OXFORD – Just like the name of the Web site that was created to build on the preseason popularity of the Ole Miss quarterback, Rebels coach Houston Nutt still has a “need 4 Snead.”
However, backup quarterbacks Nathan Stanley or Billy Tapp could see action on Saturday when Ole Miss steps out of SEC play for a 6 p.m., homecoming game against Alabama-Birmingham.
For now, though, Nutt says he won’t go into the game with a plan to sit his struggling starter, Jevan Snead, for any pre-determined length of time.
“Right now. I really believe in Jevan. We want to get his confidence to the highest point that we possibly can, but we have to win the ballgame. That’s first and foremost,” Nutt said.
Most of the high expectations for Ole Miss – which was ranked No. 4 in the AP Top 25 three weeks ago – were centered around the belief that Snead would perform as he did when the Rebels won six straight games to close the 2008 season.
For various reasons, that hasn’t happened. Snead has thrown seven interceptions in the last two games, including four with no touchdown passes in Saturday’s 22-3 loss to No. 3 Alabama. He is completing just 46.8 percent of his pass attempts. He pass efficiency rating of 107.63 ranks 11th among SEC starting quarterbacks between Mississippi State’s Tyson Lee and Vanderbilt’s Larry Smith.
“I think what I’m struggling with is moving on to the next play,” Snead said. “If I’ve had pressure on the previous play, I may let that affect my footwork or timing on the next play. I’ll think I’m rushed when I really do have some extra time.”
In appearances against Memphis and SE Louisiana, redshirt freshman Stanley has attempted three passes. Tapp, a senior, has not played at quarterback this season.
“If we have the right opportunity we’re not afraid to put in Nathan or Billy,” Nutt said. “I’d like to get them in.”
– Cornerback Marshay Green sustained a cracked rib and a laceration to the kidney against Alabama. Nutt did not rule out Green playing this week but called him questionable. A number of other players are banged up but at this point don’t appear to be in danger of missing the UAB game.
Nutt said senior fullback Andy Hartmann, who had missed the two previous games with a knee injury, responded well after playing about 25 plays against Alabama.
Linebackers D.T. Shackelford (ankle) and Patrick Trahan (knee) and center Daverin Geralds are among the players to keep an eye on this week.
Who’s back on punts?
– Nutt said the loss of Green would be a “major blow,” not only because of his improved coverage at cornerback but because of his experience as the punt returner.
With Green out, senior Dexter McCluster took over, and his fumble on one return led to an Alabama field goal.
Freshman Jesse Grandy will get some work as the return man in practice this week. If he makes the desired progress he’ll replace McCluster at the position, not because of the fumble, but because Nutt fears asking McCluster to do too much and getting him hurt.
Grandy was used in the return game for the first time last week, deep with Brandon Bolden on kickoffs. Earlier in the year Nutt had talked about his preference for bigger players on the kick return team, which seemed to negate the 5-foot-10, 155-pound Grandy.
“He’s a guy that can find a crease, and if we do a good enough job, a guy who can take it back,” Nutt said.
Grandy returned five kicks for 115 yards with a long return of 34 yards against Alabama. “One time his momentum carried him to the end zone, and I wish he’d have stayed there, but that’s just youth,” Nutt said.
Late in the second quarter, Grandy caught the ball on the bounce over his shoulder and wound up in the end zone. When he came out, he got only to the 12. After three plays an Ole Miss punt was blocked and recovered by the Tide at the 5. After three more plays, Alabama tacked on its third field goal.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or firstname.lastname@example.org
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal