One and Done?

Ole Miss should have beaten BYU Saturday afternoon. This much we know.

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The Rebels led by a score of 13-0 midway through the fourth quarter, only to allow the Cougars 14 unanswered points in the final 9:52, including a disastrous sack and fumble that was recovered by BYU on the Ole Miss 3-yard line and resulted in the go-ahead touchdown.

"It's terrible, man. We felt like we won that game until the last eight minutes or so," senior offensive tackle Bradley Sowell said. "It's just one of those cases where we didn't finish, you know? It's the same go-around. It's just miserable and it's not any fun."

But beyond the obvious, how Ole Miss played an inspired game defensively and a scared-of-its shadow game offensively, the bigger storyline on this overcast day inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is the loss not on the scoreboard, but in the Ole Miss backfield.

(Quick aside: The play of the Ole Miss defense, its effectiveness against a veteran offense, was surprising, at least to me. Did I think Ole Miss would get run off the field? No. But, c'mon. The Rebels were starting Wesley Pendleton, a junior college transfer, at cornerback, its best cornerback in August practices (Charles Sawyer) at safety, another JUCO transfer in Aaron Garbutt at the hybrid linebacker/safety SPUR position, and another JUCO transfer in Uriah Grant at defensive tackle. And let's not forget Ralph Williams, who started at linebacker, is a redshirt freshman. Middle linebacker Mike Marry is a sophomore. I could go on and on. A drastic improvement from last season, to say the least.)

Senior running back Brandon Bolden was hurt in the loss to BYU. He suffered an ankle injury in the first half and wasn't able to return to the game. No, Bolden ultimately became a glorified cheerleader on crutches for almost three quarters. And, as expected, a Rebel rushing attack that never really got going to begin with all but disappeared.

Brandon Bolden
Chuck Rounsaville

Think about it. Ole Miss rushed for a grand total of 64 yards on 29 carries. That, my friends, is a 2.2 yards-per-carry average. Oy. Three, count ‘em, three running backs were injured in the game, though Jeff Scott returned.

What about Enrique Davis, the team's leading rusher with a whopping 28 yards on 12 carries? You guessed it, he was injured, too. His status for Southern Illinois, the next opponent on the schedule, is unclear.

Bolden, well, he is almost certainly out for an extended period of time, if not the year. Head coach Houston Nutt said after the game the ankle could be fractured. Offensive coordinator David Lee was already thinking Bolden's injury was season-ending. We should know more this afternoon when Nutt holds his Sunday teleconference.

The running game was supposed to be Ole Miss' strength this season. The offensive line boasts four veterans and another with game experience, including bookend tackles Sowell and Bobby Massie who many consider bonafide NFL prospects. And with Bolden, Davis, Scott and even Devin Thomas, this team was expected to run on teams at will.

Not Saturday. Not against a veteran BYU defense that didn't really do anything special, other than consistently win the battles in the trenches. Not with Bolden, Davis and Scott hurt at different times in the game. Not when Ole Miss struggled for a quarter and a half to field any semblance of a passing game.

Ole Miss should have beaten BYU. This much we know. The Rebels are obviously improved defensively, and if not for an inexplicable call for a pass play on third-and-27 by the coaching staff which resulted in a sack and touchdown, plus Nick Brassell's would-be 43-yard touchdown drop, they would be sitting 1-0 on the season. Fans flocking to message boards and blogs and Twitter would be encouraged instead of disgusted, especially with the possibility of being 3-0 in two weeks in their sights.

(Ole Miss hosts Southern Illinois and travels to Vanderbilt in the next two weeks.)

But, alas, Ole Miss is 0-1. Doubt, frustration, anger, unrest is rampant. Understandable, really, considering the Rebels are attempting to rebound from a 4-8 season in 2010 that all too often resembled those under Ed Orgeron.

Again, though, we know those things. I'm not giving you any insight when I make those observations. You've already figured most of that out for yourself. The bigger question now is whether Ole Miss can realistically win six games with a running game and offensive line that was beaten and broken down (literally) by an above-average at best team in BYU.

Saturday's loss was only one game, only one loss. There are 11 more of these games to go. But if Brandon Bolden misses the year, and Enrique Davis misses any significant time … You know where I'm going with this.

"My biggest fear is I don't want my guys to listen to what's outside this room," Nutt said. "I want them to listen to me. It's easy to get negative but I saw some awfully good things against a team (BYU) that had nine starters back on defense and a very good offense that has a quarterback with a full year under his belt and took them to a bowl game."

Brandon Bolden
Chuck Rounsaville

Brandon Bolden is to the Ole Miss offense as D.T. Shackelford was to the Ole Miss defense.

If you remember, Shackelford, a linebacker and occasional defense end, suffered a torn ACL in spring practices. The Rebels scrambled to fill his shoes, and did so admirably against BYU, though there was no pass rush to speak of. Shackelford is the team's best pass rusher. He proved as much a year ago.

The defense bent but didn't break Saturday. I mean, Ole Miss gave up only seven points to BYU and its quarterback, Jack Heaps. There were a few times when the Cougars appeared poised to break through and put points on the board but didn't, a 96-yard interception return for a touchdown by Charles Sawyer a perfect example.

"That was a tough one, you know, like swollen tonsils," Sawyer said. "We've just got to keep pushing. You can't hold your head down over one loss in the beginning of the season. You've got to keep pushing."

The old adage is being used on the other side of the ball now. The Rebels, after one game, have bent offensively. They're on the verge of breaking. If Ole Miss is to win this season, its offensive line has to be everything it was billed to be. You know, a monstrous unit that could maul opponents, overpower opponents. The sides were reversed Saturday. BYU controlled the game up front. And now Ole Miss is down its offensive D.T. Shackelford.

The Rebels, at least offensively, begin and end with Brandon Bolden. Without him, they would be flirting with breaking.

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