Posted on: April 19, 2011 4:42 pm
Edited on: April 19, 2011 4:55 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
With all six spring games completed, we wrap up spring practice in the SEC West, team by team. In alphabetical order:
ALABAMA: The two big headlines for Tide fans this spring were the quarterback battle between A.J. McCarron and Phillip Sims (pictured), and the unveiling of the new Nick Saban statue added to those of the school's first three national title-winning head coaches. As our own Dennis Dodd reported (and as you can hear for yourself in the reverent tone of this student news broadcast), the statue left the Tide faithful plenty satisfied; the quarterback battle, not so much, as neither McCarron nor Sims was able to create any real separation from the other. (How close were they? At A-Day, McCarron went 21-of-38 for 222 yards and one interception, Sims 19-of-38 for 229 yards and an interception.)
But as we pointed out in our Tide spring primer, who's at the reins of the offense isn't nearly as important as whether the offense can remain productive without Mark Ingram, Julio Jones, et al. With Courtney Upshaw and Dont'a Hightower each looking like terrors this spring in the linebacking unit and All-American safety Mark Barron showing few ill effects of his postseason pectoral muscle surgery (he returned a fumble 96 yards for a score at A-Day), the defense looks poised to live up the "best in the nation, or damn close" expectations. All the offense has to do is not screw things up, and the running game -- behind Trent Richardson, a dynamo on A-Day with 167 all-purpose yards, and a loaded line with former five-star right tackle D.J. Fluker beginning to fulfill his vast potential -- appeared ready to do the job nearly by itself.
The Tide still haven't found what looks like a go-to receiver in the wake of Jones' departure (Richardson led both sides in receptions and yards at A-Day), and the McCarron/Sims derby could be a distraction lasting well into the fall. But given the help either one will receive from the running game (and line) on display Saturday, none of that might matter.
ARKANSAS: The big question before spring started was simply "can the Hogs handle losing Ryan Mallett?" And though the Red-White game certainly isn't a guarantee, it's definitely an arrow pointed in the direction of "goodness, yes." Likely new quarterback Tyler Wilson averaged 9.7 yards per his 25 attempts, with three touchdowns and no interceptions. His receiving corps -- on paper, the SEC's best, hands-down -- lived up to its billing, with Jarius Wright hauling in five balls for 157 yards and two scores. The White team defense had its moments, too, holding All-SEC candidate Knile Davis to just 44 yards on 16 carries.
The Hogs' spring wasn't perfect -- backup tailback Broderick Green went down for the year with an ACL tear -- and Bobby Petrino hasn't even officially named Wilson the starter yet. But with the quarterback position looking solid and the defense boasting its best spring in years, the loss of Mallett sure hasn't put much of a dent in the Hogs' new position as West challengers just yet.
AUBURN: The Tigers entered the spring looking for playmakers to fill at least part of the colossal void left by Cam Newton's and Nick Fairley's departures. And at defensive end, they may have found some; sophomores Corey Lemonier and Nosa Eguae both drew positive reviews throughout the spring, and previously little-used junior Dee Ford burst into the rotation with a big camp and a pair of sacks at Auburn's A-Day game. New line coach Mike Pelton said he was impressed by -- and would use -- all three this fall.
The rest of the defense didn't have a shabby A-Day, either, as they defeated the offense 63-32 in Gene Chizik's unique scrimmage scoring system. But most of the offense's efforts went towards polishing up the passing attack (tailbacks Michael Dyer and Onterio McCalebb combined for just seven carries), and those efforts didn't yield much in terms in terms of finding big-play potential. Tight end Phillip Lutzenkirchen (pictured) won MVP honors for his 65 yards receiving and catching the lone touchdown of the scrimmage, and DeAngelo Benton added one 48-yard reception. But otherwise, offensive excitement was hard to come by, and Chizik afterwards called the quarterbacking from Barrett Trotter and Clint Moseley "inconsistent." (The two will compete for the starting job into the fall.)
