A preseason filled with a lot of promise has turned into a regular season that is dangerously close to being one of the least impressive for the Ole Miss Rebels in several years. As good as the Rebels have been the last two years under coach Houston Nutt, the 2010 season has been one that has seen the Rebels deal with numerous injuries, miscues and unfortunate breaks.
Saturday’s 52-14 thrashing at the hands of the Tennessee Volunteers in Neyland Stadium perfectly summed up the Rebels’ season in just one 60 minute contest. After driving down the field on their first offensive possession, the Rebels were unable to convert on a key third down situation when wide receiver Ja-Mes Logan dropped a routine pass thrown from quarterback Jeremiah Masoli. Then, just moments after Logan’s drop, the Volunteers got on the board with a fluke 80-yard touchdown reception from Justin Hunter. Ole Miss linebacker Jonathan Cornell had his hands on the ball prior to it being completed, as did a defensive back, but an interception wasn’t made and the subsequent reception was turned into a crowd-pleasing score.
For Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix, the wild play didn’t make him think the game was over, but it punctuated his point about his defense not showing the ability to make plays when opportunities present themselves during the game.
“The first thing that went through my mind was this can’t beat us, this will not beat us. This one play will not beat us. It’s a fluke play,” Nix said. “We’ve seen things like this happen before and we’ll play the remainder of the game and we can still win. You can’t draw that play up and expect it to work any other time but it did today.”
Everything the Volunteers seemed to draw up Saturday worked, while the Rebels couldn’t get out of their own way, on offense, defense or special teams. Ole Miss committed a season-high five turnovers, while UT didn’t commit one. Ole Miss had two personal foul penalties and no passing game while true freshman quarterback Tyler Bray threw for over 300 yards and another three touchdowns a week after torching Memphis.
The Rebels are facing two more tough tests, starting with No. 5 LSU on Saturday. There’s not a lot of reason to believe that the Rebels have much of a chance of defeating the Tigers or the Mississippi State Bulldogs the following week, but Nix felt like the team and defense will continue to fight and try to make a disappointing season a little better.
“You just got to keep playing and try to preach confidence and making plays, making plays. Sooner or later that play is going to bounce our way in the beginning. Sooner or later we’re going to play as a team. You say sooner, well it’s later now. There are two opportunities left and something has to happen now. Maybe against LSU it bounces our way,” Nix said. “I think these guys are resilient. I still see a lot of character in these guys, I see a lot of hope. I think the biggest thing is they kept fighting to the end. It’s going to take a major improvement in becoming a playmaking defense as far as creating turnovers. As far as not giving up the ballgame and winning these games by taking them one game at a time. That’s what we’re going to try and get done on the practice field. We felt like we put them in the right position, the rest is up to the kids.”
Up to players now
It is up to the players to decide how this season will end up. Wins over two ranked teams will not only make the Rebels bowl eligible, but definitely salvage the season in many fans minds. Two more losses, especially bad losses like Saturday, will only hurt the team moving forward into next season. It could doom a recruiting class that looks really good right now on paper and maybe even cause some coaches to lose their jobs. That’s the worst case scenario obviously and the worst case scenario is something the Rebels have already dealt with this year. The more likely scenario is the team sticks together, plays competitive football and has a chance to win one of the final two games.
This team needs something positive to work with going into the offseason and that can only be achieved in these final two weeks. (November 15, 2010, Page 1B)