By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
FRESNO, Calif. – On its first trip to play football in California, Ole Miss took a step forward on offense and a big step into the win column.
With Randall Mackey becoming the Rebels’ third starting quarterback this season, Ole Miss (2-3) knocked off Fresno State 38-28 before a less-than-full Bulldog Stadium on Saturday night.
Fresno State (2-3) played an SEC opponent at home for the first time.
Ole Miss kicker Bryson Rose had an extra point blocked in the first quarter, a play that loomed large when the Rebels trailed 28-27 after three.
But the Rebels capped a 15-play, 85-yard drive with a 12-yard touchdown run by Jeff Scott, and a two-point pass from Mackey to Donte Moncrief gave Ole Miss a 35-28 lead with 8 minutes, 49 seconds remaining.
Scott had just 21 rushing yards in the first half but finished with a career-high 140 yards and two touchdowns on 25 carries, one of them a 69-yard scoring run.
With a chance to put the game out of reach, Scott was stopped inside the 1, and the Rebels settled for Rose’s extra-point-distance field goal, a 24-yarder, to go up 38-28 at the 3:42 mark.
Ole Miss tailback Brandon Bolden looked as strong as he has since sustaining a fractured ankle in the season opener against Brigham Young with touchdown runs of 21 and 12 yards and 33 yards on three carries in the first half as the Rebels built a 20-14 lead.
Bolden’s patience and acceleration were evident on his first score as the waited a split second at the line then burst through a gap on the left side.
On his second touchdown run, Bolden ran right, then cut left, broke two tackles and turned the corner to get to the end zone.
The Rebels also scored on a 22-yard pass from Mackey to Melvin Harris.
At halftime, Mackey was just 4 for 10 passing but had passed for 114 yards. He had also scrambled – no called runs – for 33 yards on three carries.
A welcome sight
The points and yardage were a welcome sight for a unit that ranked No. 102 or lower in every major category on offense in the NCAA statistics.
The only problem? Through three quarters, Ole Miss rarely could slow down the Fresno State combo of quarterback Derek Carr and running back Robbie Rouse.
The small and shifty Rouse was held to 22 yards on seven carries in Oxford last year, but Rouse took advantage of an offensive line that held its blocks well and had more than 100 yards three quarters in.
Carr teamed with his deep threat, Jalen Saunders, to exploit the Ole Miss secondary.
The Rebels did gain two turnovers in the first half, an interception by Charles Sawyer and a fumble recovery by Aaron Garbutt that help set up Bolden’s second touchdown run.
They also came up with a big plays after Scott’s 12-yard score, smothering Carr after he bobbled a shotgun snap. The Fresno possession ended in a punt after three plays.
After Rose’s field goal the clock worked against the Bulldogs, and Ole Miss was content to give up yardage underneath as Fresno fans headed to the exits.
The Rebels took over with 50 seconds left after the Bulldogs missed a 46-yard field goal.