Published November 20, 2014
Brandon Bolden's philosophy on running the football is simple: Focus on getting four to six yards first, but don't lose sight of the end zone.
"That big one's always there, but you've just got to get in that rhythm," Bolden said. "Once you get into that rhythm the possibilities are endless."
Whether it was rhythm or simply the gigantic holes in Fresno State's defensive line, Bolden certainly had plenty of success during Saturday's 55-38 victory, rushing for a career-high 228 yards and two touchdowns on 19 carries. It was the sixth-most rushing yards in a single game in school history.
Bolden, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound junior, has been a dependable back during his career, even if Saturday's numbers caught just about everyone by surprise. Coming into the season, he had rushed for 1,156 yards and notched two 100-yard rushing games — including one in the Rebels' Cotton Bowl victory over Texas Tech in 2009.
Now the challenge is keeping up the production against a Southeastern Conference opponent. Ole Miss (2-2, 0-1 SEC) hosts Kentucky (3-1, 0-1) on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said Bolden's success had much to do with an improved offensive line. The Rebels juggled the starters against Fresno State, using true freshman Patrick Junen and junior Logan Clair for the first time.
The results were encouraging.
"There were some holes there for the first time," Nutt said. "There were true running lanes."
But now that the Rebels are going back to the brutal, hard-hitting world of the SEC, Nutt doesn't expect Bolden to have nearly as much room to run against Kentucky's defense. Bolden has never rushed for 100 yards in an SEC game, and last season averaged 7.2 yards per carry against non-conference opponents while only 3.5 against SEC foes.
"You don't always get (big holes), so you have to get the tough yardage ... the yards after contact," Nutt said. "We just want him to keep playing. He played very, very hard, and I think he'll step it up."
Kentucky coach Joker Phillips said both Bolden and quarterback Jeremiah Masoli concern him because of their quickness in the running game. The Wildcats were torched by Florida 48-14 on Saturday, with the defense having a tough time catching up to the Gators' athletic playmakers.
"We've got to be able to go through our reads and also get people on the ground," Phillips said.
During the first four games, Nutt has spread the carries among four running backs — Bolden, Enrique Davis, Jeff Scott and Rodney Scott.
But Davis suffered a knee injury against Fresno State and his availability for Saturday is in question. Jeff Scott, a true freshman, rushed for 74 yards against Fresno State, including a 55-yard touchdown that showcased the 5-foot-8, 170-pounder's quick acceleration.
"He has great speed," Nutt said. "You don't have to hold a block quite as long with him. The secondary has to take good angles, because he can fly. What he brings to the table is a different type of back. He has a quick step and we are really excited about using him in different ways.
Last season, when Ole Miss was at its best, the Rebels mixed the quickness of now-departed Dexter McCluster with Bolden's power running to form an effective rotation that kept defenses guessing.
Matching McCluster might be a tough task, considering he was the first player in SEC history to gain 1,000 yards rushing and 500 yards receiving in a single season. But there's optimism that a Bolden-Scott duo could be effective as Ole Miss tries to rebound from a tough start that's included surprising losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt..
Nutt said Scott must work on protecting the football. Fumbles were a problem during preseason camp, as was a foot injury that sidelined him for a few weeks.
"He's exciting," Nutt said. "Hopefully we can keep him on the field."