Saturday against No. 3 Auburn, Ole Miss (3-5, 1-4 SEC) surrendered 348 yards of total offense – in the first half. The Rebels allowed a kickoff returned for a touchdown, a play after cutting the deficit to 24-17 midway through the second quarter. Senior quarterback Jeremiah Masoli accounted for the game's biggest turnover when he was picked off by Demond Washington at the Auburn 2-yard line after Ole Miss had forced a turnover.
Heisman candidate Cameron Newton marched his team 98 yards on 12 plays a drive later.
"That was a killer," head coach Houston Nutt said, his team ultimately losing, 51-31 "That was a big fumble recovery by Jason Jones. We were going to go right after them. It was just a bad throw. Probably (Masoli's) only mistake on the night. He's made a lot of plays for us, but that was a bad throw."
The Rebels gave Auburn (9-0, 6-0) its best shot in the first half, but still trailed by 17 at halftime. One half of football was all anyone needed to know where this team, desperate for wins, stands with little time left to salvage its season.
"I'll never quit. The team I'm on now, they'll never quit either," senior safety Fon Ingram said.
Ole Miss, outside of the offensive line, can no longer hang its struggles on inexperience. Inexperience isn't this team's problem defensively. The defensive line has disappointed. The secondary, to put it nicely, doesn't have the firepower to compete.
The university's marketing department pulled out all the stops to give this game a primetime feel. Players marched onto the field, their jerseys and pants all gray. Scott van Pelt, of ESPN fame, led the crowd in the customary pregame ‘Are You Ready?' Kentrell Lockett's well-received YouTube message to the fans was played immediately after. There was even a fly-over.
But glitz and glamour only go so far on Saturdays. The team has to do its part. Ole Miss didn't, instead losing in one-sided fashion.
"We've just got to be hungry now," Ingram said. "We've got to be able to eat every game now. We can't be playing, laughing all the time; everything's got to be serious now. We can't have anymore lack of execution. There can't be anymore ‘My bads' and ‘My faults.' That's getting us embarrassed.
"We're not the type of team that should be performing the way that we are."
In his first two seasons, Nutt led Ole Miss to back-to-back nine-win seasons. Both years, his teams started slow and finished strong, beating formidable foes it sometimes wasn't favored to beat along the way.
Not this year.
"We've got to stick together. We can't give up," sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford said. "That's life, man. It's not always going to go your way or the way you planned it. So we've just got to continue to stick together, keep pressing on."
A bowl berth, the third in as many seasons under Nutt, is on life support now, if it wasn't already. Ole Miss will have to win three of its remaining four games. Of the games left, one should be a sure-win (Louisiana –Lafayette), but this is the same team with a loss to Jacksonville State on its resume. Nothing is guaranteed.
The rest, outside of a struggling Tennessee team, are currently playing better football than Ole Miss. Actually, the Volunteers played South Carolina tough Saturday, before falling, 38-24. Mississippi State just recorded its seventh win of the season. LSU sits with only one loss.
The likelihood of the Rebels drastically improving to reach a bowl is, well...
"We've got to eliminate the mistakes," Shackelford said. "It can't be after the game, where we live in this ‘What if?' world. You have to be now. It has to be now. Make the tackle now. It has to be now. It can't be tomorrow.
"We've got to get it done now."
After Michael Dyer added on a 30-yard touchdown with a little over seven minutes left in third quarter, extending Auburn's lead to 44-17, the student section began to empty. The only crowd noise came from the droves of Auburn fans dominating not just the north end zone, but the corners of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
There was nothing more to cheer for, fans succumbing to another inevitable loss. It's become the norm for Ole Miss in 2010.
"We're planning on still trying to make it to a bowl," Ingram said. "We're still going to work hard. We're still going to be physically and mentally prepared."