OXFORD – It’s Decision Day at Ole Miss, and that doesn’t mean students will elect new campus leadership.
It means that Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt, having digested and contemplated video from last Saturday’s scrimmage and consulted to some degree with his offensive staff, will present a little clarity to his quarterback picture.
You can’t play three, he says.
There will be an odd man out at practice today, and the majority of reps as the season opener against Jacksonville State gets closer will go to a starter.
Or perhaps “starters.”
Talking about the importance of showing a defense a change of pace and building up sophomore Nathan Stanley, Nutt sounds more and more like a coach getting ready to play two quarterbacks.
Stanley has looked good in camp, better than he did in the spring, but in the past week celebrity transfer Jeremiah Masoli has begun to show the play-making skills that helped him go 20-6 as the starter at Oregon.
Playing two quarterbacks is fine as long as two quarterbacks are productive, and in the most recent scrimmage all three of them – Stanley, Masoli and junior college transfer Randall Mackey – did different things well.
Masoli was ahead, eluding pressure and making big plays in the passing game.
Stanley was effective as well, hitting his first 10 passes and finishing 10 for 11.
Several things will drive this race’s winner to the finish line: Ball-protection, avoiding bad plays and making big ones.
The last can be summed up by getting your team into the end zone. That’s something Masoli did, and the others, in the regular run of things, did not, though Stanley and Mackey both led scoring drives once the ball was placed at the 20-yard line in situational work.
Masoli made the reads, avoided pressure and gave the receivers the ball in a manner to allow them to make plays.
As the starter at Oregon he threw 11 interceptions over two seasons, six of them last year. You have to go back to 1995 to find an Ole Miss starter – Josh Nelson – who threw six interceptions or fewer over the course of a year.
Stanley is throwing fewer picks this camp than he did last spring. That means his decision-making has improved, but the sacks he took in the scrimmage show he needs to make good decisions more quickly.
Odd man out?
Mackey appears to be the odd man out in this race, which will leave Nutt with the interesting question of how to utilize the most athletic player on his team.
Mackey has a different gear and throws with accuracy. The Wild Rebel seems a given. Nutt seems cool on the idea of playing Mackey at receiver, conceding the point by saying, “You could team him a few plays.” Honestly, he probably wouldn’t need many more.
Another good reason to have two quarterbacks ready right now is the matter of the school’s request for waiver of the NCAA’s one-year residency requirement for transfers. The waiver has been requested. The NCAA has granted this request in previous cases. All that’s left to do is wait, and that’s never easy when the NCAA is involved.
The waiver is the last piece of paper work dangling over Masoli, but it’s enough to keep him on the sideline.
The likelihood is that he’ll be certified.
So when Nutt announces a two-deep today, the quarterback race won’t be over, far from it. In many ways it will only be beginning.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about the Rebels daily at NEMS360.com.
Parrish Alford / NEMS Daily Journal