Ole Miss football coach Houston Nutt learned a valuable lesson Saturday afternoon in his team’s 49-48 overtime loss to Jacksonville State: You can’t be Mr. Nice Guy all the time.
There seems to be a sizable portion of Ole Miss fans who believe that Nutt was being a nice host by not running up the score on his former boss, JSU coach Jack Crowe. Whether Nutt intentionally called the dogs off or not, the perception of the fan base is the Rebels coasted in the second half so the Gamecocks wouldn’t be destroyed on the scoreboard.
I agree with that way of thinking to a point and even though I think Nutt didn’t do this on purpose, the end result was a disappointing and embarrassing loss that shouldn’t have happened. There is no good excuse for why the Rebels lost their season opener. They were the better team. They had more talent, the crowd support, a 21-point halftime lead, everything firmly in their favor to post a win.
There was no reason for me to believe that the Rebels would lose to the Gamecocks, especially after I watched the first half. Nathan Stanley looked really good in his first start at quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli was also solid, if not spectacular, while the running game and defense were making plays as well. Things seemed to be clicking for the Rebels heading into halftime and I expected to see more of the same to start the third.
Unfortunately for everyone that remained in attendance at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, the Rebels and their coaching staff didn’t execute like they did in the first half. The turnover count doubled, the passes were less crisp, the running game gained fewer and fewer yards and the defense, well the defense was nowhere to be found after the third quarter.
And by the time the Rebels started to look like they cared about the game again, it was too late. Jacksonville State gained the momentum in the fourth and they weren’t about to give it up. Like the old saying goes, a snowball rolling down a mountain is hard to stop once it gets going. Not playing for a full game at full throttle hurt the Rebels and by the overtime periods, the damage had been done.
Ole Miss opened as a 21 point favorite to beat Tulane on Saturday in New Orleans. I think this team better almost double that spread after the performance in the opener. The Rebels need to beat the Green Wave like they stole something. That’s just the way it has to be and the players interviewed Monday agreed that they couldn’t be Mr. Nice Guy any longer.
You have to play football with a passion, on the edge and with a swagger. It’s a sport you have to want to crush your opponent on every play, no matter if it’s playing against your brother or your worst enemy. Coaches can’t worry about being nice and not running up the score. If the other team and coach can’t stop the plays, that’s their problem.
Jimmy had it right
I’m not advocating a bunch of late hits, unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and things of that nature, but coaches need to put teams away when they have the opportunity. If Ole Miss is up 21 or 28 points with five minutes left to play, put in the reserves, but don’t wreck the continuity of the game to do it.
I never understood why coaches who make $2 million a year worry about being criticized a little by some national pundit who really doesn’t understand the game of football anyway. That national sportswriter or opposing coach or opposing fan base doesn’t pay your salary, so who cares if they think you ran up the score? Tell them what Jimmy Johnson told CBS after his Miami Hurricanes beat Notre Dame 58-7 in 1985, “If they had done their job as well as I did mine they wouldn’t have to worry about the score.”
Those are great words for head coaches of all levels to live by moving forward. The game is played for 60 minutes and the opposing team needs to be pounded and beaten until the scoreboard hits 0:00. If that means a one-point win or a 100-point win, it is what it is. Take it or leave it, that’s the way football has to be played. There is no other substitute and Nutt understands that point better than he did a week ago. (September 7, 2010, Page 7)