The Rebels needed it, coming off a 4-8 season and 1-7 finish in Southeastern Conference play. It was quite a fall from back-to-back Cotton Bowl championships the previous two seasons.
"We wanted investment. We wanted sacrifice," said Nutt, entering his fourth season with the Rebels. "We wanted to get tougher. We wanted to get stronger. For the most part we did."
Nutt said a lot of players stepped up who were virtual unknowns.
"There are some names out there we didn't know much about," he said. "Ralph Williams, Vincent Moss, Ivan Nicholas. Every one of our junior college guys I feel will help us – Wesley Pendleton, Gilbert Pena, Philander Moore. That's exciting. And that's why you recruit that guy that's a little bit older."
Nutt began to dissect his team a bit from the spring.
"Our offensive line has gotten better. What you like about that is you're starting to build some depth there. It's about keeping them stacked at every position," he said. And there are some positions we don't have that luxury. One position that comes to mind is corner. I'm really concerned at corner because it's thin. I thought Charles Sawyer really got better this spring. Cliff Coleman got better this spring. I wish Marcus Temple was out there, but he'll be back. That's going to be good. Hopefully we get (2011 signee) Senquez Golson in here.
"At wideout we're thin. Brishen Matthews is always around the ball at safety. A good tackler. Ivan Nicholas comes to mind. Damien Jackson didn't play but you saw the guys on the sideline; there's quite a few on the sideline that didn't play. Carlton Martin. Kentrell Lockett. Wayne Dorsey. That's what excites me."
"We're going to ask some freshmen to come in here and get ready to go as well," he said. "We'll see what they can handle. A guy like C.J. Johnson. Senquez Golson. Nick Brassell. Tobias Singleton. Donte Moncrief. We're trying to build this team and build it the right way with depth.
"We feel good about the offensive line. We've got to get better at moving our feet. We did see a lot of improvement."
More from Nutt:
On the quarterbacks: "You saw Barry Brunetti and Randall Mackey and what they can do. They can extend a play. You'd better have a quarterback who can extend a play. You're not going to be able to block for them every play 80 plays a game just right."
Nutt said quarterback elaborated on the absence of Zack Stoudt, who missed Saturday's Grove and Friday's practice for an academic-related violation of team rules.
"Zack Stoudt. He got up and walked out of a class," Nutt said. "The bottom line is you don't walk out of class. We had to teach a hard lesson. He really wanted to play. Eligibility is not the case. We had to make a point."
On the receivers: "They've made strides but we've got to get better at that position."
On the running backs: "I feel good about our backs.
On the tight ends: "I'm excited about them.
On the kickers: – "They're kicking the ball well. Tyler Campbell (punter), Bryson Rose (placekicker), Andrew Ritter (kickoff), and David Hankins. So we're in good shape."
The Grove Bowl ended in a tie at 17-17 but there were plenty of big plays, many of them of the scoring variety.
Early on, it was apparent that was going to be the case. In the first quarter, Randall Mackey hit Terrell Grant with a perfect strike in coverage at the goal line as Grant hauled it in and reached his arm over for the touchdown.
Not long after, Barry Brunetti hit Ja-Mes Logan on a 5-yard pass for a touchdown. In the second quarter, Brunetti again showed his accuracy on a 90-yard bomb to Korvic Neat who raced into the end zone.
Andrew Ritter was good on a 23-yard field goal in the second quarter for the Blue team, and Rose connected on a 22-yard field goal for the Reds in the third quarter.
A Devin Thomas 1-yard run rounded out the scoring for the day.
Rose and Ritter were true on two extra points each.
Mackey drove his Red team downfield in the game's late moments to try to win it. He hit Grant for a 35-yard gain to the Blue 45. But on first and 10 at that point, Mackey was intercepted on a desperation heave to the goal line by Ralph Williams.
Brunetti ended the contest as the leading rusher for the Blue team with 37 yards on seven carries with a long gainer of 13 yards. Enrique Davis had 28 yards on seven carries for the Blue team. Devin Thomas paced the Red team with 92 yards on 17 carries and a touchdown. Philander Moore was next with only four yards on two carries.
Vincent Sanders for the Blue team was the leading receiver with 96 yards on four receptions. Logan caught four passes for 32 yards and a touchdown. Neat had 93 yards on two catches, one for a score.
Grant paced the Red receivers with four catches for 61 yards and a touchdown, followed by Melvin Harris with two receptions for 43 yards. Layton Jones had two receptions for 34 yards. Tyler Campbell punted twice for the Blue team and averaged 46.5 yards per kick. Chris Conley punted for the Blue squad and had four for an average of 36 yards.
Team stats were heavy in favor of the Blue team. They led in passing yards 242 to 151. On the ground, Red had a slight edge 91 yards to 89. That's a total yardage of 33 for the Blue team to 240 for the Red squad. Reds were credited with 11 first downs, and the Blues 12.
Philander Moore and Jeff Scott were the return men for the teams.
Arguably the game's biggest defensive play was an interception by Ivan Nicholas of a Brunetti pass that he returned 92 yards.
Defensively Brishen Matthews and Josh Lancaster had eight tackles apiece for the Red team. Matthews was credited with four solo stops, while Lancaster had three solos. Carlos Thompson had seven tackles, four of the solo version. Thompson also ahd two tackles for loss. For the Blues, Joshua Shipp had six tackles, three solos, while Nicholas had four tackles (three solos) and Rudy Wilson had four, with two of the of the individual variety.