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Rebels head west in search of offense and much-needed win

Petre Thomas/The Daily Mississippian

On Saturday, the Ole Miss Rebels (1-3, 0-2 SEC) will be in California to take on the Fresno State Bulldogs (2-2, 1-0 WAC) in hopes of putting together a full game and coming away with a much-needed win. The road trip is the furthest out west in program history.

The two teams played last season in Oxford as the Rebels took care of the Bulldogs 55-38, led by senior running back Brandon Bolden’s 228 rushing yards and three total touchdowns in the game.

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt is looking for that kind of production from the ground game again this season against Fresno State.

“When you look at last year’s Fresno (State) game, that’s a group of offensive linemen, who had 500-something yards, so come on,” he said. “You’re the same guys. I know Enrique (Davis) and Brandon (Bolden) are not full speed. I know they haven’t been themselves yet, but we’ve got enough (running) backs if we execute to not stop ourselves.”

Stopping themselves has become a habit for the Rebels this season, who had two touchdowns called back for penalties in last week’s 27-13 loss to Georgia.

Although it is apparent the offensive line is not living up to their potential, Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee likes the improvement they’ve showed.

“Coming out of the gate (against Georgia), we showed an improvement running,” Lee said. “We’re getting better. We’re staying on our blocks longer and finishing our blocks more. All those things are really encouraging. It was about this time last year, (the offensive line) really got it going. Hopefully, that is going to take place again.”

Throughout the season, junior quarterback Zack Stoudt has gotten the majority of the playing time and the start in the last three games, but this Saturday it could be junior Randall Mackey who gets the nod. The start would be his first career start in an Ole Miss uniform.

Defensively, the Rebel secondary will have their hands full against the passing attack of Fresno State, led by sophomore quarterback Derek Carr, the younger brother of New York Giants backup quarterback and former No. 1 overall pick David Carr The younger Carr has already thrown for more than 1,000 yards and had nine touchdown passes this season.

“He’s an excellent quarterback,” Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. “On film, he looks like the best we have faced so far and he has some real good weapons. They max protect a lot, throw it deep and give their guys chances to make plays.”

Helping stop that passing attack will be a couple of new faces on the defensive side of the ball. Nix noted that junior linebacker/safety Aaron Garbutt, who did not play much Saturday, has responded this week but he is “still not where he needs to be.” Backing up Garbutt at the hybrid spur position will be freshman Cody Prewitt, who has played a limited role on special teams this season.

Sophomore defensive tackle Bryon Bennett, who made his first start last week against Georgia, will continue to get a lot of playing time. Freshmen linebackers Serderius Bryant, C.J. Johnson and freshman defensive back Senquez Golson will all continue to play more as their roles expand.

“I love the way they work,” Nix said of the younger guys. “The guy that comes to mind first is Serderius Bryant. He played really well in the game last week. He brings an energy and a passion to the field. C.J. Johnson will be in our dime package. You’ll see him rushing the passer more. Senquez Golson will play a more important role this week. He’s on our dime team as well.

“We’ll continue to move guys in and give them the opportunity to make plays,” he said.

Once again this week, the injury list is shorter than in weeks past. Sophomore safety Brishen Matthews is still nursing a back injury, and it doesn’t look like he will be back anytime soon.

The only other player out for Saturday is freshman Woodrow Hamilton, a reserve on the defensive line who suffered a sprained ACL in practice this week.

Kickoff between the Rebels and the Bulldogs is set for 8:15 p.m. from Bulldog Stadium in Fresno, Calif., and will be nationally televised by ESPN2.