Under Chizik, Auburn hasn't made much of an effort to put on a show in their spring game -- the reviews on Newton's debut in the 2010 version were universally ho-hum -- but there still seems little doubt Gus Malzahn will look for much more explosiveness out of his attack come fall camp.
LSU: It's the same old story on the bayou. The Tigers entered spring hoping to finally put their quarterbacking issues to rest behind someone, be it incumbent starter Jordan Jefferson or someone else ... and left it with Jefferson still the starter and still on less-than-firm ground after an ugly 4-of-14, no touchdowns, one interception performance.
Well, less-than-firm ground with the LSU fanbase , anyway. Bayou Bengal supporters seem to have universally pinned their hopes on JUCO transfer Zach Mettenberger, despite Mettenberger being mired at third on the depth chart entering the spring game. But you can't blame them when Jefferson struggled the way he did, Jarrett Lee averaged all of 4.5 yards per-attempt (with a pick, of course) and Mettenberger did this:
None of that made any difference to Les Miles and the LSU staff, who gave Jefferson the team's "Jim Taylor Award" for his spring effort and leadership. And quarterback or no quarterback, LSU showed how formidable they'd be all the same: Spencer Ware followed up his breakout Cotton Bowl performance with a huge spring, the secondary looks as airtight as ever even without Patrick Peterson, and there's plenty of playmakers on both sides of the ball.
But unless Jefferson lives up to his coaches' faith in him -- and that spring game performance did little to assure anyone he will -- LSU's still going to have some headaches.
MISSISSIPPI STATE, OLE MISS: Despite their wildly divergent 2010 seasons, the question for both Mississippi schools was the same entering the spring: how would their defenses fare after losing several major contributors from last year?
In Oxford, that question was all the more important for last year's defense having been such a disappointment in the first place. And it got even harder to answer mid-spring when potentially the unit's best player, linebacker D.J. Shackelford, was lost for the year with an ACL tear. The Rebel defense had a successful spring game all the same, holding the two offenses to just 27 total points and scoring seven of their own on an Ivan Nicholas interception return. But coming against a Rebel offense in flux after seeing former JUCO Randall Mackey ascend to the likely starter's job (and former favorite Nathan Stanley leave the program), the jury will remain out despite the positive signs.
Up the road in Starkville, the news seemed more unambiguously positive: Dan Mullen said his defensive line "dominated" the Marron-White Game, producing 11 tackles-for-loss. The Bulldogs already seemed happy with their new linebackers, and that was before redshirt freshman Ferlando Bohanna blew up for eight tackles and a pair of sacks in the spring game. The secondary may remain a work-in-progress (State quarterbacks, including backup Dylan "Yes, That" Favre, combined to average a healthy 7.8 yards per-attempt), but the front seven looks like it shouldn't take too big a step back.
We'll cover the SEC East next week once the slowpokes at Kentucky hold their spring game this weekend.
Tags: A.J. McCarron, Alabama, Alabama, Arkansas, Auburn, Barrett Trotter, Bobby Petrino, Broderick Green, Cam Newton, Clint Moseley, Corey Lemonier, Cotton Bowl, Courtney Upshaw, D.J. Fluker, D.J. Shackelford, Dan Mullen, DeAngelo Benton, Dee Ford, Dont'a Hightower, Dylan Favre, Ferlando Bohanna, Gene Chizik, Gus Malzahn, Ivan Nicholas, Jarius Wright, Jarrett Lee, Jordan Jefferson, Jordan Jefferson, Julio Jones, Kentucky, Knile Davis, Les Miles, LSU, Mark Barron, Mark Ingram, Michael Dyer, Mike Pelton, Mississippi State, Nathan Stanley, Nick Fairley, Nick Saban, Nick Saban state, Nosa Eguae, Ole Miss, Onterio McCalebb, Patrick Peterson, Phillip Lutzenkirchen, Phillip Sims, Randall Mackey, Ryan Mallett, SEC, Spencer Ware, spring practice, Trent Richardson, Tyler Wilson, What I Learned, Zach Mettenberger
Posted on: April 14, 2011 2:21 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Just one year ago, Ole Miss sophomore quarterback Nathan Stanley had springboarded from a relief appearance in the Cotton Bowl into the Rebels' starting signal-calling job. With potentially three years' worth of every-down snaps ahead of him, all surrounded by Houston Nutt's usual array of skill position talent, Stanley's future in Oxford couldn't have looked much brighter.
