OXFORD • Seeing Braylon Sanders in the lineup against South Carolina was a little unusual.
It was the first start of the season for the Ole Miss senior.
Playing behind split end Jonathan Mingo there hadn’t been many chances for Sanders to get on the field.
Sanders got the start as Mingo was unavailable against the Gamecocks and took advantage with four catches for a career-high 141 yards.
Seeing Sanders get open behind a defender isn’t so unusual. It’s happened quite often throughout his Ole Miss career … if he’s been healthy. That’s been the sticking point for the 6-foot Hogansville, Georgia, native. Whether it’s been an ankle, a hamstring or something else injuries have often held back Sanders.
Sanders made the most of his four targets against the Gamecocks.
He got behind South Carolina defender John Dixon for a 52-yard gain in the second quarter.
In the third quarter when the Rebels were trailing 35-31 Sanders had a 57-yard catch to the Gamecocks’ 12 to set up a touchdown run by Jerrion Ealy on the next play.
“It’s a blessing. Just showing all the work we put in as a unit, as a receiver group, seeing that payoff is all a blessing,” Sanders said.
The question posed to Sanders earlier in the week was whether he would be around for further blessings in 2021.
The NCAA’s decision to extend eligibility for all players by a year due to the complications of COVID-19 this football season makes that possible.
Sanders says he hasn’t thought about next season.
“Right now focus is on winning out the rest of this year and trying to be better each and every week.”
Seconds later Sanders admitted he has wondered what it might be like to be in this new Ole Miss offense and play the role of “go-to” receiver that Elijah Moore is playing this season.
Moore was targeted 13 times against the Gamecocks and caught every pass. He leads the nation in receptions per game (10.6) and receiving yards (1,054) and is second in touchdown catches with eight.
‘Tough’ decision ahead
Should Moore, a junior, choose to turn pro after this season there’s no obvious successor on the roster.
It’s a role Sanders could slide into particularly with his knack for big plays.
He averaged 33.2 yards on four catches against Southern Illinois in 2018.
It was his 57-yard catch against Mississippi State last season that helped put Ole Miss in position to possibly tie the game after Moore’s 4-yard touchdown.
Sanders at 19.2 has averaged almost 20 yards per catch for his career.
He believes he’s a good fit in the offense orchestrated by coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.
“It’s coach Lebby’s play-calling. He dials it up. I know he expects me to make a play, so that’s what I do.”
Whether he’s doing it again next season is TBD.
“When that decision time comes it will be a tough one, for sure, but I’ll always make the right one,” Sanders said.