Close the Book?

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Even with two games to play and bowl eligibility still attainable, can we close the book on the 2010 season? In this writer's humble opinion, Ole Miss will have a hard time coming back from a lopsided loss at Tennessee.

Mathematically, Ole Miss' season isn't over. There are still two games remaining. If the Rebels win both (LSU, Mississippi State) they'll become bowl eligible for the third time in as many seasons.

But, in this writer's humble opinion, we might as well go ahead and disregard those thoughts. After falling to an equally flawed Tennessee team, 52-14, Saturday, the book is all but closed on 2010.

Because, in all likelihood, Ole Miss isn't bouncing back from this loss. If it does, I'll kindly eat my words. I just can't see it. Ole Miss suffers from the same mistakes each and every week: Turnovers, steep early deficits, poor fundamentals and a defense susceptible to explosion plays.

Masoli had three interceptions

Ole Miss was dismantled by Tennessee in every facet. The final outcome was never in doubt. Tennessee, inexplicably, was the better team - the beneficiary of an opponent incapable of putting a 60-minute game together.

The Volunteers did all of their damage through the air, simply because Ole Miss' pass defense, or lack thereof, had absolutely no answer.

There were times Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, a true freshman, literally threw the ball up into the general area of one of his receivers. Of course, a Volunteer wide receiver, pick one, would come down with a catch almost every time.

It was so easy, a caveman could have done it.

Take the first Tennessee offensive play from scrimmage, for example. Bray threw into coverage, right into the hands of Ole Miss linebacker Jonathan Cornell. Cornell couldn't make the catch, instead the play turning into an 80-yard touchdown.

One play, one, summarized Ole Miss' obvious weaknesses this season. The Rebels simply can't make plays, and when they have a chance to, surrender disastrous scores.

How about late in the second quarter, when Tennessee's Janzen Jackson muffed a punt return? The ball bounced directly to Brandon Bolden. If he had fallen on it, Ole Miss would have been set up inside the Tennessee 10-yard line. But he bobbled it. Tennessee recovered.

This season in a nutshell.

Jeremiah Masoli, whose playing status was in question entering the game, only compounded the problems of his defense. Trailing 14-0, he was picked off by Eric Gordon for a 46-yard Tennessee touchdown.

It was the first of two interceptions returned for a touchdown. Masoli had three interceptions in all, before being replaced by Nathan Stanley in the third quarter.

It was that bad.

Saturday's game was never in reach

Fill my inbox with hate mail. Call me negative. But at some point, fans and media alike have to come to grips with reality.

Ole Miss dwells in the cellar of the SEC after 10 games. Yes, you read that right, 10 games. The Rebels just tied the bow on one of their lowest points of the season, a loss to a Tennessee team who entered the game without a conference win and only three wins overall. And they were blown out to boot. I mean, Ole Miss still has losses to Jacksonville State and Vanderbilt on its resume.

I'd be remiss if I didn't mention one of the few positives for Ole Miss in a year it would soon forget: Bolden, the junior running back, has been nothing short of spectacular. Yes, he should have recovered a muffed punt return in the second quarter. But he rushed for 113 yards on 12 carries and two touchdowns Saturday.

He currently sits fifth in program history in rushing touchdowns with 20. He has 11 this season.

Bolden doesn't get enough credit. After Masoli's disastrous interception, head coach Houston Nutt turned to the ground game to reverse his team's fortunes. He had to. If anything, Ole Miss could wear down Tennessee, chip away at the clock and hope to be in a one-sided game late.

Bolden responded in rousing fashion. Ole Miss didn't attempt a pass in its first scoring drive, instead splitting the rushing burden between Bolden and Enrique Davis. Bolden produced 36 yards on his three carries, including a 17-yard run on the opening play of the second quarter. The scoreboard looked better. At the very least, there was reason to have hope of a win on the sidelines.

But Ole Miss can't field an offense of 11 Brandon Boldens. If only it could. The Rebels severely lack play-makers. Their wide receivers are consistently inconsistent. Masoli, for all of his brilliance this season, has had his share of forgettable moments. The offensive line is healthier now, but has faced attrition, both controllable and uncontrollable, all year.

And that defense...

The negatives far outweigh the positives for Ole Miss. The negatives are why they're 4-6. The negatives are why we can most likely close the book on a disappointing season, even if Ole Miss isn't mathematically out of it.

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