Ole Miss faces unique opener
By By Will Bardwell / staff writer
Aug. 26, 2003
The new season brings a new experience for Ole Miss head coach David Cutcliffe.
Saturday's game against Vanderbilt will mark the first time in the fifth-year head coach's career including 17 seasons as an assistant at Tennessee that he has opened a season against a Southeastern Conference opponent.
That intensity may be to blame for what Cutcliffe called "an unusually high number of injuries." Tight end Eric Rice, wide receiver Bill Flowers, and center Justin Sawyer are all listed as questionable for Saturday.
Should Rice miss the game, Cutcliffe said sophomore Jimmy Brooks and redshirt freshman Lawrence Lilly will split time replacing him. Sophomore Chris Spencer, a natural guard, has been working at center during preseason practice and would start in Sawyer's absence.
Spencer is one of four returning starters on the offensive line, and quarterback Eli Manning hopes the experienced line will help Ole Miss do something they did seldomly in 2002 run the football well. The Rebels averaged only 3.0 yards per carry and 94.3 rushing yards per game last season placing them last in the conference.
Tremaine Turner, Vashon Pearson, and Ronald McClendon are all expected to see playing time, but Cutcliffe remained mum on who would be his starting tailback.
The Rebels will look not only to establish a running game for themselves, but to slow down a Vanderbilt rushing attack that piled up 257 yards against Ole Miss last year.
Cutcliffe said Vanderbilt will spread the ball around in their running game to their halfback, fullback, and quarterback. Last year, both Kwane Doster and Norval McKenzie eclipsed the 100-yard mark against the Rebel defense.
The Commodores averaged 173.5 rushing yards per game in 2002, which was fifth-best in the SEC.