(This is the third in a series in our annual SEC Preview leading up to the beginning of Fall Camp on August 5th.)
He has been called many things–a used car salesman, a master motivator, a Baptist preacher and a texting ace–to name a few–, but one thing Mississippi head coach Houston Nutt cannot be called is inconsistent.
A veritable elder statesman of SEC coaches as he enters his 13th consecutive season at the helm of an SEC West squad (Arkansas 1998-2007, Mississippi 2008-present) Nutt, more than most coaches in today’s “what have you done for me, NOW” society” has a track record–of survival.
He has shown that he is what he is–a skilled, yet flawed coach that can invigorate a moribund program and bring notable success–but one who cannot lead the pack and finish with a kick.
And, if the preceding paragraph looks familiar to avid readers of this space, it should.
It’s a paragraph from our 2009 Mississippi Preview which, flying in the face of seemingly every national pundit who had Mississippi pegged as a program poised to make a leap in 2009, predicted the Rebels would bring their fans great highs and lows before finishing with 8 regular-season wins.
Ultimately they did just that–rising as high as the #5 ranked team in the national polls before finishing 8-4, losing the “Egg Bowl” to in-state rival Mississippi State by a score of 41-27, and for the second consecutive season reaching Nutt’s Cotton (Bowl) ceiling.
A year later, we at BlogHawgs might appear to be a bit too self-congratulatory. But in reality, we are merely decent Houston Nutt historians. We should be. We have lived it, one–head-scratching move after another.
Unfortunately, instead of being able to strut around with an undeserved sense of entitlement while calling ourselves “Doctor”, all we got out of our 10-year Houston Nutt Doctoral program was a repeatedly rejected dissertation (that he can take a program to the next level) and a crummy pair of golden handcuffs.
But take heart, Mississippi fans. For every disappointing Houston Nutt-led season, eventually, somewhere, there is an unexpected (relative) rejuvenation. Thanks to an annual rite of passage under Nutt–Mississippi’s soft early season schedule–and much lower expectations for this year’s Rebels’ squad, Nutt has everything in place to deliver a textbook 6-7 win Houston Nutt season.
In fact, he seems to welcome the “experts” having lower expectations for the Rebels than they did a year ago.
“Most of the time I’ve been picked towards the bottom,” Nutt told the assembled media at last week’s SEC Media Days in Birmingham.
“I don’t really worry about that. I never have. A lot of people say, You coach better when you’re not under such high expectations. I’ve always been under low expectations, so most of the time I don’t really worry about that. I tell our young men, Doesn’t matter. All the polls and Bowls, that’s decided on the field, so it doesn’t really matter. Doesn’t matter where you put us. I understand somebody told us y’all picked us last. Thank you. That’s all right. It’s good. It really doesn’t matter.”
The Mississippi Offense
The look and feel of Mississippi’s offense will largely be defined in the coming days, as the final (collegiate) chapters of The Book of Jeremiah (Masoli) are written.
After a checkered juvenile past, (robberies) Oregon took a chance on Masoli, and he rewarded the school by leading it to 10-3 records each of the past two seasons and its first Rose Bowl appearance in 15 years in 2009. He was second-team Pacific-10 Conference last season after completing 177 of 305 passes for 15 touchdowns and six interceptions, and running for 668 yards and 13 scores.
Masoli, a unique, versatile talent, has been so good on the field that he has appeared on some Heisman lists during his career and has his name sprinkled throughout Oregon’s football records. Unfortunately, though, he has been amassing an extensive criminal record, as well.
He is currently looking for a new school after first being suspended from the Oregon football team for the entire 2010 season for violation of team rules (burglary of a fraternity house, theft of laptops) and then being dismissed after getting into more trouble with the law. (marijuana arrest)
If the courtship of Masoli to Mississippi comes to fruition it will do so because only a coach the likes of Houston Nutt can make it happen. But, although Nutt, at this hour, is apparently desperate and willing to get on one knee, it wasn’t love at first sight. Instead, the entire Nutt/Masoli affair has had more of a creepy Russian Mail Order bride feel.
Consider the following timeline:
- July 7, 2010–4-star Mississippi Wide Receiver Pat Patterson is dismissed from the team by Nutt for violation of team rules;
- July 20, 2010–Just before SEC Media Days, Nutt and Mississippi say “No” to Masoli;
- July 22, 2010–Rumors surface that highly-regarded, but dissatisfied 2nd-team quarterback Raymond Cotton, a redshirt freshman, may transfer;
- July 24, 2010–Masoli to Mississippi is “in-play”;
- July 25, 2010–Cotton transfers before ever playing a down for the Rebels; and
- July 25, 2010–Masoli to Mississippi is more likely, but Nutt texts the reporter to tell him it’s not a done deal.
One can only wonder what Patterson, Cotton, and Mississippi 1st-team quarterback (for now) Nathan Stanley must be thinking. Stanley (11-23, 163 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT for his career) has waited patiently behind the latest quarterback to have his career killed by Nutt–Jevan Snead–and was poised to pull off his best Casey Dick impersonation. Instead, Stanley must be steaming as he waits to find out if he will be the Mississippi signal-caller, after all.
If Masoli is at the helm, look for the Mississippi offense to be dangerous. He is a perfect fit for the Wild Cat/Hog/Dolphin/Rebel/Land Shark/Bear (hereinafter Wild Land Shark) offense that Nutt’s brother, Danny, didn’t invent.
Unlike most Wild Land Shark QB’s, Masoli has the ability to run, or pass, effectively.
And, he would have an offensive line with a couple of talented tackles in Bobby Massie (6-6, 317) and Bradley Sowell (6-7, 305) and one of Nutt’s prototypical deep, and talented, running back corps featuring Brandon Bolden (5-11, 220), Enrique Davis and Rodney Scott. Throw in a potential game-changer in Jesse Grandy (Pine Bluff Dollarway) and the Mississippi offense would strike fear into the hearts of opposing defenses and computer lab proctors.
If Mississippi says “No Mas” (pronounced “No Mass” in the 50th The Magnolia State) of the Nutt/Masoli dalliance, the job will remain with Stanley and he will be asked to do very little in terms of playmaking. His chief responsibility will be to display enough effectiveness that the Rebels do not have to rely on JUCO All-American transfer Randall Mackey (6-0, 190) who has talent, but has only been on campus for a short period of time and will have a steep learning curve. Without Masoli, Mississippi’s 3rd-string quarterback may have to come from the intramural fields, again.
To be effective, Stanley will have to keep the offense out of bad plays and avoid turnovers–something with which Snead struggled mightily last year. With Patterson out of the mix and Grandy anything but a conventional Wide Receiver at 5-10, 165, the primary target for either Masoli or Stanley should be wide receiver Markieth Summers.
Look for Nutt to employ Grandy all over the field, including special teams and occasionally QB, as he did with Dexter McCluster, who almost single-handedly whippped Arkansas last season and was a threat to score every time he touched the ball.
The fact that Mississippi has a new (co)offensive coordinator, Dave Rader, should at least be mentioned, here. Nutt is–you guessed it–excited about the addition and said playcalling and game-planning will be a collaborative effort.
Houston Nutt and his next Offensive Coordinator
“Dave Rader, Mike Markuson, and myself, with the rest of the crew, we put together a game plan,” Nutt said. ”I’ve been calling plays for the last — since I got to Ole Miss. That doesn’t necessarily mean it’s just me. We really do a thorough study……Really, anybody could call the game. To me, it’s fun being in there, being part of it, getting in there with those young men. To me, it’s the funnest time there is. SEC Saturday competing, there’s nothing like it.”
Nutt’s comments notwithstanding, to think there is much room for the fingerprints of anyone other than Nutt or longtime Offensive Line Coach and frequent (as he is now) ”Co” Offensive Coordinator, Markuson, on the gameplan is at this point in Nutt’s career,to ignore reality–just ask Kent Austin, David Lee and Gus Malzahn, who are former offensive coordinators under Nutt.
The Mississippi Defense
The Mississippi defense should be one of the better units in the league, particularly if the Mississippi offense can be consistent and avoid putting new Defensive Coordinator Tyrone Nix’ crew in bad situations via excessive turnovers.
Nix is a proven winner for whom Nutt has pined for a while. Now, he has Nix, and a defensive line that should be the strength of the team, even after losing some key players from last year’s squad. Kentrell Lockett (6-5, 254) and Jerrell Powe (6-2, 330) look like excellent SEC defensive lineman and they play that way, too.
If they can continue to be disruptive at the point of attack, Mississippi may be able to protect the presumptive starters at cornerback coming out of spring practice–Marcus Temple (5-10, 188) and Jeremy McGee (5-10, 180)–and limit the damage from the loss of defensive backfield stalwarts Marshay Green and Cassius Vaughn on the edges.
Johnny Brown (6-0, 212) is is a head-knocking safety that will help ease some of the pressure on the new corners. Junior college transfer Damien Jackson (6-2, 195) also made a push during spring practice and appears to have nabbed the starting free safety position.
Jeff's Snarky Comment From the Casual Fans' Peanut Gallery: Years until Ole Miss tires of HDN mediocrity: 4. Years until the run up to dismissal: 6. Cotton Bowl appearances during that time: Three. Times HDN calls it a “special” opportunity: Three. Unexplainable text messages to female Oxford News Anchor during that time: 293,843.
