By Parrish Alford
OXFORD – There will be a lot of similarities for Ole Miss and Tennessee when the two occasional SEC rivals meet Saturday morning in Knoxville in a CBS national television game.
Unfortunately, many of those similarities are unflattering.
The Rebels and Volunteers are a combined 1-9 in SEC play and are last in their respective divisions.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt says he expects a well-played game in the Rebels’ first visit to Neyland Stadium since 2005.
“It’s no secret they are a lot like us, but it’s how you finish,” Nutt said. “There are still bowl possibilities for both teams. There’s still a lot to play for. We’ll get their best, no doubt in my mind, and hopefully we’ll give them our best.”
Both teams are coming off decisive non-conference wins against struggling opponents. Ole Miss (4-5, 1-4 SEC) defeated Louisiana-Lafayette 43-21 while Tennessee (3-6, 0-5 SEC) defeated Memphis 50-14. ULL and Memphis are a combined 3-15 this season.
Tailback Brandon Bolden led the Rebels’ 298-yard rushing attack with 136 yards and two scores on 18 carries. Bolden says Ole Miss needs to find another gear to earn its second SEC win.
Tennessee begins a stretch of three SEC games – LSU and Mississippi State follow the Vols – to close the regular season for the Rebels.
Nutt’s worst SEC regular season finish so far is a 2-6 mark at Arkansas in 2005.
“We’re coming off a good game, but we know we can play a whole lot better. The first thing coach Nutt asked us after the game was, ‘Is that the best you can play?’ Everybody had the same answer, no. We’ve got to go out and have our best game.”
• Nutt said he would know more today on the status of players injured against ULL: quarterback Jeremiah Masoli (concussion), offensive lineman A.J. Hawkins (ankle) and running back Jeff Scott (calf).
Nutt is hopeful that all three will be available in addition to LB Jonathan Cornell (hip) and DE Gerald Rivers (ankle) who missed the ULL game.
Nutt said Masoli did not know where he was and didn’t remember that he had scored a touchdown in the minutes following the hit he took from a linebacker on his 6-yard scoring play.
By the fourth quarter Masoli’s memory was much better, and he was asking to go back into the game.
• Nutt said improved practice habits and attention to detail have been the key factors in the development of right offensive tackle Bobby Massie. The sophomore was honored as SEC offensive lineman of the week after grading out 92 percent on run plays, 90 percent on pass plays against the Cajuns. Massie had four knock-downs and 11 finishes.
Increased role for Harris
• Wide receiver Melvin Harris, a 6-foot-7 sophomore, says Nutt told him to expect a bigger role this week against Tennessee. Why the increase?
“One name – Brandon Bolden,” Harris said. “That guy has been a great player on offense, and with everybody putting eight and nine in the box to try and stop him, it helps out my game.”
Nutt expects Masoli to be his Saturday starter, but backup quarterback Nathan Stanley will get extra attention in practice until Masoli is cleared.
Stanley was 6 for 14 passing with no touchdowns and no turnovers against the Cajuns. It was his first extensive action since throwing three touchdown passes in the season opener against Jacksonville State.
Masoli begins the week as the SEC’s No. 7 passer with a 130.0 efficiency rating. He’s completed 121 of 211 attempts for 1,521 yards with 12 touchdowns and seven interceptions.
Harris leads the team with 25 catches. He’s second in receiving yards with 334 and has three touchdown catches.
Big start for LB Marry
• If Cornell is back in the mix as expected, it’s unclear what Mike Marry’s role will be.
Marry, a freshman from Largo, Fla., certainly made his case for an expanded role with 11 tackles and three tackles for loss in his first college start.
“It felt good. It felt real good. I was a little nervous at first, but after the first play the nervousness went away,” he said.
Cornell, a senior and the team’s leading tackler with 56, sustained a bruised hip against Auburn. He missed most of practice last week but did dress out for the La.-Lafayette game.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or email@example.com.
PARRISH ALFORD / NEMS Daily Journal