Real Rebels Emerge - Sort Of

Coming into the Fresno State game, the coaches didn't ask for the moon, and they got what they wished for. Read about it inside.

First and foremost, it was important for the Ole Miss Rebels to get a win.

They did that, 55-38, over visiting Fresno State in a game that was never really in serious doubt by early in the second quarter.

Bluntly, the Rebels were better than Fresno and this time they would not let an inferior team off the mat.

The coaches, leaders of the team and players all made sure of that.

Beyond winning, however, this game was about more, much more. It was about trying to salvage a season and there was only one way to do that.

Coach Houston Nutt prodded, demanded and, yes, even begged, the Rebels to simply "turn it loose" against the Bulldogs. That was his mantra all week leading up to the game.

Grandy, Bolden celebrate

In the first three games, he and everyone else who had watched closely, had seen an unsure, tentative, somewhat rudderless team that had, frankly, flopped around to a 1-2 record with somewhat passive play.

This was not the team any of us had envisioned, particularly Nutt. They were baffling and frustrating to watch, honestly.

Houston and his assistants put it on the line all week to the players. Get aggressive. Put your heart out there. Play with fire and enthusiasm. If you are going to make a mistake, make it full-speed.

Nutt told them if they would do that, he would live with any results. Pregame, he told them not to look at the scoreboard, just play one play at a time with everything they had.

It was almost a contradictory approach than many anticipated. After all, it was mistakes that had been the undoing of the Rebs the week prior.

Surely eliminating mistakes would be the battle cry as the Fresno game approached.

Yes, the Rebs worked on curtailing their miscues, but they worked on their psyche even more. Nutt and his staff knew that was the bigger issue.

A couple of brimstone talks by a couple of the leaders pregame lit the fire and it was off to the races.

From an emotional standpoint, the Bulldogs didn't stand a chance. Bulldog Coach Pat Hill told Nutt as much postgame, indicating to the Rebel mentor that he didn't anticipate the Rebs playing that hard. Based on film of the first three games, that would have been a logical conclusion for Hill to arrive at.

Ole Miss had a different mindset, however, this time around. The Rebs had a pep in their step against Fresno. They flew around. They made plays. They hit harder and they finally, for the first time all year, looked like they were genuinely having fun.

The bottom line was they played with confidence, a swagger, if you will. Bug eyes were replaced with a spark.

Melvin Harris

For those wishing a dissection of the game, there were highs and lows and in betweens, but what stood out was a different demeanor exhibited, one that showed they meant business, an attitude that was sorely missing in the opening three games, for the most part.

Yes, they gave up a lot of yardage to Fresno's efficient passing game, but they essentially stuffed the Bulldog's run game.

Yes, the Rebs allowed a couple of decent returns to a very good return man, but had a couple of their own, including a punt return by Jesse Grandy for a TD.

Yes, they still had a couple of careless turnovers, but they rushed for 425 yards and completed two-thirds of their passes when they needed to go to the air, which was not often.

Yes, they can, and must, improve before Kentucky comes to town next week, but if they play with the abandon they did against Fresno, they will only get better and better and will be up to the challenge, it says here.

In short, the leaders led. The playmakers made plays. There was an obvious fire in their bellies and a gleam in their eyes.

It's hard to say where that look was the first three games, but it clearly wasn't. Water under the bridge. Time to let that go.

Now that the "turn it loose" has returned, along with a needed shot of confidence, the Rebels can start working on the execution issues and expect better overall results in their performance level.

Without inspired play, there was not a lot of hope the rest could be fixed.

This team still has a ton to improve on and still has their work cut out for them. Their quality of play has to improve in several areas - namely taking care of the ball and pass defense.

But if they will maintain the intensity level they possessed against Fresno, they'll make positive strides.

A team that plays hard and with hunger and some confidence will never lack for support. The team we witnessed against Fresno is a team anyone can fully back, through good times and bad.

Unlike the Tulane game, one of those rare times when you wanted to feel good about a win but just couldn't, this is a win they can truly build from, physically and emotionally.

Keep turning it loose, Rebs. If you do, the rest will come around.

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