Counts' absence was obvious for Blue Raiders
Blue Raider QB is one of the top-ranked in the country, but did not play most of game.
By Gregg Ellis
OXFORD - What happened to Wes Counts?
That was the inquiring question Saturday in the Rebels' 45-17 homecoming victory against Middle Tennessee State.
Counts, the Blue Raiders' highly-touted quarterback, started the game. However, the senior was pulled in favor of former Northwest Community College standout Jason Johnson on MTSU's third series of the game.
In postgame interviews, both declined comment about the situation.
Counts entered the game with 1,476 yards passing and 13 touchdowns. He also was completing nearly 72 percent of his passes.
But when the Blue Raiders fell behind 10-0 and failed to move the chains, in came Johnson, who had thrown only 12 passes this year.
"I haven't played much, so I had to get out their and try to get back to what I'm supposed to be doing," said Johnson, who was 11-of-25 passing for 115 yards and two touchdowns. "Every time we got a big play, it seemed like we had it called back because of a holding penalty or a delay of game or something. That takes the air out of you."
Counts left the game after completing 2-of-4 passes for 14 yards. But he was picked off by Syniker Taylor, who returned the interception 44 yards to the 6, setting up a Jonathan Nichols 27-yard field goal that gave the Rebels a 10-0 lead.
When asked if the change in quarterback changed Ole Miss' defensive plans, Rebels coach David Cutcliffe said no.
"They didn't change what they do offensively," said Cutcliffe, whose team now stands at 5-1 and faces LSU next week in Baton Rouge. "Last year, the two played on equal basis. So we were able to see on film what he (Johnson) was capable of doing."
The Blue Raiders averaged 513 yards of total offense and 41 points, but were held to 328 here Saturday. Twice this season they manufactured 600-plus yards, including a 608-yard performance in the season opener against Vanderbilt, won by MTSU 37-28.
"We talked all week about how good their offense was and how good their passing attack was," said linebacker Matt Grier, who totaled seven tackles and forced one fumble. "We practiced real hard on it all week and had certain plays for certain types of situations."
MTSU finished with 199 yards rushing and 129 yards passing.