Mississippi beats Southern Illinois, 42-24

Published 4:17 pm Tuesday, September 13, 2011

OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Jeff Scott waited more than a season for a chance to be Mississippi’s featured running back. Four touchdowns later, the sophomore certainly made the most of his opportunity.

The 5-foot-7, 175-pound Scott rushed for three touchdowns and added another on a punt return, turning in a spectacular performance as Ole Miss downed Southern Illinois 42-24 on Saturday night.

“The coaches did a great job of preparing me to carry the load tonight and I just went out there and played the hardest I could,” Scott said.

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Scott scored three touchdowns in the first six minutes of the game with the third coming on a 67-yard punt return that ended with him tip-toeing down the right sideline and just inside the bright orange pylon. It gave Ole Miss a 21-0 lead and the rout appeared to be well underway.

But the rest of the game wasn’t as easy. Ole Miss (1-1) had a 35-10 lead early in the third quarter before Southern Illinois responded with two touchdown drives in the second half to pull within 35-24. Steve Strother rushed for 116 yards for Southern Illinois (1-1), but the Salukis couldn’t overcome four interceptions thrown by Paul McIntosh.

“We know we let an opportunity slip away,” Southern Illinois coach Dale Lennon said. “We felt we were capable of doing more tonight.”

Ole Miss was playing without its top two running backs — seniors Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis — after the pair suffered injuries in last week’s season opener against BYU. But Scott was stellar in their place, rushing for touchdowns of 37 and 4 yards in the opening minutes before the punt return for a touchdown pushed the Rebels’ lead to 21-0 with 9:09 remaining in the first half.

“They set up a wall and I just bent the corner with my speed,” Scott said. “I had one guy to beat and that was the kicker. He put his hand out and I was trying my best to stay in bounds and I got in the end zone.”

He added a 7-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

Scott’s first touchdown was the most spectacular. He broke several tackles and juked one Southern Illinois defender before finding open space and eventually the end zone.

Nutt has said Scott is the fastest of the Rebel running backs, but sometimes struggles with blocking assignments and fumbles. He didn’t appear to have any of those problems against the Salukis, though, and his performance gives the Rebels confidence heading into next week’s Southeastern Conference opener against Vanderbilt. Zack Stoudt was decent in his first start as the Ole Miss quarterback, completing 11 of 18 passes for 118 yards and a touchdown. Stoudt said Scott’s success opened opportunities downfield.

“That was huge — running the ball this week,” Stoudt said. “We needed to prove that we could. Not just to other people, but also to ourselves,”

Quarterback Randall Mackey also played after he served a one-game suspension because of his arrest following a bar fight, leading the Rebels on two touchdown drives. He completed his only pass for 18 yards and also rushed six times for 36 yards.

Barry Brunetti, the starting quarterback against BYU, did not play.

Games against Football Championship Subdivision teams are usually considered sure wins, but the Rebels weren’t in position to take any opponent lightly. Ole Miss is barely one year removed from a 49-48 double overtime loss to FCS opponent Jacksonville State that qualified as one of the most embarrassing moments in program history.

It wouldn’t happen again, though the Salukis did keep things interesting for much of the night.

Jewel Hampton rushed for a 2-yard touchdown late in the first half to pull the Salukis within 28-10 at halftime. Scott’s fourth touchdown of the night stretched the Rebels’ lead to 35-10 with 10:23 left in the third quarter, but SIU responded with two touchdowns to pull within 35-24 with 6:39 remaining in the fourth quarter.

Southern Illinois outgained Ole Miss 420-315. But Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt didn’t dwell on the less-than-stellar numbers.

“I like winning, and that was the whole goal,” Nutt said. “When you have that many new faces you don’t know what is going to happen.”