Fast forward a year, and Stanley won't even finish spring camp on the Rebels' roster, having told Nutt he intends to transfer after slipping all the way to (per the Clarion-Ledger) No. 4 on the Ole Miss depth chart. Nutt's public statement:
“After meeting tonight, Nathan has decided to leave the program. We wish him the best and are going to help him find a new school. I appreciate all he has done for Ole Miss and the type of student-athlete he has been.”How did Stanley go from heir apparent to afterthought so quickly? It started with the ballyohooed arrival last summer of Jeremiah Masoli --a move on the Rebel staff's part few could argue with given Masoli's talent, but no doubt one that also told Stanley the staff wasn't entirely comfortable with him as the unquestioned starter. Sure enough, Stanley received only one start -- the season-opening disaster against Jacksonville State which Masoli finished -- before watching the final 11 games from the sidelines. The Rebels then welcomed two more transfers (JUCO Zack Stoudt and West Virginia transfer Barry Brunetti) this spring and watched 2010 JUCO redshirt Randall Mackey take spring camp by storm.
Though Stanley publicly welcomed Masoli and the benefits of last fall's competition, at this stage it's worth wondering if his confidence (or motivation under the staff who'd worked to replace him) ever recovered; by all accounts Stanley made no impact whatsoever this spring and had seen his repetitions reduced significantly over the course of the past few weeks. A transfer at this stage was all but inevitable, and seems from this perspective like the best thing for Stanley.
As for Ole Miss, the program and Stanley going their separate ways is probably best on the Rebels' end too. But Brunetti will need an NCAA waiver to avoid sitting out his transfer year this coming season; if that waiver is denied, Mackey and Stoudt become the only scholarship quarterbacks on the roster.
Without Brunetti, it's dangerous living for Nutt. But of course, that's also the only way Nutt knows how to live.
Posted on: April 4, 2011 1:06 pm
Edited on: April 4, 2011 1:08 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Having already updated the quarterback battle at one of the two SEC co-favorites earlier today in LSU , it's worth a look at how the same issue is playing out at the other, Alabama. The only problem is that at this stage, it doesn't sound like there's anything to report in the push-and-pull between redshirt freshman Phillip Sims and third-year sophomore A.J. McCarron (pictured):
The final decision of choosing a replacement for two-year starter Greg McElroy, ultimately to be made by coach Nick Saban, isn't expected until preseason practice.To hear Saban tell it, you might expect the stats from the scrimmage to lean heavily to one QB or the other, but even there, Sims and McCarron were nearly even; Sims went 20-of-30 for 235 yards with a 3-to-2 touchdown-to-interception ratio, while McCarron finished 18-of-33 for 189 and a 3-to-1 ratio. Though McCarron probably remains a slight favorite based on his extra year at the Capstone (and Saban's praise means that Tide fans should be encouraged regardless), it's still far too early -- and the quarterbacks apparently too evenly matched -- to declare either one a leader in the Tide's quarterbacking race.
That might not be the case down the road at Ole Miss, where Randall Mackey has emerged as the Rebels' potential starter and, at the least, the most impressive quarterback of the Rebels' spring so far:
In a four-man battle for positioning on the depth chart at quarterback for Ole Miss, Mackey seemed to finish the first week a little better than the rest. In Saturday's 115-play scrimmage, he was 5-for-8 for 51 yards and a touchdown pass threaded with savvy into the back of the end zone for Korvic Neat ...If any of the other Rebel quarterbacks could have been expected to make the battle close, you'd have expected it to be Nathan Stanley, the junior who had the job won last spring before Jeremiah Masoli's transfer pushed him into the backup's role. But Stanley went just 3-of-9 in the scrimmage for only 11 yards.
