By Neal McCready/Special to the Journal
OXFORD – Ole Miss’ first offensive possession Saturday ended with Ryan Campbell’s interception of Nathan Stanley near midfield.
It wasn’t the start Stanley, the leading candidate for Ole Miss’ quarterback job, wanted in the Rebels’ second scrimmage of the spring.
Unlike a week ago when the defense dominated throughout the opening scrimmage, however, Stanley and his offensive mates eventually found a rhythm Saturday. Ole Miss established a moderately effective running game and Stanley threw a trio of touchdown passes to give the Rebels’ offense some confidence going into the final week of spring drills leading up to Saturday’s annual Grove Bowl game.
“I made a few bad throws there at the beginning,” said Stanley, who was 10 for 19 passing for 136 yards, including touchdown passes of 19, 35 and 33 yards to Lionel Breaux, Markeith Summers and Melvin Harris, respectively. “I made some mistakes I shouldn’t be making, but I kind of picked it up there towards the end. But I’ve got a lot of work to do.”
“I feel like he’s finally getting his confidence up,” Harris said. “Being a leader and taking on that role of being the No. 1 quarterback, I feel like he’s bringing it in and taking it on.”
Stanley’s day would have been even better had he not left a fade route to the end zone intended for Markeith Summers short. Freshman cornerback Charles Sawyer, receiving extensive playing time in place of regular starter Marcus Temple (chest congestion, cold symptoms), intercepted the pass.
“We threw too many interceptions,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “We can’t do that. We’ve got to get it or no one gets it.”
Despite the mistakes, Nutt said Stanley is taking a commanding lead over Raymond Cotton for the starting job. Cotton, plagued by a sore arm all week, was 2 for 11 passing for 43 yards.
“You can tell (Cotton) is very, very raw and behind, but then you see him out here and he makes plays,” Nutt said. “He has some ability, but he couldn’t afford to miss a practice and he missed three or four practices when you look at it.”
Ole Miss’ running game, virtually non-existent a week ago, continued to show the progress that it appeared to make throughout the last several practices. Devin Thomas rushed four times for 96 yards, including a 50-yard touchdown scamper. Korvic Neat had eight carries for 71 yards, including a 25-yard TD run. Rodney Scott and Derrick Herman added touchdown runs of five and nine yards, respectively, and Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis had productive days, combined to rush for 60 yards on 11 carries.
“What we’re most proud of is when we started off slow, we stuck with it and started making some plays,” Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator/offensive line coach Mike Markuson said. “It looked like we were a little more competitive and it was encouraging, obviously, when you catch a pass or make a long run. That’s a good sign. We’re coming.”