Leading the Way ... Barely

Ole Miss has a leader in its quarterback race, small of a lead as it may be.

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The Rebels closed out spring practices with their annual Grove Bowl game Saturday afternoon. The roster was divided into two teams, Red and Blue, with Blue coming out with a 17-7 win.

Head coach Hugh Freeze said afterwards redshirt sophomore Ryan Buchanan was ahead of transfer Chad Kelly, a junior, and redshirt sophomore Devante Kincade in the competition to replace three-year starter Bo Wallace.

Still, the lead “is so minute and so small,” according to Freeze, and the competition will carry well into fall camp in August – if not longer – before a starter is named.

“In the totality of spring, going into today, I would say Ryan had a lead,” he said. “That certainly doesn’t mean he’s going to be the starter. After today, I’ll watch the film and put it with our cumulative stats and everything that we’re judging on them and kind of see where it is after today. It is so far from being over.”

Even so, Buchanan was pleased to hear the words of his head coach.

“It’s motivating,” he said. “It’s definitely motivating and gives me more confidence when your head coach is backing you up. But I know at the same time that it can change in a heartbeat. It can change in fall camp. I have to do what I did here and even improve on what I did in the spring and be consistent in the fall to where he can have confidence. He wants to have confidence with me every single drive. I know he’s looking for that. I’ve got to show that.”

Buchanan, who manned Red, was 5 of 16 for 49 yards and an interception Saturday. It should be noted, however, he was playing behind a lesser offensive line than Kelly, who finished 9 of 19 for 104 yards, one touchdown and one interception for Blue. Kelly’s unit had three projected offensive line starters in Ben Still, Roderick Taylor and Fahn Cooper.

“I was proud of all those guys,” co-offensive coordinator and quarterbacks coach Dan Werner said. “We did move the ball. When you have to split up an already depleted offensive line to play in a scrimmage like that, I was a little nervous that we wouldn’t get a first down. But we moved the ball and did a nice job.”

DeVante Kincade rotated between both teams, which Freeze said was by design. He finished 9 of 18 for 93 yards and rushed 10 times for 50 yards.

“I feel like I could have done more,” Kincade said. “I made a couple of mistakes. I’m ready to get into the film room, get better. I feel like I’m making improvements, but I know for a fact I can do way better.”

Werner felt all three showed promise this spring.

“I think all three of them were (pretty consistent),” he said. “All three of them have some good days and some bad days. I’m not ready to step out and say one, but I was pleased with all three of them.

“We chart every throw, all the way from individual work to (7-on-7 drills). At one point, about three practices ago, all three of them were throwing for 66 percent. It was so close, it’s ridiculous. It really has been a good race, and each one of them has something that they do a little bit better than the others.”

Ole Miss opens its season Sept. 5 against Tennessee-Martin. While Freeze said the goal is to eventually have one primary quarterback, he’ll allow the competition plenty of time to play out.

“If they’re as close as they are now, with the way our schedule is set up, I could see us going a couple of games, making sure we’ve done due diligence in naming a starter,” he said. “But I don’t want to do it beyond that, if that. It wouldn’t shock me to go into week one planning to get them all reps and see how they do when the lights come on and it’s real. We won’t go too long. You’ve got to have a guy who this is our guy when the time comes.”

No matter who wins the job, though, Kincade said each member of the trio are supportive of the others. “It’s friendly. It’s a brotherhood,” he said. “Coach Freeze preaches that a lot, so we don’t even look at it as a battle. We’re just helping each other get better every day.”

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