April 16, 2011 11:14:00 PM
OXFORD -- University of Mississippi football coach Houston Nutt came into Saturday''s spring game hoping to get a better feel for who might win its three-man quarterback race. A few leaders on defense would be nice, too.
But much like the final score, not much was decided.
The Blue and Red teams finished the Grove Bowl in a 17-17 tie at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, and the unresolved outcome was a fitting finish to Nutt''s most crucial spring practice in his four-year tenure with the Rebels.
Spring workouts started with a four-man quarterback race that was reduced to three after junior Nathan Stanley decided to transfer earlier this week.
Of the remaining candidates, Barry Brunetti had the best afternoon on Saturday. He completed 12 of 21 passes for 211 yards, two touchdowns and two interceptions. The 6-foot-0, 213-pound sophomore transfer from West Virginia also rushed for 37 yards on seven carries.
Brunetti made a few spectacular plays, like his 90-yard touchdown pass to Korvic Neat. But both interceptions were bad decisions, including one that was returned 92 yards by safety Ivan Nicholas before he was tackled just short of a touchdown.
"I started off a little slow, but as we got more into it and more comfortable and got the jitters out of the way, I was better throwing," Brunetti said.
Ole Miss offensive coordinator David Lee said Brunetti''s improvement since arriving on campus in January has been impressive. But there''s still uncertainty: Brunetti has asked the NCAA to waive a one-year residency requirement for transfer students because of a medical hardship in his family.
Ole Miss expects the NCAA''s response sometime in May.
"Brunetti started out slow, but boy he''s come on," Nutt said. "As you can see, he''s a playmaker."
Randall Mackey, a 5-foot-11, 195-pound junior completed 9 of 18 passes for 151 yards, one touchdown and one interception. He''s displayed a strong arm during practices, but has been plagued by communication issues in the huddle with teammates, though both Mackey and Nutt said those problems have improved greatly.
Nutt said the third quarterback in the race, junior college transfer Zack Stoudt, didn''t play because of an academic issue. Stoudt, a 6-foot-4, 222-pound junior has the best arm of the three quarterbacks, but isn''t as mobile as Brunetti or Mackey.
Only Brunetti has any Football Bowl Subdivision experience, and that was very limited playing time as a true freshman with the Mountaineers last fall.
Nutt expects the competition to continue until August.
"I think it''ll be wide open," Nutt said. "Then I think very, very soon after those first 10 days after the first scrimmage -- second scrimmage at the latest -- we''ll have a number one. It''s not jumbled, it''s just pretty close."
Junior Devin Thomas rushed for 92 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries. Redshirt freshman Vincent Sanders caught four passes for 96 yards.
Sophomore safety Brishen Matthews led the Rebels with eight tackles. The Ole Miss defense had some good moments, including three interceptions, but it was hard to glean much information considering six of next year''s projected 11 starters didn''t play because of various injuries.
That includes linebacker D.T. Shackelford, who tore the ACL in his right knee earlier in the week and will likely miss next season.
Nutt was disappointed by the injuries, but after a disappointing 4-8 season last fall, he said a physical spring was crucial.
"We wanted an investment and a sacrifice and we wanted to get tougher and stronger," Nutt said. "And for the most part we did."
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