It's not time just yet to side with the spectator who clearly believes the race is over. But with Mackey's apparent momentum -- and Stanley's current inability to match it -- it does seem fair to say that Mackey has earned the inside track to be under center when the Rebels open against BYU Sept. 3.
Posted on: March 28, 2011 3:14 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
College Football has no offseason. Every coach knows that the preparation for September begins now, in Spring Practice . So we here at the Eye on College Football will get you ready as teams open spring ball with our Spring Practice Primers . Today, we look at Ole Miss , which starts spring practice today.
Spring Practice Question: Can the Ole Miss defense be rebuilt?
As the local Clarion-Ledger pointed out today , the headline story regarding Houston Nutt's fourth spring camp at the Rebel helm will undoubtedly be the quarterback derby. Following Jeremiah Masoli's single-season cameo, four different quarterbacks are battling it out under new Rebel offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach David Lee: pocket passers Nathan Stanley (Masoli's backup in 2010 and the narrow favorite) and JUCO transfer Zack Stoudt, and dual-threat QBs Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti. (Brunetti, a transfer from West Virginia, will need a hardship waiver from the NCAA in order to avoid sitting out his transfer year this fall.) Lee swears any of the four could be named the Rebel starter this fall, and given how little experience any of the four enters the competition with, he's likely not exaggerating.
But as intriguing as the quarterback battle promises to be, what's most important for the Rebels' chances this fall is what will happen on the other side of the ball. While the occasionally-rocky transition to Masoli drew plenty of attention, in the end the Rebels finished a respectable 43rd in total offense. But despite the presence of eight senior starters to begin the season, Ole Miss finished a disastrous 105th in the country in yards per-play allowed, worst in the SEC. It's fair to say the Rebels weren't paying defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix one of the nation's highest assistant salaries to watch the team lose games in which they scored 24, 31, 36 or -- in the case of their infamous season-opening embarrassment against FCS Jacksonville State -- 48 points.
Nix has survived to try and clean up his own mess, but it's not clear if he has the tools with which to do it. As you might expect from that "eight senior starters" detail, the Rebels' defensive losses are major; gone are All-SEC tackle Jerrell Powe, explosive defensive end Kentrell Lockett, leading tackler and tackler-for-loss linebacker Jonathan Cornell, a pair of senior safeties, assorted other contributors at tackle, corner, and linebacker ... Nix won't be starting from scratch, but scratch and the point he'll start from won't be more than a stone's throw apart.
There is good news for the Ole Miss defense, though, and it's two-fold:
1. Obviously, all of those seniors didn't do a whole lot for the Rebels in 2010. While there's no good way to spin the losses of players like Powe and Cornell, as a unit Ole Miss really can't get a whole lot worse than they were last season. In many cases, the new blood may prove to be a better option than the old blood was anyway.
2. Thanks to some impressive recruiting hauls (particularly by Ole Miss standards) by Nutt and his staff, the talent cupboard is far from bare. Nix won't have a lot in the way of experience to work with, but the raw material with which a good defense could be constructed should be there.
That's especially true in the front seven, where Nix will call on junior linebacker D.T. Shackelford to spearhead the rush defense after Shackelford recorded 9 tackles-for-loss a year ago and continued to flash the kind of big-hitting potential that made him one of Nutt's most prized recruits in the class of 2009. Junior weakside linebacker Joel Kight should also be ready for a big season after winning a starting job in last year's fall camp, making the LBs a strength. If Nix can find any tackles following the loss of the entire rotation from a year ago -- expect 310-pound JUCO arrival Gilbert Pena to get a long look -- the line shouldn't be too shabby, either, given the presence of high-ceiling ends like senior Wayne Dorsey, junior Gerald Rivers and sophomore Cameron Whigham. (If Lockett receives a sixth year of eligibility from the NCAA, things will look even better this fall.)
The biggest question mark is in the secondary, which a year ago was roasted to the tune of 8.4 yards per passing attempt and a 6-to-24 interception-to-touchdown ratio, both easily the worst marks in the SEC. Up to nine players will compete for the four starting spots (though returning starting corner Marcus Temple is out with a sports hernia), but are any of them SEC caliber? Nix will have to hope so, with the most likely candidates senior safety Damien Jackson and sophomore safety Brishen Matthews.
No one would argue the quarterback battle isn't critical. But with what should be one of the SEC's best offensive lines (one with all five starters returning), rugged running back Branden Bolden, several big-play receivers, and Nutt and Lee's combined offensive acumen, the Rebels should have a functional attack no matter who winds up taking snaps.
The same simply can't be said of the Rebel defense--meaning that even if the QB competition grabs the headlines, it's a sure bet it's the battles on the other side of the ball that will have a huge, huge share of the coaches' attention. If Nix can't find the players this spring that will push his unit forward this fall, the Rebels are going to almost certainly spend a second season in the cellar of the SEC West.
Tags: Barry Brunetti, Branden Bolden, Brishen Matthews, Cameron Whigham, D.T. Shackelford, David Lee, Gerald Rivers, Gilbert Pena, Houston Nutt, Jacksonville State, Jerrell Powe, Joel Kight, Jonathan Cornell, Kentrell Lockett, Marcus Temple, Nathan Stanley, Ole Miss, Randall Mackey, Randall Mackey, SEC, spring practice, Spring Practice Primer, Tyrone Nix, Wayne Dorsey, West Virginia, Zack Stoudt
Posted on: January 25, 2011 11:57 am
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
When one-time hyped quarterback recruit Raymond Cotton left Oxford in a huff last offseason, Houston Nutt decided to shore up his signal-calling depth in the most high-profile way possible: by bringing in banished Oregon quarterback and alleged Heisman candidate Jeremiah Masoli. Masoli (as expected) won the starting job from sophomore Nathan Stanley, but struggled with the rapid (lack of) transition as the Rebels finished a disappointing 4-8.
But that hasn't stopped Nutt from returning to the transfer well again, as Ole Miss has confirmed to Clarion-Ledger reporter Kyle Veazey that they will be officially accepting the transfer of former West Virginia quarterback Barry Brunetti. Brunetti spent just one season in Morgantown, attempting nine passes and completing four without an interception or touchdown.
But Brunetti will arrive at Ole Miss with some measure of hype, ranking as one of the more highly-regarded "dual-threat" quarterbacks in the class of 2010, with offers from the likes of Tennessee, Penn State and in-state rival Mississippi State. It's even possible he could play this season, as the Memphis Commerical-Appeal reported in mid-January ; he'll be applying for a hardship waiver from the NCAA based on his mother's health issues and Oxford's proximity to his hometown of Memphis.
If the NCAA does grant the waiver -- not a sure thing, but certainly a possibility, as the almost-similar travails of Masoli proved -- Stanley will have yet another battle on his hands for a starting position that seemed to be all his both in 2010 and 2011. Whether or not he wins it, it seems clear by this point that his head coach just isn't comfortable handing the job over to him without Stanley having to fight for it.
Posted on: November 13, 2010 2:14 pm
Edited on: November 13, 2010 2:32 pm
Posted by Jerry Hinnen
Jeremiah Masoli was listed as an injury question mark all week after a head injury suffered in last week's win over UL-Lafayette , with the consensus wisdom being that the Rebels wouldn't have much of a chance on the road at Tennessee . So it appeared to be good news for the Rebels when Masoli was cleared to play and took the field in Knoxville.
In practice, though, the Rebels might have been better off simply going with backup Nathan Stanley . Masoli has suffered through a miserable first half, going 6-of-15 for just 72 yards (4.8 yards-per-attempt), rushing for just 15 yards on 6 attempts, and throwing one interception without a touchdown. That interception wasn't your garden-variety pick, either -- it was a horrific duck into the flat that Tennessee's Eric Gordon gratefully plucked with ease and returned 46 yards for a Vol score. Several other makeable quick throws have sailed on him in ugly fashion. A big first half for Rebel running back Branden Bolden (81 yards on 8 carries, two touchdowns) has kept Ole Miss from being run out of Neyland Stadium, but at this point he's the only thing the Ole Miss offense has going for it.
