Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt was looking for something good to happen Saturday in a two-hour scrimmage in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in front of 4-500 Rebel fans.
The week leading up to the scrimmage had been a productive one and he wanted to see that continue through the day and into next week, the final week of spring practice.
"I thought we had a good physical day today," said Nutt. "This week was so much better than the first week. We hit them hard all week and they responded to the challenge. I think they played hard and they played physical. They really brought it for us.
"Our leadership continues to show up for us with the likes of Kendrick Lewis, Marshay Green, Patrick Trahan, John Jerry, Daverin Geralds, Jevan Snead, Andy Hartmann and some others."
The Rebel defense seemed to be flying around all over the field, as Nutt attests.
"We went 99 yards without an issue or mistake on the first drive of the day, which was a good sign offensively, but what impressed me the most was that our defense was playing very fast all day," he continued."
Everyone got quality reps in the 75-play scrimmage, but the emphasis was on getting the backups more in an effort to evaluate their roles on the team for fall.
There is a battle shaping up for 2nd team quarterback between senior Billy Tapp and RS freshman Nathan Stanley. Today, Nutt gave the nod to the youngster.
"I want to look at the film, but right now walking off the field, I'd say Nathan," Nutt stated. "He's really improved and has a real chance. Billy is very intelligent and I am so glad he is on our team. He can get us out of any situation and will know what to do, but Stanley has tightened this thing up.
"Jevan (Snead) has shown improvement too. There are still some things we need to work on with him about his decision-making, but overall I'm glad to have the three we have. Also, Clayton Moore has gotten better in a short time. He made some plays today. I like his attitude and the way he comes to work every day. He's very young, but I'm very proud of what he has accomplished so far. His head is spinning a little, but he's willing to get in there and give it a try."
OLB Patrick Trahan continues to catch Houston's eye, practice after practice.
"Patrick had a sack today that looked like the sack he had against Texas Tech," Houston smiled. "He's so fast and quick and now he has so much confidence. He understands what he's doing."
Perhaps the surprise of the day was the number two defense somewhat holding their own against the number one offense, which was the usual format displayed in the scrimmage.
"They looked like they stepped up. I'm anxious to watch the film because I feel like they made some improvement," he added. "I know they made some plays today and that was good to see. Tyrone (Nix) is trying to develop 22 guys and maybe a couple of more popped into that number today that he feels comfortable with. Fon Ingram, Lamar Brumfield, Emmanuel Stephens and Jerrell Powe all made plays I noticed today."
Now that the Rebel coaches have settled - for now - on a top offensive line, Nutt is starting to see a difference in performance from that unit.
"We're starting to gel some up front. We have a really good mix now, one we are comfortable with and that's good to see. We want them to have a good final week of spring to develop a little more continuity, but they are coming," Nutt stated.
Nix, the Rebel defensive coordinator, was quick to praise the results of the scrimmage as well.
"We're getting better. Our kids are playing harder and we're tackling better. We are still not where we need to be in that area, but we are getting better," Nix noted. "Our twos made a step forward today against the one offense. I thought Powe continues to improve, Fon Ingram and Derrick Herman are making plays and Jason Jones is improving in the linebacking corps. Brandon Sanders also made some plays. Those things are encouraging."
Tyrone also mentioned #7, Trahan.
"I see a fast, physical linebacker out there. He plays with maximum intensity and understands the game. He's night and day from when we got him last August," Nix said. "We expect him to have a great senior year.
"Our players are all getting better because we've had them a while now and they understand what we are trying to do and the effort required to do it. They have the fundamentals of the scheme now and it seems to be all coming together, but there's still work to do."
Offensive Coordinator Kent Austin gave some kudos, when asked, to Stanley for his Saturday efforts.
"He tried to force one at the end that was picked off, but other than that he's coming on. He's got some natural playmaking ability that really helps him but he has to learn not to push the envelope too much," Austin added. "Clayton (Moore) showed some poise for a guy who should still be in high school right now. He made some plays with his feet that were good to see and he threw one nice deep ball. He's doing fine."
While Austin doubles as the QB coach, he keeps his eyes glued to all aspects of the offense, including what's going on up front.
"It's helped us that we have settled in on one group. It helped us with some continuity this past week and hopefully through the end of spring and into the summer," he added. "At running back, Brandon Bolden is our top guy right now, not including Dexter, but the others are doing well too. We are still evaluating all of them.
