OXFORD — Ole Miss’ Donte Moncrief has most of the attributes expected of an elite receiver, including a 6-foot-3, 226-pound frame, breakaway speed and a pair of hands that rarely lets him down when catching the football.
About the only thing missing is the ego.
So when Moncrief’s season started slowly, the soft-spoken junior didn’t complain. He knew quarterback Bo Wallace would find him.
Moncrief’s time has come. He had 149 yards receiving and a touchdown on Saturday as Ole Miss beat Arkansas 34-24. The game marked the third time in five games he had at least 100 yards receiving.
He said the emergence of the team’s other receivers — including Laquon Treadwell and senior Ja-Mes Logan — has forced opponents to use more single coverage against him.
“You can’t double cover anybody now,” Moncrief said. “That’s easier for me. There are a lot of receivers on our team making big plays and that’s exactly what we needed.”
Ole Miss (6-3) will play host to Troy (5-5) at 11 a.m. Saturday (ESPNU) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. It’s the fifth straight home game for the Rebels, who can match their win total from last season by beating the Trojans.
Ole Miss is on a three-game winning streak and has emerged as one of the better passing teams in the Southeastern Conference. Wallace is fourth in the league with 2,392 passing yards, 14 touchdowns and five interceptions.
Moncrief is second on the team with 41 catches, but first with 647 yards receiving and five touchdowns. Logan (35 catches, 496 yards, three TDs) and Treadwell (49 catches, 424 yards, three TDs) have also had productive seasons.
Wallace is pleased Moncrief has had some good games over the past month, but said it’s not necessarily by design. With so many good receivers, he’s not worried about the name on the back of the jersey.
“People have been telling me, ‘We’ve got to get Donte involved, we’ve got to get Donte involved,’ but I’m not looking at who I’m throwing to,” Wallace said. “We’ve got great receivers everywhere. I’m just making my read. I don’t care who it is. It’s just been Donte’s time just like last year and he’s taking advantage of it.”
Moncrief’s success last season was mostly as a deep threat because of his ability to stretch the field with his speed.
He was so good that fans in the student section started wearing T-shirts that said “Feed Moncrief” and the school later had billboard advertisements with the slogan.
But his role has changed this fall — especially after starting tight end Evan Engram was lost for the season because of an ankle injury.
Coach Hugh Freeze moved Moncrief inside as more of a slot receiver and tight end. Now he’s often being covered by linebackers, who have little prayer of matching his speed.
The job isn’t necessarily as glamorous — he spends plenty of time blocking as well. But now the Rebels are back to feeding Moncrief with regularity, and the production has followed.
“It’s just doing whatever it takes to help the team get where it needs to be,” Moncrief said.
Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator Matt Luke said Moncrief’s unselfish behavior is typical of the team’s receivers. Moncrief’s 52-yard touchdown against Arkansas came on a short pass play when he made one defender miss, and then dashed down the sideline untouched because of a crucial block by fellow receiver Jordan Holder.
“There have been times where we’ve asked them to block on the perimeter and they’ve done that,” Luke said. “They’re just very, very unselfish. It’s good to see those guys step up and make plays because they’re all great young men and great players. It is a luxury to have those guys.”
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