Familiar Circumstances

Ole Miss has seen this movie before. Actually, the Rebels have written the script themselves.

In head coach Houston Nutt's first season heading the program, 2008, Ole Miss opened with a 3-4 record. The team couldn't get out of its own way in those days, dropping winnable games through turnovers, a sporadic offense and a defense vulnerable to explosive plays.

Sound familiar?

Two years later, Ole Miss is again 3-4. The general theme in each of its losses mirrors those of Nutt's initial season: Turnovers. Busted assignments. Multiple penalties. Early deficits. Ole Miss has had its opportunities in every game this season, a chance to win, only to trip up in spectacular ways en route to defeat.

"Our guys know our record. They understand it," Nutt said Monday. "I know the seniors do. I think they also know we can be a good football team if we do things the right way. But we've got to tackle better. Can't give up long runs. Every time we've given up a long run, there've been at least three missed tackles.

"Can't do that."

The prevailing question is whether Nutt, now in his third year, has any late-season magic left.

Houston Nutt

In 2008, Ole Miss bounced back with six-straight wins and a 9-4 record, its season ending with a win in the Cotton Bowl over Texas Tech. The team saw drastic improvement with what, on the surface, seemed nothing to play for, rallying with regular-season wins over, among others, Arkansas, LSU and in-state rival Mississippi State.

Jerrell Powe was a sophomore two seasons ago, a key component in Ole Miss' drastic turnaround. Now a senior, he believes this team, riddled with injury and handcuffed by youth, can rebound.

"I think the team does (have the ability to rebound)," he said. "We're young. We're searching to play a complete game. We haven't played a complete game yet. Either we start fast, finish slow or vice versa. We're looking forward to playing a complete game. Once we do that, I think we'll have a pretty good team."

No game better encompasses the deficiencies of this team than its most recent loss, a 38-24 frustration at Arkansas. The Rebels dug a deep, 21-0 hole, only to pull within a touchdown twice in the second half. And each time, the defense allowed touchdown runs of at least 22 yards to Razorback running back Knile Davis.

"It's missed tackles. It's fundamentals. You can't have three missed tackles (on one play) in our league," Nutt said. "That back is going to go the distance. It's such a back-breaker and hurts the momentum."

Ole Miss racked up 512 yards of total offense in the loss, including 425 by senior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, the second-highest total in program history. Masoli made extraordinary play after extraordinary play, bailing out an inexperienced offensive line with his feet and precision passing outside of the pocket.

It should have been enough. But it wasn't. When the scoreboard struck zero, the Rebels had managed only 24 points. Arkansas, meanwhile, had 14 more. It was another loss for a team that can ill-afford many, if any, more.

"It's very frustrating," Masoli said.

Jeremiah Masoli

"That's one word that describes (Saturday). We left so many yards out there. We had 500 yards of total offense, but only scored 24 points. There's something wrong, somewhere, where we're not executing to get the ball in the end zone. That's what we need to do."

The Rebels haven't quit, as evidenced against Arkansas.

Masoli, his team down two touchdowns late in the fourth quarter, led the offense to the Arkansas 1-yard line. A score, and Ole Miss is right back in the game. But another critical mistake, a fumble by running back Brandon Bolden, sealed defeat.

Turnovers. Busted assignments…. Well, you get the picture.

"As disappointed as they were (Sunday), the thing I keep reminding them of is there are signs of some very good things," Nutt said. "Our problem is we haven't been a complete 60-minute team. We don't take advantage of opportunities. We've got to do better helping each other out.

"When you get those opportunities, take advantage of them."

Ole Miss is running out of time. To salvage a spiraling season, and gain bowl eligibility, the Rebels need three wins in their last five games. Ole Miss welcomes Heisman Trophy front-runner Cameron Newton and the No. 3 Auburn Tigers Saturday at 5:01 p.m.

"We had great expectations going into this season," Masoli said. "Now I feel like we're almost at a point where we don't have nothing to lose. We're out there going hard. We just need to win this next game."

A tall order, to say the least.

"We gotta upset the No. 1 team in the country," senior safety Fon Ingram said. "Everybody wants to go to a bowl. That's the plan for everybody. This game is real important for us."

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