Ole Miss aims to regroup

Published 12:05 pm Friday, December 3, 2010

JACKSON — In a season where very little went right, there is at least one move Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt does not regret — bringing in Jeremiah Masoli.

Nutt had a very good reason for the controversial decision to pursue the veteran quarterback.

“We needed to have a redshirt for Randall Mackey,” Nutt said of the East Mississippi recruit who was to be, before Masoli’s arrival, a candidate for the starting job with Nathan Stanley. “With just Nathan, we were looking to have to go to the intramural fields to find someone. It was a blessing Jeremiah came to us. And he became a great leader for our football team.”

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The former Oregon Duck, who was mentioned as a Heisman Trophy candidate after leading Oregon to the Pac-10 title and the Rose Bowl last season, got kicked off Oregon’s team last summer by coach Chip Kelly following a second arrest in six months. Instead of being the leader of a team steaming toward the Bowl Championship Series national championship game, Masoli had to find another place. Ole Miss became that place and Nutt said he feels vindicated.

“Yes, I do,” Nutt said as he was leaving the Mississippi Sports Hall of Fame following the Conerly Trophy Tuesday night.

“You know, I got ripped pretty hard by some folks in the national media, that I put winning before everything and such,” Nutt said “But those guys didn’t look into the eyes of Jeremiah Masoli. I saw someone who deserved another chance. He proved himself to be a wonderful person and we worked well together.”

Masoli completed 54.6

percent of his passes for 2,039 yards and 14 touchdowns. Masoli had a big hand in all four Ole Miss victories and that earned him an invitation to the Conerly ceremony as the Ole Miss finalist.

Unfortunately, he couldn’t play defense and that was the side of the ball where the Rebels struggled. It started with the season opener, a gut-wrenching 49-48, loss to Jacksonville State which is a Football Championship Subdivision program.

“There was a combination of things, but definitely the Jacksonville State loss affected us mentally for the rest of the season,” Masoli said. “Then came the injuries, with the biggest being the loss of Kentrell Lockett.”

Lockett, a preseason all-Southeastern Conference defensive end, was lost just four games into the season.

The Ole Miss pass rush disappeared with him and the Rebels never recovered. With Masoli, they were able to outscore Kentucky and Fresno State to get to 3-2. Then came the meat of the schedule and losses to Alabama, Auburn, LSU and Tennessee followed.

Ironically for Masoli, his former Oregon teammates have a strong possibility to face Auburn in the BCS title game, provided the Tigers beat South Carolina Saturday in the SEC championship game in Atlanta.

“That would be a great game,” Masoli said of an Oregon-Auburn matchup. “Of course, I’ll pull for Oregon. But Cam (Newton) can do so many great things.”

Many of those things, like running and passing, are what Masoli can do well, too.

“There are going to be some opportunities for me to play at the pro level,” Masoli said.

He’s not interested in being another Michael Spurlock, a former Ole Miss quarterback who now returns kicks for the Tampa Bay Bucs.

“I’m too slow to play receiver,” Masoli said. “My skill set is at quarterback. I’m just glad that Ole Miss gave me the opportunity to show them.”

As for the current state of the Rebels, Nutt said on Monday, some new laws were laid down.

“Usually we give them a week off, not this time,” Nutt said. “We started Monday. We’re starting from square one, down to how we put our socks on. We had a program that won back-to-back Cotton Bowls, but our guys lost their way. The commitment that had been there wasn’t. Like I told my players on Monday, all those gifts that you got for the last two years, you don’t get this year. You have to work for it and that’s what we’re going to do.”

Improving the personnel is also on the list.

“We know we have to get faster on defense,” Nutt said. “We lose two great defensive tackles and have to replace them, but getting faster is critical.”