Work to Do

Junior quarterback Barry Brunetti has heard the rumblings.

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Through six practices this spring, including a full-contact scrimmage inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Friday afternoon, he's emerged as the frontrunner to be named Ole Miss' starting quarterback.

He's taken the majority of the first-team snaps, though junior college transfer Bo Wallace has kept the race tight, with senior Randall Mackey running third. But honestly, with where things stand, could the starting job be Brunetti's to lose?

"I've heard that a couple of times, but we still don't have a No. 1 guy," Brunetti said. "I'm just taking the first snaps. But every rep I get, I want to take advantage of it, ‘cause there's so many of us."

Brunetti was 7 of 10 for 80 yards, two touchdowns and an interception Friday. The interception came on the first drive of the scrimmage, but he rebounded nicely, completing touchdown passes of 15 and 30 yards.

The 30-yard score, to wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan, came in the closing minutes of the scrimmage on a fade route in the corner of the end zone.

"After that first interception, I started throwing the ball pretty well, hitting my marks," he said. "I just had to get into a groove. Usually I run it a couple of times to get me into a groove. I didn't run it today; I was kind of sitting back there today. It was different, but it felt good not to run for once."

Brunetti left an impression on Freeze, though the first-year Ole Miss head coach said the offense, as a whole, has a long way to go over the next three weeks.

Barry Brunetti
Chuck Rounsaville

"I know that Brunetti threw two back-shoulder throws that were as good as I've seen in a long time, and a really nice fade there in that first little end of session from the 30," he said.

"He threw a real good ball there to Ja-Mes. To say he stood out ahead of some of the others, I probably couldn't say that until I watched the film."

Wallace was 9 of 18 for 62 yards. He also had 30 rushing yards, with the majority of his numbers coming late, when the offense went pass-heavy in a two-minute-like simulation.

"Started a little slow. As a whole, as an offense, we didn't take care of the ball at the beginning of the scrimmage," Wallace said. "But toward the end, we got comfortable and started to get on our pace. We looked good toward the end."

Ole Miss co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner acknowledged the slow start for his quarterbacks.

However, he was pleased with the way they finished. Mackey, who started more games than any other quarterback on the roster last season, was 2 of 4 for 12 yards on the day. He totaled 64 yards on the ground, including two touchdowns.

"We didn't protect the ball the way I would like to," Werner said. "That was the big thing, and the thing that we've talked about a lot. The two main things we've talked about is protecting the football and throwing the ball on time, and I didn't think we did either one of them very well today.

"I will say we came back later in the scrimmage and made some plays that I was pleased with, but we've got a long way to go."

Unlike last season, when Ole Miss rotated three quarterbacks and never named a starter en route to a 2-10 season, Brunetti believes Freeze and Werner will decide on a quarterback by the start of the summer at the latest.

Good thing, too. Brunetti said the constant rotation of quarterbacks under Houston Nutt proved to be a distraction.

"It was very disruptive," he said. "I understand when Coach Freeze says he desperately needs a quarterback.

Bo Wallace
Chuck Rounsaville

"Coming off a 2-10 season, you need something. You need something to change. That was kind of disruptive last year. But I hope Coach Freeze picks a guy in the spring.

"I haven't heard, but I'm thinking him and Coach Werner are going to get together and pick a guy after the spring game or going into the summer. We'll have a guy before the summer."

And while Brunetti may or may not be the leader in the clubhouse with a week of practices in the books, Wallace said there's still much more football to be played.

"I think we're still battling. We've been through six practices. Keep battling and have consistent days. Hopefully, win the job," he said.

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