OXFORD – The corner was in view, and the corner was what he had to have to get where he really wanted.
Two, not one, Southeastern Louisiana defenders were angling in on Brandon Bolden, a threat to take away the corner.
With one hard push of his right arm, Bolden cleared two players from his path and ran 44 yards to the 2-yard line. Two plays later, Ole Miss was on the board with an Enrique Davis touchdown run.
Bolden, the Rebels’ starting tailback, has often been too much to handle for opposing defenses through the first two games.
Scenes like the Southeastern Louisiana stiff-arm were common, though lower in number than they might be if Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt emphasized Bolden (5-11, 220) more in the offense. That day may come.
For now, the sophomore from Baton Rouge is pleased with his off-season improvement and his fast start … and wary of what lies ahead.
“It’s fixing to get a lot tougher. I’m not going to be able to break as many tackles as I did in the first two games,” Bolden predicted. “There will be a lot more sound, fundamental football.”
Having made a tour through the Southeastern Conference, Bolden has a point of reference for what comes next. No. 4 Ole Miss opens SEC play Thursday night at South Carolina.
Nutt, for now, works to include other members of a talented running backs pool into what is already a balanced offense.
That approach keeps Bolden’s carries fewer than most starting tailbacks in the SEC, but he’s done quite well with limited touches, gaining many yards after contact against Memphis with 71 yards on only nine carries and against Southeastern with 105 yards on 13 attempts, virtually all his work in the first half.
“I’m not worried about a featured back. I’m worried about winning,” Nutt said. “That time will come.”
Bolden has put himself in position to be that back when the time comes. His 8-yards per carry average is third in the SEC, and he ranks fifth among rushers with 88 yards a game.
What defenders notice is the multitude of ways he can beat you.
“The guy is so versatile. He has the feet. He can make you miss with his feet, he can run through you, or he’s a guy who can beat you with speed,” Ole Miss defensive end Kentrell Lockett said. “When you see him coming out of the backfield you have to be on your toes, because you don’t know what he’s going to give you. You don’t know what he’s going to give you.”
Much of Bolden’s game has yet to be seen. He’s the No. 2 man in the Wild Rebel, bringing a look far different than tiny Dexter McCluster when he takes the shotgun snap. Bolden completed a 37-yard pass to quarterback Jevan Snead from the formation last year, something McCluster never did in five attempts.
Nutt has been coy with his play calling so far this season, limiting the Wild Rebel and not throwing from it at all.
“We can do almost everything from it, run or throw. There’s no telling what we’ll do,” Bolden says.
When offense expands, Bolden, who has caught 11 passes in 15 games, two for touchdowns, looks poised to expand with it.
For now, he’s content with the move he’s made to become the No. 1 tailback after a season as the backup.
“I feel I’m a lot better than last year. Coach (Derrick) Nix has helped me a lot with my technique, my blocking and my vision. Coach (Don) Decker has gotten me a lot stronger and faster,” he said.
It’s been a fast track of development for a player who drew only marginal recruiting interest after his career at Scotlandville Magnet High School. Alabama extended an offer. So did Baylor and Tulane. After that, most schools had a directional designation in front of their names.
“I had three head coaches in four years. We were changing all the time,” Bolden recalled.
He’s changing still, only now it’s in physique, skill level and experience.
“We’re going to play the best guy at the right time,” Nutt said. “We’re going to play whoever is running the toughest and hardest and whoever is taking care of the ball. I feel good with where we are with our backs, and I like Brandon at No. 1.”
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal