High hopes for Rebels in 1st season under Nutt Print
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Tuesday, 12 August 2008 22:26
NCAAF Headline News

 JACKSON, Miss. (AP) -Houston Nutt has turned Mississippi receiver Mike Wallace into a believer.
``I can't wait to see what my team's going to do,'' Wallace said. ``I really feel like he's just been bringing it out of us and I feel like we're in the perfect position to shock a lot of people.''
After three years and 10 wins under Ed Orgeron, the Rebels are embracing a new coach and a new system. Both are proven winners and excitement is high - perhaps too high for a program that went 3-9 overall and 0-8 in the Southeastern Conference last season.
The shock of Orgeron's sudden firing, after administrators gave him a midseason vote of confidence, quickly was replaced by elation when Nutt came to Oxford from Arkansas where he won three SEC West titles. Disenchantment and disappointment have turned to hope and confidence, the first steps in building a winner.
``You can say it's the coaching staff or whatever it is, but whatever happened it's just a big change around here,'' tailback Cordera Eason said. ``Everybody mainly has a different feeling. Excited about going to practice, excited about working out. Just the small things that are bringing the team together.''
Fans talk excitedly about the team's prospects in the division as the Aug. 30 season opener with Memphis approaches and wear T-shirts with slogans like ``I'm Nutts about the Rebels.''
Nutt has done this before, turning around programs that have fallen on hard times, and he cautions everyone not to expect too much. There are holes in all three phases, his tailbacks are unproven and depth will be a problem across much of the team.
Most importantly, though, Nutt must change attitudes in a group that was bullied at times last season and failed to finish off games that were close. Nutt said he wants his team to be physical, a cornerstone of his Arkansas teams that routinely pushed around the competition.
``It's an attitude,'' Nutt said. ``It's living it every day Monday through Friday and not just Saturday. It's not something that's just going to happen when the lights come on. You've got to work at it. They really gave it to us this spring, but we saw the inconsistency. Boy, that's something you've really got to improve on.''
Recent Arkansas teams were known for a lightning-quick running game that featured two-time Heisman Trophy runner-up Darren McFadden and Felix Jones, both first-round picks in the NFL draft. With an unproven group of backs led by Eason, Nutt expects the Rebels will have to rely on the arm of Texas transfer Jevan Snead.
Snead was considered a top recruit out of high school, but left the Longhorns after Colt McCoy won the starting job. He sat out a season, then took on a leadership role in offseason workouts.
``He's outstanding,'' Nutt said. ``He just hasn't played for a while under the lights, under the pressure. I'm anxious to see that.''
The strong-armed Snead said he'll be directing an offense that is similar to the one run by the Razorbacks. There will be some spread formation, but the team will also be able to shift into a lower gear and grind it out of the I-formation.
``We'll definitely be able to attack a defense's weaknesses,'' Snead said.
The team should be at its most dynamic in the passing game, though. Snead will throw to a group of playmakers who were the highlight of a spotty offense last season.
Wallace led the Rebels with 716 yards and an average of 18.8 yards per catch. Shay Hodge finished with a team-high 43 catches and both receivers had six touchdowns. And Dexter McCluster is expected to be one of the biggest playmakers on the team after missing parts of two seasons with injuries.
``They're a great group of guys. I can't say anything bad about any of them, not one of them,'' Snead said. ``We've got a lot of speed, we've got a lot of quickness. We've got a couple of guys who are big and they're willing to go up and get the ball and work hard to do whatever it takes to succeed.''
Defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix was brought in to help improve the SEC's worst defense. The addition of former prep all-American Jerrell Powe could give the Rebels one of the league's best defensive lines, though defensive end Greg Hardy could miss a month or more after surgery to repair a stress fracture in his foot. Still, the group should be fearsome with Peria Jerry at the other tackle and Marcus Tillman at end.
How the rest of the defense comes together, though, will probably determine whether the Rebels make a run at a bowl. Ole Miss struggled at linebacker last season where junior college transfer Patrick Trahan likely will join Ashlee Palmer and Tony Fein in the starting lineup. Strong safety Jamarca Sanford leads a secondary that's thin at best with little experience at cornerback.
Nix has been defensive coordinator at Southern Miss and South Carolina. Sanford believes his scheme will be just what the Rebels need to turn around their fortunes.
``I'd describe it as aggressive, attacking, blitzing, just some of everything,'' he said.
Nix said the scheme will be irrelevant if the Rebels don't commit to winning.
``I think there's some guys that have passion and desire to be successful, and I think that's what it's going to take - for 11 guys to get on the field and play with one common goal, and that's to play fundamentally sound on a consistent basis,'' Nix said.
 

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