Austin: 'I think Jevan can still grow'

ARLINGTON, Texas - As a former Ole Miss quarterback, second-year offensive coordinator Kent Austin understands the trials and tribulations of one of sport's more unique positions.

Austin was an Ole Miss letterwinner from 1981-85, and ranks among the school's all-time passing leaders. He's second in career completions and attempts, and third in passing yards and 200 yard games.

Suffice to say, from the highest of highs to the lowest of lows, this 10-year veteran of the Canadian Football League knows the spotlight always shines brightest on the man under center.

So after seeing his star pupil, junior quarterback Jevan Snead, experience those ups-and-downs over the course of 12 games this season, Austin can sympathize.

"They don't understand," he said of outside criticism of Snead's play on the year. "I've played the position. You don't have an understanding of how valuable (an experienced quarterback) is unless you've played it. You really don't. It's one of the most unique positions in all of sports and it does require you to play to get better.

"We were young in a couple of spots, especially up front. Guys that had to fill some pretty big shoes. We had a pretty good line last year. I think Jevan's biggest issue was pressing when things weren't as easy as they were at the end of the year. That was his biggest issue. And in that regard, I think he has grown."

For the season, Snead was good on 178-of-328 passes for 2,464 yards and 20 touchdowns. But turnovers were a continual problem for the Stephenville, Texas native. He threw at least two interceptions in six games during the regular season, and led the conference with 17 total on the year.

"Jevan's learned now that he has to let the game come to him," said Austin of Snead's improvement. "Sometimes you have to learn when to call it a day. They're going to win some plays. Quarterbacks can learn in both good times and bad times. And they can also learn to get worse in good times and bad times. It's not one or the other. It's both. I've tried to counsel Jevan in that regard and teach him what the process is of getting better in those scenarios."

Promoted as a potential Heisman candidate before the season, Snead endured early struggles and seldom showed glimpses of his 2008 form when he finished second in the SEC in touchdown passes with 26.

His alarming inconsistency came to a head at South Carolina. Snead completed only 7-of-21 passes for 107 yards and one touchdown in a deflating 16-10 loss in Columbia. The performance triggered a downward spiral, as he combined for seven interceptions to three touchdowns against Vanderbilt and Alabama in the following weeks.

"The thing I love about Jevan is he just continues to battle," Austin said. "He's just a tough kid. He got hit a lot this year. It got better. We started to do some things to get the ball out of his hand quicker. The vertical game has been better, but it hasn't been as prominent as it was last year. We weren't able to do it this year. We had to kind of retool some things for Jevan.

"He's a really good quarterback, y'all. You put other guys in the environment he was in this year with all the expectations, the changes we had offensively, moving Dexter out of receiver to our tailback, the loss of Mike (Wallace) and some of our guys up front; I'm not sure many quarterbacks would have played as well in that environment as Jevan has."

Despite Snead's trying second season, an early departure to the NFL is still within the realm of possibility.

His body of work is certainly impressive. He has 14 career 200-yard passing games under his belt and holds a school-record streak of eight straight games with multiple touchdown passes.

In his career, Snead is just the second Ole Miss quarterback to throw for 2,000 yards in consecutive seasons. He boasts 20 touchdown passes and has accounted for 14 touchdowns in his last seven games.

But if you ask Austin, another year confined to the friendly surroundings of Ole Miss could prove beneficial for the 6-foot-3, 220 pounder.

"Absolutely," he said when asked if he'd like for Snead to stick around another year. "I'm selfish in that regard. I want as many good players at that position as I can have. And I think it would benefit him in a lot of areas. It would benefit him personally too. Off the field, I think there are benefits for him and just growing as a person. It would really help him.

"I think Jevan can still grow. No question. There's no doubt in my mind. And I think another year could help him in those areas. But it's not my call. If he asks me, I'll tell him. As a quarterback, the only way to get better in all those areas is to keep playing. You only learn to get better by being in that environment a lot. I'm going to support him in whatever he decides to do."

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