Opening Game Expectations

Houston Nutt was asked right off the bat what he expected from his team Saturday. The answer?

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"You know, that's what's so much fun about this new year, new faces, new names, new attitude. I can't really answer that question. I don't know." he said.

The answer probably could have been the same thing this time last year. An upset at the hands of Jacksonville State just around the corner wasn't on anybody's radar.

"I just know this. I know what (the players) have put into it. I know how hard they've worked, and I know we've put them through a grind," Nutt said.

That grind was as much a result of the loss to JSU and its remnants, which included a dismal 4-8 record, as anything else. Flip those numbers and the grind might not have been any more intense than the previous offseason.

But it was, and it was because of the 4-8 record. And, of course, all the twists and turns that surround such a season after back to back nine-win campaigns and bowl wins.

"Now it's time to say training wheels are off. It's time to go play for real," said Nutt as year No. 4 in Oxford begins for the veteran Southeastern Conference head coach of 14 seasons.

Youngsters are contributing. Nutt knows the talented class of newcomers has to, and he updated on their progress in the Monday press conference. He said they are ahead of his expectations.

"Absolutely they are," he said. "You know when you watch them on film and evaluate them and you have them in camp (when they are in high school), you have a feeling you know them. But when they get here, the thing that wasn't on there was their competitive spirit. They have raised the level of our team, starting in the summer. All these guys in their own way, they've won a lot of games. They aren't afraid to say I'm coming to play, especially with the receivers.

"It's their competitive spirit you love so much. I say to them every day, keep this group together. You stay here four or five years, it will be special times at Ole Miss. They've exceeded my expectations. Sometimes in our league it takes a while and it's a grind. I'm really proud of the class."

Barry Brunetti
Bruce Newman

It's a new day for Nutt as well. So much in control of the offense in past years, this spring, summer, and fall he has turned the offense over to assistant David Lee. He says with honesty that it has helped.

"This has been good. I have a lot of trust in David Lee. He's done a great job with organization and getting things ready. Gunter Brewer's done an unbelievable job. It really gave me a chance to spend more time on defense, to watch them in drills, to encourage them. Special teams, be in more meetings with special teams. Whereas when you're the play-caller, your mind is on this series and the series that's coming next. You're so wrapped up.

"Now I'm not going to be bashful if they ask me," Nutt continued. "If they want a suggestion, I'll be ready, now. But it gives you time...I'll be able to manage the game better."

Nutt also said Lee has been very good for his quarterbacks, who lack experience in major college football.

"It's been good," he said. "I'm partial, but I don't think there's anybody better than David Lee. Very few coach the way he does, and he can get it done and will have them ready. It just keeps getting better."

Nutt said five days from now is what it's all about. Ole Miss-BYU at 3:45 p.m. in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on ESPN.

"It‘s here and we're excited," he said. "There's nothing like game week. It ought to be an exciting opener."

More Nutt Notes:

On the importance of winning the opener: "No doubt about it. Getting off on the right foot is always so important. Our players know that, and they respect BYU. Big game. Big, big game. New start. New season. Everybody's very anxious."

On BYU's maturity and age of some of the Cougar players: "I wish I had a few more 25, 26 year old guys. That's got to be some difference there, when a guy is able to go out and grow up and learn and make a commitment and come back and you're a freshman. That's gotta be a great feeling to have that as a coach. But we don't have that luxury. Our freshmen have to play and they have to play now."

On Barry Brunetti: "He's been here since January. He's gotten a lot of good reps and we've named him the starter. Right now he's been the most accountable. The thing that's good is we know who's going to play. I'm excited about Barry and how hard he's worked."

On Kentrell Lockett: "There's nothing like experience, there's nothing like leadership. It's why they voted him a captain again this year. He hasn't been able to go every single day. But he keeps coming back. We'll get some plays from him; I don't know how many. We'll watch him closely and see. He's rehabbed hard and his leg is strong. He's had four surgeries."

On Aaron Garbutt: "He's very physical and plays like a linebacker. He has coverage skills. He's been real helpful to us. Damien (Jackson) is very physical and just feels better at the back-end position, the safety position. So we moved him back there. I still think with 4-3 and our ability to move around guys with playmaking ability, we're just trying to get the best 11 on the field. Aaron wasn't here in the spring. But he came on in a hurry by being physical, studying the playbook, and showing up in the scrimmages."

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