The linebacker spots are manned capably by Joel Kight, Jonathan Cornell and Allen Walker. Former Auburn Tiger transfer Patrick Trahan was one we told you to watch last season, and he did not disappoint. His production will need to be replaced.
Mississippi Special Teams
Placekicker Joshua Sheane, a 4-year starter is gone. Bryson Rose will be handed the thorny task of taking over for him. Sophomore Punter Tyler Campbell took over the job last season and was very good. Grandy, as previously mentioned, has the potential to do big things in the kicking game.
The Mississippi Schedule
The 1st-half of the Mississippi schedule is tailor-made for early success. The second half is tailor-made for early retirement. Nutt admitted early-season success at home is a key for his team.
(The) schedule is really in our favor early on,” Nutt said. ”We got to take advantage of it.
Then, Nutt disagreed with…… himself.
“Jacksonville State, though, you could say, Oh, Jacksonville State, but Jacksonville State had Florida State beat,” Nutt said. “They have real athletes. Jack Crowe does a tremendous job for them. It’s not as easy as if — I want to make sure our players understand, Just don’t look at the schedule and look at it like maybe one of your relatives are looking at it, like, okay, one, two, three, four, five, six. You should win the first six. Hold on now. Let’s get these practices going, let’s get better, let’s get the snap from the center. We got a lot of work to do.”
Two Words: The Citadel
Mississippi will presumably have the Quarterback-Center exchange down before it opens with Jacksonville St. (which is, as Nutt mentioned, led by fellow former Arkansas Head Coach Jack Crowe of, “The Citadel” infamy) on September 4th, and follows with Tulane in New Orleans before hosting Vanderbilt.
And so, Mississippi should start 3-0 before hosting a Fresno St. team that, after taking on Pac-10 powers like Southern Cal in recent years, won’t be afraid of an SEC foe–particularly one that is expected to finish at the bottom of its division. Kentucky comes to Oxford on October 1. Then, Mississippi gets an off week to reflect on what should at least be a 4-1 record.
That is when the fun starts. Mississippi travels to face defending national champion Alabama on October 16th. Then, Nutt and the Rebels travel to Fayetteville on October 23rd for a tilt with a Bobby Petrino-led Razorback Nation that has been waiting to take its pound of flesh from Nutt for almost three years. Old Home month continues for Nutt when Gus Malzahn and Auburn come to Oxford on October 30th.
Finally, after what should be a glorified scrimmage with Louisiana-Lafayette on November 6th, the Rebels travel to Rocky Top on November 13th, march to Death Valley to take on LSU a week later and then wrap up the season by hosting Mississippi State for the “Egg Bowl”.
“What you really want to guard against is you want to embrace it, but at the same time, you got to be ready to help your team if the bubble pops, Nutt said. “The bubble bursted on us in South Carolina Thursday night. It was a very difficult schedule to go from Saturday to Thursday night, especially no matter where you play in the SEC, each stadium is the best in the country, the atmosphere. South Carolina is awesome on Thursday night.
“When that bubble popped, that’s where you better have some ‘Dr. Feel’ in ya. You better be ready to go, to help your team, because expectations are so high. Fans have this vision that you’re going straight to Atlanta. You got to be ready to adjust. We all want to go there.”
What Will Happen
With or without Masoli, Mississippi will start strong. A team of BlogHawgs All-Stars would fare well versus Mississippi’s early schedule. However, in the second half of the season, with or without Masoli, the Rebels will be beaten about the face and the head (figuratively, of course).
But, if Masoli is on board, and if he stays out of trouble (a big if), look for him to be worth one, and maybe two, unexpected wins.
Returning Starters: 3
Key Players: QB Nathan Stanley or QB Jeremiah Masoli, OL Bradley Sowell, OL Bobby Massie, ATH Jesse Grandy
Needs to Emerge: P.O. Masoli’s Probation Officer
Returning Starters: 5
Key Players: NG Jerrell Powe, DE Kentrell Lockett, CB Marcus Temple
Needs to Emerge: S Damien Jackson
Key Games: at Arkansas, AU, at Tennessee
Sept. 4 Jacksonville St W
Sept. 11 at Tulane W
Sept. 18 Vanderbilt W
Sept. 25 Fresno State W
Oct. 2 Kentucky W
Oct. 9 OPEN DATE
Oct. 16 at Alabama L
Oct. 23 at Arkansas L
Oct. 30 Auburn L
Nov. 6 La Lafayette W
Nov. 13 at Tennessee L
Nov. 20 at LSU L
Nov. 27 Miss State W