Rebels Ready After Open Date

FAYETTEVILLE -- Ole Miss coach David Cutcliffe doesn't know what to make of two open dates in the last three weeks.

After evening its record at 3-3 following a 1-2 start, Ole Miss has dropped its last two to Southeastern Conference division leaders Tennessee and Auburn.

Ole Miss narrowly lost 21-17 to Tennessee and with the benefit of a bye week before playing the third-ranked Tigers, Ole Miss trailed just 7-0 at halftime before Auburn blew out the Rebels in the second half and won 45-14.

Cutcliffe would have rather kept playing after the competitive outings against Auburn and Tennessee and isn't sure how his team will respond heading into this Saturday's game at Arkansas.

"It's just unusual to have another opening date following one game after an open date," he said. "I wasn't wild about that, but I think we got something out of it. We'll see (Monday) once we get into the teeth of the game plan."

Ole Miss' game plan has varied as much as its schedule this year.

A year removed from the Eli Manning era, Ole Miss has used a three-man rotation at quarterback this year with Michael Spurlock, Robert Lane and Ethan Flatt.

Cutcliffe ran all three out for three successive plays on the Rebels' opening drive against South Carolina and eventually settled on Flatt for the day and he led the game-winning touchdown drive at Columbia.

Even after the two open dates, Cutcliffe said his team is still no closer to settling on a main signal caller.

"It's a week-to-week thing," he said. "We're really not sure where we are this week evaluating the open date. Not a lot changed. We'll evaluate the week's practice and as we get finalizing the game plan, that will dictate who plays the most snaps."

Lane is more of a runner, Flatt more of a passer and Spurlock a combination of the two.

Cutcliffe said one of the three has to become more of a complete player to avoid telegraphing tendencies toward the run or pass when a certain quarterback is in the game.

All three know they will play and Cutcliffe tries to exploit that fact in practice.

"(We're) trying to find someone with a hot hand, keeping them on edge in practice, keeping them competing for playing time," he said. "All of those things seem to be working. They play to their strengths naturally."

Flatt is 103 of 179 for 1,299 yards, 7 interceptions and 6 touchdowns.

Spurlock is 30 of 70 for 341 yards and Lane is 7 of 14 for 69 yards. Flatt is the only one with a touchdown pass.

Lane and Spurlock are the Rebels' fourth- and fifth-leading rushers with 75 and 59 yards.

The Rebels have improved in some areas recently, Cutcliffe said.

The offensive line is blocking better for the running game despite a series of injuries including senior guard Doug Buckles, who was in the hospital last week with an infection.

The defense hasn't eliminated the big play, but it is cutting them down.

"Our general execution on offense has improved over the last three ball games, not enough that it needs to be to be consistent," Cutcliffe said. "We've been more balanced with the ability to run and throw it, which enables us to be the best we can be. We've also tackled better for the most part during that time.

"We've just played overall with more enthusiasm, energy and intensity over the last month than we did early in the season."

Vashon Pearson is Ole Miss' leading rusher with 629 yards and a 5.0 per carry average to go with 3 touchdowns.

The Rebels are very deep at receiver led by Bill Flowers, Mario Hill, Mike Espy, Kerry Johnson and Taye Biddle, who all have double digits in receptions.

With both teams 3-5 and needing to win out for bowl bids, Cutcliffe expects a hard-fought game this Saturday.

"Arkansas plays extremely well in Fayetteville," he said. "They are very difficult to beat there. They have great weapons on offense and an aggressive defensive system. We have a big challenge in front of us, but we're looking forward to it."

Hawgs Daily Top Stories