True Colors

TUSCALOOSA, Ala. - As Saturday turned to Sunday in the bowels of Bryant-Denny Stadium, Ole Miss' locker room stood rather quiet.

The Rebels, for the third time this season, exited a game on the wrong end of the scoreboard, losing 23-10 to No. 8 Alabama. Their effort was indisputable, especially on the defensive side, but costly mistakes had handcuffed any hopes of any upset.

Head coach Houston Nutt stepped to the podium for his postgame press conference, a small media contingent who had made the near three-hour trek to Tuscaloosa waiting with eyes heavy as the clock shown midnight.

Usually Nutt is visibly disappointed with any loss. They shake him. He rarely, if ever, says as much, but his body language is typically uncomfortable.

But Nutt was surprisingly calm.

Jeremiah Masoli

He still had his issues with how Ole Miss played, especially considering the foolish missteps.

Wide receivers dropped multiple passes. The team, justly or unjustly, drew 12 yellow flags for over 100 yards. His offense was absent in the first half. His defense had its strongest game of the season, but surrendered an 85-yard touchdown on third-and-13.

"I was proud of how hard our guys fought," he said. "Our defense came to play. We have to do a better job catching the ball - we had some opportunities there. And then the penalties - we have to do a better job there."

Nutt had every right to be proud. This game could have gotten ugly quick. Alabama jumped ahead 13-0 by little fault of the Ole Miss defense. Offensively, the Rebels opened with three straight three-and-outs, notching their first first down on the final play of the first quarter.

But the Rebels never folded as fans and media have seem them do twice before this season.

A commanding lead against Jacksonville State in the team's season-opener gave way to complacency and a double-overtime loss. Two weeks later, the Rebels suffered another inexplicable loss at home to Vanderbilt, arguably the worst team in the Southeastern Conference.

But in a late game in Tuscaloosa, Ole Miss found itself again.

"We didn't quit," sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford said. "You can't always work with a team that doesn't quit."

Ole Miss stood tall defensively

A much-maligned defense was flying to the football and standing tall. It was a performance all associated with Ole Miss football had grown accustomed to under Tyrone Nix for two seasons, when his defense routinely ranked atop the conference in most statistical categories.

"We feel like we can build off this game," sophomore defensive end Gerald Rivers said. "Continue playing tough, hard-nosed football."

Ole Miss is 3-3 overall on the season and 1-2 in SEC play. The Rebels will have to find three wins in their last six games to become bowl eligible.

They will hit the road to Fayetteville to meet Arkansas next week, before returning home for consecutive games against Auburn and Louisiana-Lafayette. Tennessee, LSU and Mississippi State will round out Ole Miss' remaining schedule.

The prospect of bowl eligibility was almost unthinkable some three weeks ago. This was a team lost in the wilderness, unable to get out of its own way. Some questioned this team's pride, whether there was dissension in the locker room.

Not Saturday. Even in a loss, the 2010 season turned for the better. Ole Miss improved and, as most would admit, came together. The Rebels may get to a bowl, the third in as many seasons under Nutt. There's also a very realistic chance they may not.

But on a night when a season could have snowballed, Ole Miss refused to go down lightly. This once downtrodden team displayed its character.

"We'll be all right," sophomore wide receiver Melvin Harris said.

If Saturday was any indication, they most assuredly will be.

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