Baby Steps

A much-maligned Ole Miss offense gave reason for optimism Saturday, as the Rebels labored through a 100-plus play scrimmage inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Read about it inside.

On a near-perfect day inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday morning, a struggling Ole Miss offense found footing, as Nathan Stanley completed three touchdown passes and a deep stable of running backs broke free.

"(The offense) started out slow, but if you look at the last few practices, we're getting in a lot better rhythm," head coach Houston Nutt said. "I thought (Nathan Stanley) made some good decisions, but we have to get much better."

Stanley, who was sacked and threw an interception in the first seven plays of the two-hour scrimmage, found receivers Lionel Breaux, Markeith Summers and Melvin Harris for touchdown completions of at least 19 yards.

Nathan Stanley

The longest came on a perfectly thrown, 50-yard strike between coverage to Summers in the right corner of the end zone. However, there were interceptions on poorly thrown balls as well, leading to two interceptions.

"It was alright, better than last Saturday," Stanley said. "I feel like I've gotten better. I made a few bad throws there at the beginning, but as it went on, I got into it and kind of stepped up a little bit."

Fireworks came quickly in the first offensive series of the day. Ryan Campbell intercepted Stanley at the opposing 45-yard line and returned the theft 15 yards. Senior defensive end Kentrell Lockett followed six plays later with an impressive sack/safety, after breaking through the offensive front at the goal line.

The offense responded, as running back Devin Thomas broke free for a 38-yard gain. Terrell Grant finally brought him down close to mid-field to prevent a score, but the drive stalled on a dropped touchdown pass of 51 yards from Summers.

"Just inconsistency," Nutt said. "We have to catch the ball better. We caught the ball excellent yesterday, but you come out today and have some tipped balls, dropped balls. We had too many interceptions."

Ole Miss set up at the 50-yard line for the next offensive possession.

After Brandon Bolden fought for a 3-yard run, Stanley connected with sophomore Jesse Grandy for six yards and a third-and-1 from the 41. Bolden then broke free for 11 yards, while Stanley followed with another completion of equal yardage.

From the 19, Stanley hooked up with Breaux for a touchdown. Stanley finished 10-of-19 for 137 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.

"I've been getting more and more reps," Stanley said. "The more reps, the better. I'm kind of capitalizing on that. I feel a lot more confident, a lot more established."

Charles Sawyer

The offense threatened again from the 25-yard line. However, Stanley was intercepted in the end zone by redshirt freshman cornerback Charles Sawyer on an underthrown fade route.

Competing quarterback Raymond Cotton had his moments, too.

Most notably, Cotton connected on a 35-yard completion to Richie Contartesi to move the Rebels inside the 5. A Derrick Herman rush for negative yardage and successive incompletions ended the drive.

Cotton was a mere 2-of-11 for 41 yards and a touchdown.

"You can tell he's very raw and behind," Nutt said of Cotton, who missed four days this week with soreness in his throwing arm. "He has some ability, but he couldn't afford to miss practices."

Korvic Neat and Devin Thomas also made a strong impression Saturday.

Thomas carried four times for 96 yards, including a 50-yard scamper for six points. He outran a mix of second and third team defenders to paydirt. Neat rushed for upwards of 70 yards and one touchdown.

Korvic Neat

The 5-foot-8 freshman reeled off two 25-yard rushes, including an impressive gain where he bounced away from would-be tackles of D.T. Shackelford and Alex Williams.

"Really, I didn't really know what was going on," Neat said. "I was under the pile and popped out. I got my balance and kept going.

"I'm trying to find a role – a place in this offense. I don't have to be an every-down back, but as long as I touch it a couple of times, I can make the best of it."

Grandy caught a scrimmage-high four passes for 32 yards, while Summers managed 40 yards on two grabs and a touchdown. Breaux's lone reception was for a touchdown.

Linebacker Jonathan Cornell led all defenders with roughly 10 tackles, followed by cornerback Jeremy McGee, who had six tackles and two pass breakups. Also of note, defensive end Gerald Rivers totaled two sacks.

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