to hold opponents to a reasonable amount success on the ground.
Phillips felt like the Wildcats did that against Mississippi State, holding MSU to 134 yards on 32 carries.
Kentucky ranks No. 100 in run defense, giving up 196.75 yards a game.
The Wildcats got an impressive night from linebacker Danny Trevathan, who had 17 tackles, a caused fumble and an interception.
Phillips, though, was disappointed in Kentucky’s pass defense, which gave up 264 yards and two TDs.
“We stopped the run, but we gave up some huge plays in the passing game when we were covering them,” he said. “We covered them really well, but we have to play the football better.”
The run game has been a trademark of Houston Nutt teams, but the Rebels were dealt a setback with Bolden’s injury and later a suspension against Alabama.
Ole Miss got the inside game going with Bolden in the first half against Arkansas, and Bolden followed that up with his first 100-yard game of the season at Auburn.
Bolden averaged 8.8 yards a carry with 114 yards and two TDs on 13 attempts. He had a long gain of 38 yards.
“Oh he makes all the difference in the world,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee said. “There are so many plays that we have tagged for him. He can throw, he can catch, he’s such a great pass blocker, and he is good at running routes.”
Bolden’s versatility has endeared him to Ole Miss coaches throughout his career, but Phillips is focused on stopping Bolden – and others – in a running game that put up 220 yards against Auburn, a season-high.