Time To Shine

Ole Miss' top three running backs went down to injury in the season opener against BYU.

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Brandon Bolden is still out with an ankle fracture. Enrique Davis is questionable for this weekend's game against Southern Illinois after a hyperextended knee. Jeff Scott appears to be more than ready.

But the sophomore said he's still feeling the effects of an early-game leg injury against the Cougars.

"I'm 100 percent," said the Miami, Fla., native. "My shin is still pretty tender, so I'm practicing with a pad to protect it in practice. But I'll be full go on Saturday."

When the first-quarter injury initially occurred, it appeared from the efforts being made to assist him that his leg might be broken. After that became less apparent, he was taken off the field on a cart, which still signified a possible major injury of at least game-ending proportions.

But that wasn't the case. The 5-foot-7, 175-pounder was checked out and was back on the sideline within a few minutes. His contribution was soon significant in setting a tone for a Rebel offense that was struggling.

Scott sparked the Rebels with a punt return in the second quarter against the Cougars that set up the first points of the game, a Bryson Rose 20-yard field goal that gave Ole Miss a 3-0 lead right before halftime.

The Rebel defense had stopped BYU at its own 43. Scott stood near his own goalline and gathered in a Cougar punt at the 4-yard line, turning on his speed, and racing to the Ole Miss 48. It was the type moment the Rebels had been looking for in the game.

Scott set to lead the way at running back
Bruce Newman

Even Rebel offensive line coach Mike Markuson referred to its significance in his post-practice comments Tuesday.

"We just didn't get in a rhythm except when Jeff (Scott) hit that punt return and it sparked us a little," Markuson said. "We didn't have any big plays and we were kind of hodge-podge in results."

That the Rebels got any points in the first half was important since neither offensive squad could muster much.

Following the 14-13 loss, it "didn't look good" for Bolden and Davis, although neither was diagnosed until having MRIs on Monday. Then it was known for sure Bolden was out for Southern Illinois, and Davis was questionable.

As the week has moved on, there've been extra reps given to those who might see action in the Rebels' offensive backfield. That would be Scott, of course, along with Devin Thomas, Korvic Neat, and even freshman Chief Brown.

It has been an unusual week of practice. But it was equally unusual to see a team's top three running backs injured in the first half of the first game.

"This week's been really tough," said Scott, who ended the game last Saturday with five rushes for 17 yards and two receptions for 25 yards, along with two kickoff returns for 27 total yards and the lone punt return of 44 yards.

"We have two senior running backs go down. So me and Devin Thomas and a couple of freshmen have been working pretty hard to fill those shoes."

Scott, who played in 10 games last year and gained valuable experience then, said he believes he's ready to take on an even expanded role this weekend against the Salukis.

"I think I can handle it. I'm in good enough shape," he said. "They've got me playing kick return and punt return. I'm working extra hard in practice."

Even though the Rebels struggled to a 4-8 record in 2010, Scott stepped up big in some key games. He ran for 74 yards on 11 carries and scored his first collegiate touchdown on a 55-yard sprint in his first career start against Fresno State. In the game at Arkansas, he rushed 11 times for 62 yards, including a long run of 45 yards. Against national champion Auburn, he carried it nine times for a career-high 134 yards, including a record-long 83-yard touchdown run for an Ole Miss freshman. He also posted his first 100-yard rushing game that day against the Tigers.

In reality, Scott is just happy to be playing at all currently, given what the injury last Saturday might have been. But he said he actually wasn't too concerned even when it happened.

Scott likes his expanded role and believes he's ready for it
Bruce Newman

"When I got hurt, the trainer was asking me ‘Is it broken?' or 'Can you move it?' I already knew it wasn't seriously bad. I just took a helmet to the shin. So I knew I was going to be back (in the BYU game)."

Ole Miss running backs coach Derrick Nix said Scott is prepared for the challenges ahead, and there's no doubt he must be ready.

"He's got no choice but to do it right now," Nix said. "He's come a million miles since the first game last year. He realizes this is a huge opportunity in front of him. He realizes what's at stake. He's showing his best in practice, his listening skills in meetings, and trying to take everything in. I think he feels it already, and he's taking it upon himself to be the guy for us."

The weight Scott's added since last season will come in handy now that he is being asked to continue to play so many roles and increase his carries.

"I definitely think it's going to help me a lot," said Scott of the extra weight and better condition he's pushed himself into for this season. "With our pounding backs hurt right now, I know they're going to have to run me between the tackles or whatever. So (the extra weight) is going to help me a lot."

Nix agrees that a bigger, stronger Scott is going to be able to get more things done, even up the middle.

"You don't want to make a living with him (running between the tackles). But he has the ability to do it." Nix said. "Saturday against BYU he carried a couple of inside zones and made good, positive yardage for us. He wants to be an all-around back, a guy that can protect. He's learned that from last spring to now and improved on that part of his game. He's always been fast. I'm going to try to get everything I can out of him and push him to his limit."

Bolden said he feels Scott is definitely ready for whatever the Rebels need him to do. Bolden actually heard him say so as soon as he was injured.

"When I got hurt, Jeff was the first person to come up to me and said, ‘Man, I got you. I'll take care of everything.' You just knew he would step up his role. Jeff knows what he has to do. As long as he continues to do what he's been doing, he'll be fine."

Bolden said he has seen Scott mature and develop in his brief Ole Miss career.

"Jeff's been like watching my little brothers grow up," the Baton Rouge, La., native said. "Seeing Jeff go from asking me what do you do here or what do you do there, to him actually telling me he's got it now, that's how I've seen him grow since he's been here."

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