After missing the first three games of the season due to a broken collarbone, junior wide receiver Vince Sanders made his return to game action on Saturday against Alabama.
He didn’t have a huge impact in the loss, as he had zero receptions on two targets as the entire offense was kept off of the scoreboard, but Sanders could be a difference maker going forward for the Rebel offense.
“I was very excited just to be back out there, being a part of the team again,” Sanders said. “There was a little bit of rust. I had one pass I dropped. Hopefully, it’ll be better next week.”
Sanders was the number two receiver for the Rebels last season. His 504 yards and four touchdowns were second only to junior wideout Donte Moncrief in 2012. He ended the season hot as all four of his touchdowns came in the final six games of last season, and he averaged 53.3 yards per game in that stretch.
His four touchdowns are important for the Rebel offense as junior quarterback Bo Wallace hasn’t consistently found all of his options for touchdowns. Last season, Sanders and Moncrief were the only receivers to catch more than two touchdowns from Wallace. Ja-Mes Logan, Randall Mackey, Korvic Neat and Jeff Scott, who all caught at least 20 passes last season, combined for three receiving touchdowns.
This year, only Moncrief and freshman tight end Evan Engram have caught touchdowns. Logan, Scott, freshman receiver LaQuon Treadwell and senior receiver Jordan Holder have combined to catch 46 passes this season, but zero have gone for six points.
Sanders will look to be another receiver capable of finding the endzone, as he caught a touchdown every 9.75 passes in 2012, which was better than both of the All-SEC first team wide receivers, Jordan Matthew (Vanderbilt) and Cobi Hamilton (Arkansas).
Schematically, the biggest difference Sanders can have is pushing Logan, a senior, back to the slot. Since Sanders has been out, Logan has been playing as one of the wide receivers rather than his usual slot position.
Ole Miss can lineup Sanders and Moncrief on the outside and Treadwell and Logan on the inside to create matchup problems when the Rebels use their four receiver, one running back formations.
That excludes Engram, who has been a surprise by pulling in 13 catches for 189 yards and two touchdowns. Engram has lined up as both a tight end and slot receiver this season.
Sanders gives the Rebels more options. They can move Engram around in the formation. Logan can play the slot or wide receiver position, plus Treadwell can line up in the backfield, as he did multiple times against Alabama. When lining up as a back, Treadwell threw a pass, caught a pass and had a carry, as Ole Miss tried to use his versatility.
Sanders will be called upon to help the outside running game of Ole Miss. The downfield blocking of the receivers has been a key to senior running back Jeff Scott’s early season success. On Scott’s 75 yard touchdown run against Vanderbilt, Moncrief and Engram threw two important blocks near the sideline that allowed Jeff Scott to cut back and score.
“We already got the mindset. We can’t be selfish,” Sanders said of receiver blocking. “If we block on the outside then we are going to open up lanes down the field for the running backs or whoever got the ball. So we take pride in blocking.”
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