OXFORD, Miss. - Two weeks ago Randall Mackey talked about his desire to develop into a leader for the Ole Miss offense.
That’s a difficult objective to scratch off your to-do list while you’re on the sideline.
That’s where Mackey will be Saturday night, as the Rebels’ starting quarterback will be unavailable to face No. 1 LSU at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
It would have been the first game for Mackey against his home-state school. He was a Parade All-American, a Katrina victim displaced to Bastrop, where he led the Rams to two Class 4A championships while fielding eligibility challenges from the LHSAA at the same time.
Mackey and sophomore running back Jeff Scott - also suspended for the LSU game - rank first and second in total offense for the Rebels.
Rounding out the inactive trio is seldom-used receiver Korvic Neat, suspended like Mackey and Scott for breaking team rules, outgoing coach Houston Nutt said.
The suspensions announced Tuesday bring the total number of suspensions to eight - most on offense - for Ole Miss this season. The number doesn’t include the midseason dismissal of junior wide receiver Melvin Harris, second on the team with 30 catches a year ago.
It’s the second suspension of the season for Mackey, who was held out of the season opener against Brigham Young after his arrest on a disorderly conduct charge on Aug. 23. The suspensions are not related, Nutt said.
In recent weeks Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee has tried to help Mackey grow in his leadership role.
“Coach Lee wants a leader from the quarterback position, and that’s what I’m trying to do,” Mackey said.
Mackey has been effective, not spectacular as the No. 1 quarterback.
An academic non-qualifier out of Bastrop, Mackey had an All-American career at East Mississippi Community College, where he led the nation with a 69.5 percentage completion rate in 2009. He was redshirted last season after the arrival of transfer quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, formerly of Oregon.
In six starts through nine games, Mackey has just a 49.7 percent completion rate with 1,112 yards, seven touchdowns and five interceptions.
Nutt implied that poor decisions related to the uncertainty surrounding the program’s future led to the suspensions.
“You’ve got to learn how to handle change, and it is tough for a lot of them, especially when the season doesn’t go just right. It is easy to just let go, and you try to teach them the best you can that life can be hard, and lessons are tough.”
The suspensions continue a trend of turmoil for Ole Miss.
At the onset of November, the Rebels’ best remaining hope for an SEC win appeared to be Kentucky, a struggling Eastern Division foe. After the Rebels lost 30-13 in Lexington on Nov. 5, Nutt was fired two days later. He agreed to coach the remainder of the season, at the time a three-game stretch that began with Louisiana Tech.
Mackey fumbled three times, two were lost, and one returned for a touchdown. Tech had three sacks and 12 tackles for loss in a 27-7 win.
Nutt said he would make the same decision again.
“That’s what I’ve always taught ? to finish,” he said. “This is my first experience with this situation, but I don’t think I’d do it any other way.”
Baton Rouge native Brandon Bolden, a senior who will be playing in his final home game, was himself suspended and missed the Rebels’ 52-7 loss to then-No. 2 Alabama.
Bolden rushed for 14 touchdowns and narrowly missed 1,000 yards in 2010. Those numbers have dropped dramatically in a season that turned south from the beginning when he suffered a fractured ankle in the first half of the opener against BYU.
Bolden has worked himself back into good health and has averaged 74.5 yards in his past four games.
His role will increase in the absence of Scott. He bristles at the suggestion that Ole Miss players are mailing in the remainder of the season.
“This team is full of fighters,” Bolden said. “They don’t know the word quit. Everybody is going out there fighting with all they can - everybody.”