September 10, 2008

Running game under the microscope

Ole Miss running backs coach Derrick Nix said Wednesday that he'd like to keep rotating tailbacks for as long as possible.

His boss, however, said he's just about ready to see one of Ole Miss' five running backs stake something of a permanent claim on the gig.

"I'd like to see one guy really separate," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. "That's what I'm anxious to see. I don't mind three (running backs in a rotation), but I'd like to make sure there's somebody who knows how to carry out a fake, knows how to run, how to block. There's a lot of things. A lot of it right now is by committee. Who blocks better? Who runs this play better? Who runs the draw better? Who runs the screen better? We've kind of got that going."

Nutt said the emphasis on the running game this week in the wake of this past Saturday's 30-28 loss at No. 20 Wake Forest and in advance of Saturday's 6 p.m. home date against Samford has been administered to more than just the running backs.

"It takes one guy to make a tackle, but it takes 11 to make a run work," Nutt said.

"We're going to concentrate on making the correct reads," Nix said. "We're going to trust ourselves, make a decision and play with it. We're going to play behind our pads. As a running back, you have to break tackles and you have to make a guy miss. We'll see how we do this Saturday."

Cordera Eason is slated to start his third straight game, but freshmen Brandon Bolden, Enrique Davis and Devin Thomas are all challenging for carries. Veteran Derrick Davis, who is also working at fullback at times, is also in the mix.

"We know what kind of backs we are," Eason said. "We've put a lot of emphasis on it and we're going to try to carry it over. Although I'm a junior, this is really my first year to really be playing and I guess I haven't gotten my feet wet yet. I'm just getting some experience, and as things go one, I think I'll do better."

REBELS BATTLE THROUGH HEAT: The mercury rose a little more than was expected on Wednesday afternoon in Oxford, and Ole Miss got off to a bit of a sluggish start.

The Rebels' preparations for Samford didn't remain unsatisfactory for long, however. Nutt and his staff saw to it.

"They got a little tired on us, but overall, not bad," Nutt said. "We had to jump-start, but we got into some Samford plays. We have to have a better one tomorrow.

NIX SEES IMPROVEMENT IN LINEBACKER PLAY: While Ole Miss has spent a lot of time working on its own running game this week, the Rebels were encouraged by what they saw against Wake Forest's running attack this past Saturday. In particular, Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said, the Rebels' linebackers really stepped up.

"The second game was a whole lot better than the first game," Nix said. "In the first game, I thought we were average at best. Saturday we did much better in the run game. We're improving."

BULLDOGS CONTINUE PREP FOR REBELS: Samford practiced for about two hours in shells Wednesday afternoon at Seibert Stadium.

"We had a good practice," Samford coach Pat Sullivan said. "It looked like the rain was going to get us, but we decided to come outside anyway and we had a good, spirited practice."

Sullivan said he has liked the work of the scout team this week in helping prepare the team for what it will see from Ole Miss.

"I can't say enough about our scout team and the job they are doing," Sullivan said. "I think that is giving us a chance to be better."

Sullivan added that he has seen some improvement from his team through the first two games of the season.

"I think we have gotten better," Sullivan said. "Obviously, this week will be our biggest test by far. What we have to do is just keep playing our game and work to get better, and that will be our goal."

Samford will practice again Thursday afternoon at 3:50 p.m. in shorts and helmets before leaving Friday at noon for Oxford.

OLE MISS, FRESNO STATE AGREE TO SERIES: Ole Miss athletics director Pete Boone announced Wednesday a three-game football series with Fresno State University, which will mark the first gridiron meetings between the two schools.

The first game is scheduled for Oxford on Sept. 25, 2010, while Ole Miss will then return the game to Fresno, Calif., on Oct. 1, 2011. The final game of the series will be in Oxford in 2015, with the date yet to be determined.

"We are excited about adding Fresno State to our non-conference schedule," Boone said in a university-released statement. "Fresno State has a great tradition in football and Coach Pat Hill continues to keep the Bulldogs competitive on the national scene. I anticipate three hard-fought games, and the 2011 season will also provide a great trip to the West Coast for our fans."

Currently a member of the Western Athletic Conference, Fresno State has won a total of 23 league titles, including three WAC crowns, and participated in 21 bowl games.

REBEL RUMBLINGS: Offensive guard Reid Neely, who was a starter early in fall camp before he suffered a strained Achilles, was working with the starting unit at left guard at times Wednesday, sharing time with veteran Darryl Harris. [Mark Jean-Louis[/db] took some snaps with the backup offensive line at the left guard slot.

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