"At wideout, we really need production out of Lionel Breaux and Markeith Summers, who both made long catches today. I think they are taking the challenge seriously. They have to focus a little more and play fast, but that will come because they work hard."
Austin said facing the Rebel defense has helped the offense.
"You better be ready to play when you face them in practice, especially when #7 is running you down sideline to sideline. He's a pretty good player. We better account for him," he laughed. "We have a fast defense and they play hard. It's good for us. You have to learn to play at a different speed in the SEC and our young guys are getting that kind of exposure. We have some younger guys who have to come on and this is a good proving ground against our defense."
* Wide Receiver Andrew Harris sat out today after he got hit in a bad spot for a man at the end of practice and experienced some swelling last night that forced him to the emergency room with a rupture. Now word on how long he will be out.
* Backup CB Marcus Temple hurt his shoulder early in the scrimmage and did not return, but we don't have any word on the severity of the injury yet.
* Besides Harris, Greg Hardy, Don Hargroder, George Helow (hamstring) and Jacarious Lucas (hamstring) did not dress out today. Lucas says he expects to return to practice Monday.
* After a rocky start to spring that prompted a demotion, Left Tackle Bradley Sowell has made a move in the right direction in the past week after he was reinstated to number one status. "Brad is an excellent athlete who has come on strong the last few practices," said OL Coach Mike Markuson. "I think it sunk in what is required to be the top guy at that position. I want him to get a little stronger in the offseason but right now things are going a lot better for him."
* We've been asked what the strength and conditioning staff tries to accomplish during spring training. We asked the expert, S&C Coach DOn Decker. "We try to maintain what they gained in the offseason with the upper body," said Decker. "We can't work the legs and lower body because they have to be fresh for practice. It's a balancing act because we want them to peak at practice and not in the weight room. You are not going to make strength gains in spring training, but you don't want to lose strength either. We have a good maintenance program that has served us well for many years."
* Some highlights from the scrimmage. . . . The one offense opened on their 1 against the two defense and went 99 yards for a TD, but not without some major resistance. The drive was capped by a 39-yard run by Lionel Breaux on a reverse spring by FB Andy Hartmann's downfield block, but it wasn't an easy drive. Bolden got 14 tough yards on the first play and Snead hit Summers for a 17-yard gain, but the rest of the yardage was a struggle. In fact, CB Jeremy McGee smelled out the first reverse the Rebs tried and nailed Summers for an 11-yard loss. While the drive was completed in nice fashion, as the coaches pointed out, the number two defense came to play. . . . The second time those two units matched up, FS Fon Ingram picked off a Snead pass 20-yards downfield with an acrobatic catch on the sidelines. Stanley took over for Snead and promptly hit Breaux for a 25-yard gain and then found McCluster for a short TD while throwing under pressure of a blitz by Lamar Brumfield. . . The one defense gave up a play or two to the two offense on the next series (Tapp to Ferbia Allen for 12 yards and Devin Thomas rambling for 10 on a run) but Trahan put a big hit on Thomas for a loss and then Kendrick Lewis followed up with another loud hit on Thomas for no gain. CB Cassius Vaughn also got to Tapp on a blitz for a forced throw away. . . . When the threes took the field, LB Rudy Wilson picked off Clayton Moore to end the series quickly. . .Stanley then directed the one offense to a score against the two defense when he hit Summers for 30 yards and TB Enrique Davis rambled for a 9-yard TD. . . The two offense then surprised the one defense by putting together a scoring drive from the 50. TB Andre Sterling ran for 18 yards followed by a Tapp to Allen completion for 16 yards in traffic. The RS frosh TE got nailed by Lewis and Johnny Brown, but held on to the ball. On the next play, on a pass tipped by Allen in the end zone, WR Richie Contartesi gathered in the deflection for a TD. . . When the threes took the field the next time, Moore fared better, running for two nice gains and finding Will Cole for a 45-yard reception. . . To cap the scrimmage, Nutt put the ball on the plus-20 and put both number one units on the field. Bolden was stopped after one yard by DT Lawon Scott, Vaughn had pass interference called on him in the end zone, Scott and Vaughn threw Summers for a 4-yard loss on a reverse try and Snead hit Hartmann out of the backfield for a 9-yard score. A lot of give and take in that 20 yard drive. . . The twos took the field for the final series, but it was short lived. Stanley tried to squeeze a pass in to Allen, but it was picked off an returned for a long score by S Jared Mitchell.
Saturday scrimmage report -
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