September 9, 2008

Rebels find their leader in loss

It got overshadowed a bit in the final 1:01 at Wake Forest, but make no mistake, Ole Miss learned a lot about its quarterback Saturday afternoon in North Carolina.

Fans and pundits will likely spend more time talking about a pair of defensive breakdowns, a pass interference penalty and Sam Swank's 41-yard field goal with three minutes left that gave No. 20 Wake Forest a 30-28 win, but Ole Miss found its leader Saturday.

Fans and pundits will likely look back at the Wake Forest game later this season and wonder if it will keep Ole Miss out of the postseason or if cost the Rebels a trip to a better bowl, but on Monday, Ole Miss coaches and players found themselves looking forward, in large part because of the brilliantly bright future of sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead.

"I knew that Jevan was talented," Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said Monday afternoon. "What I didn't know was how he would respond after an interception or how he would respond when things weren't going right, like in the third quarter. You have to have a short memory. He does.

"I am so excited about Jevan. I think Kent Austin will tell you the same thing. He has such a quick release. He took some shots, now. He took two or three really hard shots but boy, you talk about standing in there and being a man and getting hit right in the teeth and throwing it to our guys. Boy, he showed a lot of courage and just the leadership he showed, I think he took a giant step. Our team now knows he's our quarterback. He's our leader. You have to realize this is his second game in two years. His second game! He's going to be something now. He's going to be something by the time that fifth, sixth or seventh game comes. Jevan's only going to get better."

Wide receiver Shay Hodge has been around the Texas transfer longer than Nutt has. When Snead arrived at Ole Miss in January 2007, Hodge sat back and observed. He liked what he saw then.

"I saw how he acted," Hodge said. "I knew he had it in him. We've got a real quarterback. That's how I feel about it."

For the season, Snead is 30-for-53 passing for 438 yards, six touchdowns and one interception. Even more than the numbers, what has Nutt and Snead's teammates so excited is a pair of fourth-quarter drives that twice gave Ole Miss the lead at Wake Forest.

"I felt like I played as best I could," said Snead, who will lead the Rebels (1-1) against Samford (2-0) at 6 p.m. CDT Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. "I gave it my best effort. I feel like I left some big plays out there and made a few mistakes, the interception being one of the big ones, but I feel like overall, I didn't play as bad as I thought I did.

I felt pretty comfortable last weekend. I am feeling more and more settled in and more comfortable with the offense and college play in general."

Snead said his mistakes Saturday usually came as a result of failing to follow through his progressions and pre-determining where he was going to go with the ball. Those mistakes, Snead and Nutt said Monday, are correctable. However, what had Nutt so excited Monday was an element of Snead's game that media and fans aren't privy to. Nutt was downright giddy about the leadership Snead showed on the sidelines, particularly in the second half, when a pair of Rebel turnovers had sent the momentum over to the Wake Forest sideline.

"I was just trying to keep everybody in there," Snead said. "I was telling them not to quit, not to get down on themselves. We've always got the next drive. I feel like we did have a bad third quarter but you know we did respond and we picked it up for the fourth quarter. I was trying to keep everybody's head in the game and let them know there's no reason to quit."

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