Questions Abound

Ole Miss' final record, 4-8 (1-7 SEC), wasn't a mistake.

There will be doubters and detractors. Of that I'm sure.

But after 12 games, including Saturday's closer-than-it-should-have-been 31-23 loss to in-state rival Mississippi State to conclude the regular season, the reality was clear as day: This was the worst team in the Southeastern Conference.

There are really no arguments to the contrary, no opinions to refute that fact. Ole Miss lost to all but one of its conference foes, including a hapless Vanderbilt, who was blown out by Wake Forest, of a 3-9 record, on this same Saturday.

Ole Miss, already susceptible to explosion plays, allowed many, many more to an otherwise anemic offense of Mississippi State. The Rebels committed two turnovers, while causing three, but converted just three of its 17 third downs.

A near full-capacity crowd was mostly silent, outside of the droves of Mississippi State fans who made the manageable trek to Oxford on this chilly November night. Those devoted Red and Blue clad few remaining in the stands for the game's entirety were treated to a comeback bid that fell short.

"It's been a tough season," head coach Houston Nutt said. "This has been tough. I hate it for the seniors. Disappointed that we're still not playing. I just hate it. The only thing I know to do is go back to work. We knew this would be a challenging year, but we didn't expect this."

Players file out of VHS after 31-23 loss to Mississippi State

Saturday, for three quarters anyway, was a perfect storm of ineptitude. And it couldn't have come against a worse opponent.

No team on Ole Miss' schedule invokes more hatred than Mississippi State. Some goodwill, after weeks and weeks of misery, could have been rebuilt amongst the Ole Miss fanbase.

Not on this day. Not to a team that rarely beats itself. Not to a team better in all three phases. Not to a team who jumped ahead, 31-9, and hung on when it had to.

Instead, this game was only close after the first quarter and late in the fourth. Ole Miss held a slim, 6-0 advantage after the teams had finished one. Even then, though, there was reason for frustration. Bryson Rose had seen his extra point attempt blocked by Mississippi State's Fletcher Cox.

A routine play gone horribly, horribly wrong. What better example of such a (fill in the blank) season?

The Rebels pulled within eight, 31-23, in the final frame before quarterback Jeremiah Masoli was sacked on fourth-and-25. Masoli, as he has all season, went down fighting. If only the same could be said for some of the players he shares a locker room with.

Senior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe admitted following the loss to issues both on and off the field. Yes, a captain was open and honest with the frustrations of what could prove to be his final season, though Powe has a year of eligibility remaining should he choose to return.

"I think we had some off-the-field issues that distracted our team," he said. "I think we played inconsistent. We never could get consistent on or off the field. I think it showed up on the field all year long."

Powe wasn't alone. Sophomore D.T. Shackelford said the same. Something was wrong with this team.

Jeremiah Masoli

It was evident each and every Saturday. What happens next, in the coming days perhaps, could very well be program-defining.

"We'll get that cleaned up, a lot of that stuff that happened (off the field). I never want it to be directed at the coaches, as if he didn't tell us the right from wrong. You've got to know what to do. Coach Tyrone Nix tells us, ‘If y'all need me, I'm here.' The coaches, they're lending a hand. We've just got to, outside of this facility, we've got to think and not make foolish decisions."

Ole Miss has now lost to Mississippi State in back-to-back years. This after the home team had won 10 of the last 11 meetings in the annual "Battle of the Golden Egg."

Let that soak in. Let it stir. Ole Miss has followed consecutive nine-win seasons and appearances in the Cotton Bowl with a four-win season and 1-7 mark in the SEC. Put simply, that isn't supposed to happen. Yes, there was a significant loss in talent, especially on defense. Yes, Dexter McCluster and all his brilliance was absent for a full season.

But Brandon Bolden was spectacular. With his 10-yard touchdown midway through the fourth quarter, Bolden tied the single-season record for touchdowns in a season with 14. He ended his junior season in sole possession of second place for career rushing touchdowns with 23.

Outside of Bolden, Masoli had limited help. Jeff Scott emerged, as did receiver Ja-Mes Logan. But Masoli had many of his brilliant moments alone. Thankfully, a makeshift offensive line grew up in 2010, becoming formidable before all was said and done.

Basically, Ole Miss' problem this season wasn't its offense. The defense was, to put it nicely, a consistent train wreck. OK, maybe that wasn't nice. But I can think of no other way to describe it. Ole Miss, nationally, ranked near the bottom in almost every statistical category by season's end.

Don't believe me? There's this: Mississippi State's scoring high in an SEC game was 31 points prior to this game. The Bulldogs tied that high in three quarters. Ole Miss gave up 38, 51, 52 and 43 points in its previous four SEC games.

Ugly.

What news is on the horizon? Will there be changes? Who could go? Who could stay?

Soon enough, the answers will trickle out. Powe said there will be a team meeting Sunday afternoon. Nutt will meet the media for his season-ending press conference Monday. Maybe there's significant news. Maybe there isn't.

But news is coming.

"There's a few things," Nutt said. "I'm going to get into that Sunday. I want to talk to my team first, before they read it. I want them to hear it first."


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