Just the Two of Us

Saturday's Grove Bowl wasn't the quarterback showcase Ole Miss had hoped for.

A once four-man race was trimmed to just two -- Randall Mackey and Barry Brunetti -- after Nathan Stanley left the program earlier this week and Zack Stoudt missed the game due an academic-related violation of team rules.

Mackey led the Red team, Brunetti the Blue team in a 17-17 final. Each player had his moments, with Mackey leading the first scoring drive of the day, a 13-play, 55-yard march capped by Mackey's 14-yard touchdown pass to Terrell Grant.

"It went pretty good," Mackey said. "The first drive was pretty good. We drove down the field, took off like 10 minutes off the clock. But after that, we lost our groove or something. We just lost it. We had to come back the second half and come together as a team and drive the ball again."

Randall Mackey
Alex Edwards
Mackey finished the day 9 of 18 for 151 yards and one touchdown. His lone interception came on a desperation heave at the end of the game. His target, Melvin Harris, tripped, leaving Blue team linebacker Ralph Williams all alone for the easy pick.

"It was kind of off and on, I'd say," Mackey said of his performance. "Sometimes the offensive line would break down, but most of the time I kind of got the jitter feet a little bit, cause I thought somebody was coming behind me. I'd take off too early when I didn't have to."

By most accounts, Mackey has been the most consistent quarterback this spring, possibly positioning himself as the frontrunner heading into fall practices in August. However, Mackey said the job is wide open.

"I really can't say that, cause any one of us could be quarterback out of me, Barry or Stoudt. Stoudt, y'all didn't see him play today, but Stoudt is a very good quarterback. I just got to keep working," he said.

Brunetti was 12 of 21 for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. One of his interceptions came as his team neared the opposing goal line. Safety Ivan Nicholas stepped in front of an errant pass, and raced 92 yards to the Blue 4-yard line.

"I got more comfortable, got the jitters out of the way," Brunetti said. "I feel like I got a little more better with the throwing. Kind of still made a few mistakes with the picks, but other than that, I thought it was a good overall day."

Brunetti's most impressive throw was a 90-yard strike to Korvic Neat in the second quarter. The third play of the drive, Brunetti avoided pressure and found Neat, who had separated from the coverage, down the sideline.

"I kind of felt someone on my back, so that made me turn. I just looked downfield. Before that, I told Korvic I'd be looking for him down the seam. I kind of looked up, and I knew he was gonna run past him," Brunetti said.

Barry Brunetti
Bruce Newman
The last three weeks have been a whirlwind for Mackey and Brunetti. Offensive coordinator David Lee -- hired this offseason -- has taken over play-calling duties, and added new elements to the offensive playbook.

Ole Miss was installing new plays as late as Thursday, uncharacteristic for so late in spring. "We had eight or 10 more plays installed Thursday," Mackey said, adding that Lee threw the book at his quarterbacks, and has been consistent in declaring the starting job up for grabs.

"We accomplished a lot under Coach Lee. He threw a lot at us. A lot," Mackey said. "As a team, we all came together. We focused in every day. Everybody was paying attention to their coaches. We just have to focus in on the offensive playbook and get it right."

"Coach Lee still says it's still wide open," Brunetti said. "He says he still hasn't made up a sure number one. We all had our times in the spring. Mackey had a very good spring, Stoudt had a very good spring. Even Stanley had a good one to me. I hate that he had to go. But overall, he said he's not going to pick one until after fall camp."

Lee raved of Brunetti -- who led his offense to 333 total yards -- declaring Saturday his best day as an Ole Miss Rebel to date. Brunetti signed with Ole Miss in December, and enrolled a month later. Mackey, meanwhile, was up and down, his offense managing only 240 total yards.

"I thought Barry Brunetti had his best day as an Ole Miss Rebel today," Lee said. "I thought Mackey, when given time, was effective. I just thought he had a lot less time, and a lot less chance to execute than Brunetti did."

"Right now, I just got to keep getting better, more comfortable with the offense," Brunetti said. "I'm for sure going to have a better showing in fall camp. Once I hear it a second time, it's going be much better, more comfortable."

Brunetti, a transfer from West Virginia, has filed for an NCAA hardship waiver, which would allow the sophomore to play immediately. Head coach Houston Nutt said he hopes to hear one way or another by the end of the month.

"First two weeks, I kind of thought about it a lot," Brunetti said of the waiver. "It was kind of affecting me a lot on the field, too, thinking about it. As the spring went on, I kind of forgot about it and was just like I'm not going to worry about it. If I am (cleared), I am. If I'm not, I'm not."

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