September 22, 2008

Why is Jevan Snead stuggling?

In some regards, sophomore quarterback Jevan Snead's struggles in the last two Ole Miss games are surprising, but in others, it's not.

Snead looked like the second coming of Eli Manning - Ole Miss' next big quarterback who would someday land in the NFL - while hitting on 21 of 30 passes for 253 yards and four touchdown passes against Wake Forest on Sept. 6. That hope among Rebel fans was only heightened when he led a late, long drive for a score in what should have been the winning drive. However, since then, he's a measly 25 of 49 for 406 yards with six interceptions and no touchdown passes.

It's cause for concern for Ole Miss as Snead is a key cog in what figured to be a high octane offense as the Rebels prepare to hit the road for a match-up with Florida on Saturday.

"It was a bad night," Snead said after the Vanderbilt loss. "I'm just extremely disappointed. I think I'm kind of rushing stuff and not making good decisions. I've got to work on that. It's frustrating. I expect myself to play better and I could've kept us out of a lot of those bad situations."

"He didn't have a good game," head coach Houston Nutt said. "Couple of bad decisions. Like we've been saying, he's got to get better. We've got to get better. He's better than that, and he'll be the first to tell you. But it's everybody. It's 11-man football. We've got to do a better job of staying out of third and long."

While Nutt shared blame for Snead and the offense's struggles, offensive coordinator Kent Austin was more blunt in his assessment.

"You can't learn to play the position effectively without first understanding that you have to protect the football," Austin said. "It starts there. He's getting an education right now. We'll see what he learns. I'm responsible for his play and I've got to get him to make better decisions because right now, he's not doing that and he's turning the football over and we can't have that. We have to get that corrected. We know he can make plays but he has to make better decisions."

From quarterback to head coach to offensive coordinator, there's agreement that Snead struggled, but the question remains - why?

There are several reasons ...

- Experience. In his college career, Snead has been to two colleges and has already seen three head coaches and three offensive coordinators. While the redshirt season - required after he transferred from Texas in early 2007 - should have benefited Snead, he mainly was toiling on the scout team in former offensive coordinator Dan Werner's system and running an offense that the defense needed to practice against for that week's opponent. Prior to that, he played as a true freshmen at Texas, but saw only enough action to go 26 for 49 in passing, good for 379 yards with two interceptions and two touchdowns. That's not a lot of experience, and despite the banter of being one of the top quarterbacks coming out of high school in 2006, he's still only two years removed from high school and lacking in experience.

- Speed of the game. Anyone who witnessed Eli Manning's transition from college All-American to struggling NFL rookie (and even struggling second year player to some degree) knows that transitions from high school to college and college to the NFL can be tough. Perhaps Manning's worst day in the NFL was on Dec. 12, 2004 when he completed two of 18 passes for 27 yards with two interceptions in a 37-14 loss at Baltimore. Snead is going through that transition now, and while his outstanding game at Wake Forest and subsequent struggles can't be explained, it points to Snead going through an adjustment to the speed of college games where cornerbacks and safeties close quicker than they did in high school and fast defensive lineman can chase a quarterback down from behind. Put another way - some of the throws that Snead made in high school just won't work at the college level.

- Pressing. Even as an experienced junior at Ole Miss, Manning saw his touchdown-to-interception drop from 31 touchdown passes with just nine interceptions as a sophomore to 21 touchdown passes to 15 interceptions the next year. Much of that was caused by trying to do too much individually as the Rebels struggled in the running game and Manning was often trying to force passes. It causes bad decisions and that's an area that Snead, Nutt, and Austin all agree that the Rebel signal caller must improve. Austin said he needs to teach Snead when to be conservative and when to be aggressive.

- Fundamentals. When quarterbacks start pressing and begin struggling, they often abandon their fundamentals. That happened to Manning in his career in New York - both during his rookie season and during his second year in the NFL. Austin noted after Snead struggled in the Samford game that Snead had abandoned some of his fundamentals, which could explain why the sophomore quarterback is having the ball sail on long throws and even on some completions, is causing receivers to have to make acrobatic catches.

What will be the answer for Snead to have success remains to be seen. For Manning, it was concentrating on getting his fundamentals down - as well as a visit to head coach Tom Coughlin's office - where he asked his head coach to install plays in the offense that he was comfortable running. That might have been the most instrumental step in transforming a struggling young NFL quarterback into the Super Bowl MVP.

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