OXFORD — The University of Mississippi football team has its starting quarterback.
Running back is a lot more uncertain.
Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt named Zack Stoudt the team”s No. 1 quarterback on Monday afternoon, two days after the 6-foot-4, 217-pound junior from Dublin, Ohio, completed 13 of 25 passes for 140 yards in a 14-13 loss to BYU. The decision wasn”t a surprise considering how much better the Rebels” offense performed when the 21-year-old was in the game.
Stoudt led Ole Miss on both of its scoring drives and showed surprising comfort in the pocket, considering it was his first major college game. But he also lost a crucial fumble deep in Rebel territory that was recovered by linebacker Kyle Van Noy for the go-ahead touchdown.
Nutt said Stoudt”s junior college experience and arm strength are the quarterback”s biggest assets. Ole Miss (0-1) hosts Southern Illinois (1-0) at 5 p.m. Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“He studies the playbook, knows the book,” Nutt said. “He”s a little older. You could tell he”s had a few snaps in his college career coming from a (junior college). He didn”t get rattled. He knows where to go with the football right now. That”s the biggest difference.”
Nutt”s certainty in naming Stoudt the starting quarterback was in stark contrast to the questions that still surround the Rebels” running game.
Ole Miss lost its top two running backs to injury during the BYU game. Nutt said Brandon Bolden has a slightly fractured ankle while Davis has a hyperextended knee. The Rebels” ground game never recovered after the two left, managing just 64 rushing yards.
“I was disappointed in some of the blocking, and then sometimes there was a hole and we just didn”t hit it,” Nutt said. “It was a combination.”
Nutt isn”t sure when Bolden will return. Left tackle Bradley Sowell said teammates were expecting the 5-foot-11, 215-pound senior to miss “two or three weeks.” Nutt said Davis wouldn”t practice this week and probably wouldn”t play.
That leaves third-string sophomore Jeff Scott as the starter. He rushed for 429 yards and three touchdowns last season and gained 17 yards on five carries against BYU. Junior Devin Thomas is next on the depth chart.
The Rebels will also move Korvic Neat, Chief Brown and Cody Prewitt to running back to provide depth. Neat was working with the receivers, while Brown and Prewitt — both true freshmen — were in the defensive secondary.
In his 14 seasons coaching in the SEC, Nutt”s reputation has always been run-first. He said the run game will still be crucial even if the Rebels” top two running backs are out for an extended time.
“Even with Zack being able to throw the ball well, his best friend has to be that tailback,” Nutt said Monday. “You”ve got to be able to have someone to help him. You”ve got to have a supporting cast. We will depend on Jeff Scott and Devin Thomas.”
Stoudt”s emergence into the starter”s role has to be considered an upset in what began as a three-man battle during spring practices. Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti went back and forth as the starter during the opening weeks of preseason practice, but Mackey fell by the wayside after he was arrested and charged with disorderly conduct following a bar fight in late August.
Brunetti was named the starter for the BYU game, but the Ole Miss offense was largely ineffective when he was in the game. The sophomore completed 2 of 3 passes for four yards before being pulled for Stoudt, who immediately led the Rebels on a drive that resulted in a field goal just before halftime.
Stoudt started his college career at Louisville in 2008 before transferring to Iowa Western Community College, where he threw for 1,812 yards and 18 touchdowns last season.
“I really didn”t have any butterflies,” said Stoudt, who is the son of former NFL quarterback Cliff Stoudt. “I knew I was going to get in. I didn”t know when or for how long, but I knew I was going to get a shot and I knew that since this is a big quarterback battle and it”s been going on a long time that I needed to make the best of the opportunity.”
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