Positive Signs

After Ole Miss' last scheduled practice of the week, Thursday, head coach Houston Nutt finally shed some light on the questionable status of starting quarterback Jeremiah Masoli.

Nutt said Masoli, limited this week as a precaution due to a mild concussion suffered against Louisiana-Lafayette, was "about the same as yesterday," though Masoli did run a few more plays.

Nutt said there are positive signs of Masoli being available when the team meets Tennessee Saturday at 11 a.m.

"Yes," Nutt said of if he felt better about Masoli's playing status. "He's gotten better."

Nutt said he hopes to receive final word on Masoli's availability Friday night, but if it were to be a game time decision, Masoli would be ready to play.

"(Athletic trainer) Tim (Mullins) has just got to let me know," Nutt said. "He's the one that's got to give him the helmet. That's the bottom line."

Sophomore Nathan Stanley was given more repetitions with the first team with Masoli's participation in practice scaled back. Stanley was the replacement when Masoli was forced to leave in the second quarter in Ole Miss' 43-21 win over Louisiana-Lafayette.

Jeremiah Masoli

"Best thing that happened, he got to play last week," Nutt said. "Got back in the huddle. Got to play in a real competitive situation. Best thing that happened. That helps."

Ole Miss and Tennessee are certainly familiar with each other. Saturday's game will mark the 64th meeting between the schools, including 12 straight wins for Tennessee in the overall series, prior to last year's 42-17 Ole Miss win in Oxford.

And for Nutt, days spent inside Neyland Stadium are nothing new, either. While at Arkansas, he had many memorable moments against the Volunteers, be it in Fayetteville or Knoxville.

"I usually have some good thoughts about that place," he said.

Well, except for a forgettable night in the fall of 1998.

Nutt was the head coach of an undefeated Arkansas team ranked No. 10 in the nation when it met the top-ranked Volunteers for a crucial Southeastern Conference game. The Razorbacks led, 24-22, with just under two minutes to play, only needing a first down to run out the clock.

However, then-quarterback Clint Stoerner stumbled as he came out from under center, promptly fumbling to give the ball back to Tennessee. The Volunteers ultimately won the game on a Travis Henry touchdown run with 28 seconds to play. Tennessee went on to win the national championship.

"I've already thought about it on Sunday," Nutt said. "You can't help but think about it. We always played real good up there, but there's one memory they still play every so often. What's amazing is we beat Tennessee the very next year by the same score. They don't bring that one up, just the one when Clint Stoerner fumbled.

"Just a hard night. We really outplayed them in a lot of ways."

Ole Miss enters the game with an overall record of 4-5, including a 1-4 SEC standing.

A leader emerges:

Sophomore right tackle Bobby Massie was announced as the SEC's lineman of the week Monday.

To some, it was somewhat of a surprising announcement. Bradley Sowell, a junior, is always the team's most highly-requested lineman for interviews, once considered the unit's unquestioned leader. Sowell was one of three team representatives at SEC Media Days over the summer.

To Nutt, however, Massie's award was no surprise at all. Nutt and staff, namely offensive line coach Mike Markuson, have seen recognition coming for the 6-foot-6, 310-pound Massie.

Bobby Massie

"We saw this coming the last three weeks," Nutt said. "His practice habits have picked up. He's really intense. He's finishing blocks. He's our best lineman and really working hard in practice. It's showing up because he takes it to the game. Things are slowing down for him."

Massie will admit the game has slowed down for him, but not before giving credit to Markuson and former teammate John Jerry – now a member of the Miami Dolphins. Last season, his first since a one-season stay at Hargrave Military Academy, was up and down.

Now he is coming into his own as one of the conference's better linemen.

"John, he helped me out tremendously," Massie said. "I thank him for everything he did for me. Just discipline wise, he taught me to stay focused and not let side things get me off track from what I want to accomplish. On the field, he taught me everything. Him and coach Markuson, I had a coach on the field and off the field."

His knowledge of the game has drastically improved, as well. Not only has he developed more dedication to the film room, but to practice.

"Coach Markuson, he's gotten me in the film room and my study of the game has gotten better," Massie said. "My knowledge has just increased. Just coming out here and working hard, if you come out and work hard every day, the same thing will happen in the game."

Massie said he's become a leader for the offensive line, similar to the role held by his mentor, Jerry, last season.

"We just needed a leader on the offensive line," he said. "Last year, John Jerry was our leader. He's not here no more. Somebody had to step up and take the role. I chose to do it."

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