COLUMN: NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is expecting this week to be one filled with negativity, one filled with questions about why his offensive line can’t block opposing defenses, why the Rebels have trouble executing the plays called and what he and his staff are going to do about the rash of turnovers that came about during Saturday’s 30-7 loss to Vanderbilt.
These are topics that no coach likes to deal with, let alone a coach who is coming off a 4-8 season in 2010. The answers to the questions that will come starting today will likely vary, but the true answers may not emerge until next month or November when more games are under the Rebels’ belt, and that’s what has so many worried.
No Ole Miss fan is happy with Saturday’s result and many aren’t positive about things getting much better. Message boards and chat rooms only take into account a percentage of how a fan base actually feels about their favorite team, but right now the vast majority of that particular contingent wants to see a wholesale coaching change.
You could tell Nutt was feeling the pressure and the ire of the fans as he walked off the field at Vanderbilt on Saturday and his postgame press conference was unlike any he has ever given in the past.
Nutt is usually good about finding the silver lining in things, even in a loss, but that was not the case Saturday. He used words such as disappointed, frustrating, bad and out-of-sync to describe the way the offense played and overall results of the game. There haven’t been very many times, if any, that Nutt has been that blunt with his assessment of things and it was telling to hear him talk about how another game got so out of control.
How will Nutt and his staff fix the problems of Saturday in the future? Nobody really knows for sure. Honestly, there isn’t a lot this staff can do other than to simplify things on offense, load up the defense with all the team’s best athletes and hope the freshmen that are currently starting or adding depth come around quickly. That’s it. Period.
It’s not like Ole Miss can add strength in the weight room now that the season has started. It’s not like a whole new offense can be added as the team prepares for SEC opponents each week. It’s not like the staff can add better or more seasoned players via trades or the waiver wire like NFL teams. In short, there is only so many things this staff can do to make this team better and frankly, the best answers are to hunker down, stay positive, work harder than the week before and give great effort all the remaining Saturday’s left on the schedule.
Answers for losing
There are many reasons why Ole Miss can’t consistently beat the Commodores any more and some of them go back to the way the staff recruited when they first got here.
The first two recruiting classes Nutt signed, as a whole, have not panned out. Those classes needed to provide a starting lineup that can take on the men of the SEC and that is simply not the case. Instead of having a junior or senior at quarterback that has been playing for the last couple of seasons, even in a reserved role, Nutt is still searching for a starter and playing guys that have very limited experience at this level.
Wide receivers taken the first two years should be the ones hauling in the majority of the passes right now, not a true freshman from Raleigh, who appears to be the only true new weapon on the roster right now. Three of the four defensive linemen that started against Vanderbilt are upper classmen, but one is a newcomer, one is still relatively inexperienced because of injuries, while the backups have seen very little action.
The players who back up the line have more experience, but the linebackers are without their best player and none of them are a senior or junior who has played significant minutes.
Fans should expect the Rebels to play more competitively than they did on Saturday. They should expect the team to be better on offense and not commit five turnovers a game that lead to blowouts, but honestly should we expect a team that was 4-8 last year to suddenly be much better with this much inexperience playing teams from the country’s top league?
My answer is no, but that still may not be enough to change an outcome that appears to be headed badly for Nutt and his staff.
The final verdict on their future will be made over the next nine weeks. Nutt has to find a way to make the results better even in losses down the road.
It may be too late for him to turn things around like the fans and the administration want because of the start he got off to in recruiting, but he has to piece things together enough to hope that he can actually coach those talented youngsters when they are juniors and seniors. (September 19, 2011, Page 1B)