When Ole Miss walked off the field following a 52-6 romping of Southeastern Louisiana, many questions still remained about where the team indeed stood two games into a much-anticipated season.
Though the numbers weighed heavily in the Rebels favor, Ole Miss racked up 500 yards offensively, there were spots of concern. From dropped passes, to poor special teams play, media and fans alike were left to wonder how good this top-5 team actually is.
"It's been a tough start," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "We've practiced all this time and had one game until today. You have that week of being sick, and you hadn't had that time to be outside. Seems our timing was off, especially early. I really thought we could have about two or three more touchdown passes."
Despite it all, however, the Rebels are off to their first 2-0 start since 2002. They tallied at least 45 points for the fourth straight game, the first time in school history. Further, the Ole Miss defense didn't yield a third down conversion all game, while recovering three fumbles for the first time since 2005.
But how good are they?
Shackleford Breaks Out:
Since his arrival on campus in August, Nutt has praised the play of freshman middle linebacker D.T. Shackelford.
The Decatur, Ala. native was impressive during fall camp, ascending to the second team quickly with his high-intensity play and noticeable work ethic.
But against Memphis, Shackelford's contributions statistically weren't mind-blowing. There were missed tackles and some missed assignments, leading to a line of two tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss in his first action as a Rebel.
Saturday was a different story, however, as the talented frosh accounted for three turnovers. Along with two fumble recoveries, Shackelford posted his first career interception, while returning the robbery 58 yards for a touchdown.
"Joel Kight hit the quarterback, the ball came straight to me and I just headed the other way," Shackelford said of the interception. "I got a couple of blocks to spring me and took it in. You know that was my first interception? It was pretty cool to finally get one.
"I have a lot to learn, but I am making strides thanks to Coach (Tyrone) Nix and the way he coaches me up every day and because of the older linebackers who help me all the time. They don't let me get by with nothing and that's a good thing. That's the way you learn."
Shackelford's interception marked the second for Ole Miss on the day, marking the seventh straight game the team has posted multiple interceptions dating back to last season.
It was also the third game in a row the Rebel defense has returned an interception for a touchdown.
"Coach (Tyrone) Nix put him in that mix early," Nutt said. "He's tough, he's physical, he absorbs the playbook, he studies it and he's committed. What a winner. What a winner. He's so mature beyond his years. He doesn't act like a freshman. He's a guy that you'd think is a sophomore or junior right now. I'm excited about D.T. because he brings energy to our team. Looked like a running back tonight."
Though there were many bright spots in Ole Miss' rout of SELA, the play of the special teams will certainly be a hot topic of discussion over the short practice week.
Senior Marshay Green, who has been the model of consistency over his career in Oxford fielding punts, muffed two returns on the day with one lost.
"Disappointed in our punt return game," said Nutt. "I was just really disappointed. That will probably keep us up tonight. Marshay is a very dependable guy. It's probably easy to say we hadn't been outside and all that, but you just can't do that. You can't turn the ball over in this league. We've got to work hard on that."
It wasn't much better for punter Justin Sparks, as the senior finished the game with an unimpressive 28.4 yard average in five tries. Even worse, Sparks booted punts of less than 20 yards twice.
"I wish I had more to say. It was just a tough night. I'll just have to watch the film and correct what I was doing wrong and get ready for South Carolina. On the first bad punt, I rushed it and messed up my timing. Before the game, I could tell something was off. I was getting good hang time before the game in warm-ups, but they weren't going very far for some reason. I wish I could give you more, but I don't know myself. Just a bad night I have to get corrected."
Big Day for Patterson:
As a former five-star prospect from Noxubee County, freshman wide receiver Pat Patterson was expected to have a day like this.
With his team holding a decisive 31-3 lead late in the third quarter, Patterson broke free down the right sideline, before leaping for a beautifully thrown ball by quarterback Jevan Snead for his first career touchdown.
"It felt real good," said Patterson of the score. "It felt better than scoring a high school touchdown. It was a tough catch, but it was a catch I can make, and I made it."
The catch was one of four for Patterson in the win, as the 6-foot-3, 220-pounder finished with a team high 79 yards in his second game in Red and Blue.
"Patrick Patterson is another one that is going to get more and more," Nutt said. "He has sure hands. He's so tough to bring down. Our quarterbacks have a lot of confidence in him. He'll go up and get the ball. He'll catch in traffic, in a crowd. Good jump-ball catcher. That corner usually has a tough time bringing him down on initial contact. He can get YACs. He's long-armed and strong. He's almost 220. I didn't realize that. I was thinking he was more of a 200-pound guy. He's a big, big man. So that gives us another weapon which we really needed."
A Career Night:
It's fair to say sophomore running back Brandon Bolden knows how to make the most of his opportunities.
Through only 13 carries Saturday, Bolden totaled 105 yards for an 8.1 average. Better yet, the Baton Rouge, La. product topped the 100-yard mark for the second time in his career and also in the last three games.
"The offensive line did a great job of opening up a lot of holes and giving me running lanes," Bolden said. "I had great coaching and great calls. The biggest thing is to never stop until your knees hit the ground. Just keep moving and I did that tonight."
Leading the team in rushing for the third straight game, Bolden showed once again why the bruiser is considered No. 5 Ole Miss' top rusher.
However, Nutt isn't ready to call the 5-foot-11, 220-pounder the team's featured back, preferring instead to stick with the accustomed platoon system for the time being.
"It's just the way the game is right now. The game is we've been fortunate enough to be able to play some guys. I'm not worried about a featured back. I'm worried about winning," he said. "So that time will come. We'll play the best guy at the right time. Who is running the hardest, the toughest, who is taking care of the ball. I feel good where we are with our backs, and that's why Brandon is No. 1."
* With the win, Ole Miss improved to 94-15-5 in home opener… Dating back to last season, the Rebels have won eight straight contests for the first time since reeling off 10 consecutive victories in the 1971-72 campaign… Over its last six games, Ole Miss is averaging 46.5 points per outing, while holding the opposition to just 11.2 points… Snead extended his school-record streak with his eighth straight game with multiple TD passes… Snead has also completed at least one TD pass in 11 consecutive games, which is five short of Eli Manning's school record… The Rebels return to action Thursday, as they travel to Columbia to face South Carolina on ESPN.
Notebook: Bolden Runs Wild
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