QB has coaches’ confidence heading into Tide clash

OXFORD – If the stereotypes are right, long, tall Texans aren’t usually bothered by low self esteem.
With five interceptions in four games Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead isn’t questioning himself.
“I know I can make every throw on the field,” Snead says.
He admits sometimes that gets him into trouble, but Snead, the poster child for the season of Ole Miss football glory predicted by many, carries not only his own confidence but that of his coaches into the Rebels’ biggest game in six years.
No. 20 Ole Miss (3-1, 1-1 SEC) plays host to No. 3 Alabama (5-0, 2-0) at 2:30 p.m. Saturday in a game that will either catapult the Rebels into the thick of the Western Division race or give them an uphill climb in continued pursuit of the program’s first SEC championship game appearance.
Ole Miss hasn’t beaten Alabama since 2003, the senior season for quarterback Eli Manning. In the years that followed, quarterback play was often suspect, and Ole Miss has gone 0-5 against the Crimson Tide.
The last four games in the series, including Snead’s first game against Alabama, have been decided by an average margin of 3.25 points.
Snead was 16-for-31 for 192 yards, a touchdown and an interception in the Rebels’ 24-20 loss to No. 2 Alabama in Tuscaloosa last year. He was a peculiar commodity then, a transfer from Texas with lots of hype, a strong-armed passer who had done some good things but had struggled with ball-protection as well. Going into that game Snead had led a near-upset at Wake Forest and a mammoth Ole Miss victory at Florida. He had also thrown nine of the 13 interceptions he’d throw in 2008. Individually, his brightest days were still ahead.
As the Alabama game looms, Snead’s start had been more like the start of his sophomore season, rather than the finish to it.
The growth of a quarterback “is always an evolving process,” says offensive coordinator Kent Austin, who played the position at Ole Miss and now coaches Snead and the other quarterbacks. “What I wan to see is continued improvement. I think Jevan made great strides last week. That was a pretty good defense, y’all, and for a long time they didn’t have any answers for him.”
Indeed, Snead’s fast start against Vanderbilt was reminiscent of his 2008 finish and led to a 17-0 halftime lead in an eventual 23-7 Ole Miss victory. His complete game was tainted by three interceptions, two in the third quarter that gave the Commodores great field position and kept the Rebels from putting the game out of reach earlier.
Snead was picked off twice in the season opener at Memphis, again both coming very close to one another but this time in the second quarter. He had gone 70 pass attempts without an interception when he was hit by the rush and threw into the arms of Vanderbilt’s Jamie Graham in the first quarter in Nashville.
He enters the most-hyped start of his career ranked seventh among SEC starters with a 128.4 efficiency rating, a 51.4 completion percentage, nine touchdowns and five interceptions.
Part of the problems in Snead’s slow start have been due to pass protection. Left tackle Bradley Sowell has started slowly as the replacement to All-American Michael Oher. The Rebels were also missing fullback Andy Hartmann and tight end Gerald Harris in a 16-10 loss at South Carolina.
Protection was less an issue at Vanderbilt. Sowell graded over 90 percent.
“Jevan hit a spurt where he forced some throws. He knows better than that. He can’t force the ball, especially against the team we’re getting ready to play,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
Forcing throws is a product of over-confidence when a quarterback trusts the strength of his arm rather than his scouting report, his reads or his fundamentals, Nutt says.
Of Snead’s three interceptions at Vanderbilt, only one was the result of a poor decision, according to Austin. That doesn’t mean all the other decisions were good.
“He made some wrong decisions and got completions,” Austin said. “That happens. You don’t want positive reinforcement on bad decisions, but it’s the bad decisions that lead to turnovers that we’re trying to correct right now.”
In going through his progressions, Snead says he doesn’t use his arm to force the ball into tight spots necessarily, but that he gets caught up in his desire to make something happen.
“It’s me trying to make a big play instead of taking what they’re giving me,” he said.
Nutt says Snead “knows better and would like to see him give up on haywire plays sooner, throw the ball away, come back and fight again on the next snap.
Whatever the future holds for Jevan Snead, Austin wants to make sure his quarterback keeps is confidence high and his approach aggressive.
“I don’t want a guy that’s going to sit and dink the ball the entire game. Our offense isn’t wired that way,” Austin said. “Jevan thinks he can make all the tough throws, but I’d much rather have to dial a guy down than have to dial him up.”

Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal.com

Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal