By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – In the slow start that has marked Ole Miss football this season, Houston Nutt feel like he’s lost an old friend.
When Nutt was named the coach of the Rebels in late November of 2007, he was known for building strong running football teams, and his first three Ole Miss squads did nothing to damage that reputation.
This one might.
If this were December and not September, the current Ole Miss rushing average of 90.5 yards a game would be the Rebels’ lowest since Ed Orgeron’s first team gained just 73.3 yards a game in 2005, 116th in the nation.
The Rebels’ current average ranks 102nd in the nation, 11th in the SEC.
Arkansas led the SEC in rushing in five of Nutt’s last six years there, and five times the Razorbacks ranked among the NCAA’s top 15.
Two of Nutt’s first three Ole Miss teams finished in the SEC’s top three in rushing, led by last year’s squad that, in spite of a 4-8 record, averaged 207.6 rushing yards and scored 28 touchdowns.
With offensive line confusion and injuries to No. 1 tailback Brandon Bolden, who rushed for 976 yards and 14 touchdowns in 2010, and his primary backup, Enrique Davis, the run game has not gotten off the ground this season.
“That’s been our biggest adjustment, and we haven’t quite adjusted yet,” Nutt said. “That’s always been something we could put our hat on, something we relied on, something we depend on. It’s been very hard. We’ve got to have a running game, we have to.”
Bolden and Davis are both getting healthier, and that could make a difference.
Bolden says the injury, a fractured ankle sustained early in the season-opening 14-13 loss to Brigham Young, hasn’t hurt him as much as simply missing the week that followed. He described himself as “rusty.”
Where’s my hammer?
Nutt has a different evaluation.
“Brandon’s not himself. Y’all know that. He’s not 100 percent. He can’t hit the hole and cut like he wants to. It’s not the same Brandon. It’s very obvious to see, very difficult,” he said. “Those two senior hammers just make a difference.”
Davis sustained a hyper-extended knee against BYU. He is expected to play this week against Fresno. If he does, it will be his first action since the opener.
In his two games since missing Week 2 against Southern Illinois, Bolden has carried 13 times for 41 yards, far different than the show he put on against Fresno State when he ran for 228 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries, one of them a 71-yard burst for a score.
It was the sixth-best rushing performance in school history. It stood out for Fresno State coach Pat Hill, but what impressed Hill even more was the option game that the Rebels haven’t been able to get untracked this year.
Ole Miss returns the trip to Fresno this weekend.
“Last year with (Jeremiah) Masoli they had the real threat of the option,” Hill said. “Masoli on the first series had third-and-12 and scrambled for 72. They had a big option package last year. That adds to the big-play dimension.”
Ole Miss rushed for 425 yards in a 55-38 win.
Hill believes the Rebels will try to pound on Fresno, and he expects to see more of Jeff Scott than he does Bolden and Davis. The Bulldogs are giving up 157.5 rushing yards a game.
In spite of the low rushing numbers for Ole Miss, Hill called the Rebels “a very capable team on the offensive side of the ball.”
That’s not the feeling among Ole Miss players right now, and Bolden is eager to see the run game the way it was last year.
“It was just guys out there willing to do whatever it took to get some yards, and that’s what we need to get back to doing. Everybody selling out every play make something happen on the field.”