Posted by ESPN.com's Chris Low
The excitement is back for Ole Miss’ football team.
Now, we find out if the Rebels are back.
We’d been waiting to see what this team looked like when quarterback Jevan Snead threw the football the way he did at the end of last season and Dexter McCluster was getting the ball on a consistent basis.
That team finally emerged last Saturday in taking down Arkansas 30-17 in its most complete offensive performance of the season against an SEC defense.
The question now: Is that the same Ole Miss offense we’re going to see for the rest of the season?
The Rebels (5-2, 2-2) took off about this time a year ago and won their last six games, but they had Snead and McCluster playing at the top of their games.
Getting the kind of performance they got out of Snead last Saturday will be important, but feeding the ball to McCluster may be even more important. He had a season-high 29 touches against the Hogs and became the first Ole Miss player in the modern era to go over 100 yards rushing and 100 yards receiving in the same game.
Ole Miss Houston Nutt said there’s a confidence that’s infectious when McCluster is on that kind of roll.
Plus, it opens up so many things for everybody else.
“You feel so good about moving the chains and getting first downs,” Nutt said. “The defense is well rested, and they are playing faster. Everybody is moving faster. It just lifts you and gives you confidence. Jevan (Snead) plays better, and the receivers play better. The offensive line has confidence. We haven’t given up a sack in three games, and we are excited about that. Those are things we can build on and get better.”
Nutt said the Rebels start every game wanting to get McCluster a minimum of 15 to 20 touches. In the 16-10 loss to South Carolina, they waited until the fourth quarter to put him back at tailback full time. He had immediate success, but it was too late.
And in the 22-3 loss to Alabama, McCluster ran the ball just six times and caught three passes.
“We are going to try to get Dexter the ball at all of his positions,” Nutt said. “A lot of people have taken it away from us. When the offensive line is blocking the way they have blocked and there are some creases in there, he is quick enough to hit it. You feel good about handing the ball to him because he gets first downs. You have that confidence in him, so he got a few more carries than normal.
“We didn’t expect him to get (29) touches, but we had a good feeling because he knows what he is doing when he gets the ball.”
It’s equally encouraging for the Rebels, who travel to Auburn on Saturday, that Snead is coming off two productive games in a row after struggling the first five games. He passed for a career-high 332 yards in the win over Arkansas and also threw a pair of touchdown passes.
When Snead has played well, so too have the Rebels.
Perhaps the biggest difference these last few games, though, has been the way Ole Miss’ offensive line has played in front of Snead and given him time to throw.
“I have felt really comfortable in the pocket, and I believe I will continue to do so,” Snead said.
That's good news for the Rebels.