To be fair, Masoli hasn't been the Rebels' only problem; the eminently flammable Rebel secondary has been torched by Tyler Bray (yes, that Tyler Bray, the fencepost-thin true freshman) for 265 yards and three touchdowns. Giving up 24 offensive points in a half to the usually-low-fi Volunteer offense has to be a performance every bit as disappointing for Houston Nutt as his quarterbacks'.
But whether the greater share of blame falls on the defense or Masoli doesn't much matter: either way Tennessee has a 31-14 lead at halftime and barring a total collapse by the thin Volunteer defense, it's going to be the home team taking another critical step towards bowl eligibility.
UPDATE, 1:31 EST: And Masoli begins the second half by throwing another abomination of a pick-six, an easy lob well above his receiver's head and returned 10 yards for the Vol score. 38-14, and the Rebels now appear done.
Posted on: November 12, 2010 1:03 pm
Posted by Tom Fornelli
It may be firmly implanted in last place in the SEC West, but if Ole Miss can somehow manage to win two of its last three games, the Rebels will become bowl eligible this season. Of course, considering that after this week's tilt against Tennessee that the Rebels have to travel to LSU before taking on Mississippi State in the Egg Bowl, winning two games isn't going to be easy.
Which means that, realistically, if the Rebels don't beat Tennessee this weekend, they can forget about going to a bowl game. So it would be nice if they had their starting quarterback available, though nobody is quite sure whether that will be the case.
Jeremiah Masoli suffered a concussion last week against Louisiana-Lafayette, and is yet to be cleared to play against the Volunteers on Saturday. Still, Houston Nutt is keeping his fingers crossed.
"I'm hoping (tonight, trainer Tim Mullins) can say he's going to be all right," Nutt told the Clarion-Ledger. "That's what I'm hoping."
Masoli has participated in practice this week, though he has been limited. While Nutt is hoping that Mullins will clear Masoli to play on Friday night, he also said that it could come on Saturday morning, and that if that is the case, then Masoli will be prepared to play. If Masoli can't go, Nathan Stanley will start in his place.
Stanley replaced Masoli last week and completed only 6-of-14 passes for 108 yards. Odds are that if Stanley does play, you can expect another heavy dose of Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis, as both running backs rushed for over 100 yards last week.
Posted on: November 10, 2010 10:05 am
Edited on: November 10, 2010 12:49 pm
Posted by Chip Patterson
The "Jeremiah Masoli experiment" in Oxford has been far from a failure, but it has not delivered the type of season that may Rebels fans expected with the arrival of a Pac-10 champion quarterback. Masoli has been predictably productive, throwing for 1,521 yards and 12 touchdowns so far on the season - while adding four more scores on the ground. But with a 4-5 overall record and with just one conference win, Ole Miss is facing the very real possibility of missing the postseason; something that has not occurred in Houston Nutt's tenure. With only three games left on the schedule, every one of them is a must-win, and there are chances that they may have to enter Saturday's matchup with Tennessee without their starting quarterback .
Trainer Tim Mullins said Masoli, who suffered a concussion in UM’s 43-21 win over Louisiana-Lafayette Saturday, is being tested daily on a variety of parameters, including headaches, nausea, sensitivity to light, irritability, changes in sleep habits and balance tests. “He has responded good, but we’ve had guys in the past that responded good and then they have a setback,” Mullins said. “So it’s just still too early to say.”
If Masoli cannot go against the Volunteers, he will be replaced by sophomore Nathan Stanley . Stanley started the season sharing snaps with Masoli, and threw for 108 yards in his absence against Louisiana-Lafayette following the concussion. The Rebels planned for Stanley to be their starter before Masoli's arrival, and it may fall on Stanley to carry Ole Miss into the postseason.