View from the Bottom

Ole Miss suffered a critical setback in Nashville Saturday; a loss that could prove to be the defining moment in Houston Nutt's Ole Miss coaching career, and Pete Boone's career as athletics director.

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Ole Miss desperately needed to beat Vanderbilt. Desperately.

Instead, the Rebels suffered a critical setback in Nashville; a loss that could prove to be the defining moment in Houston Nutt's Ole Miss coaching career, and Pete Boone's career as athletics director.

Yes, this game mattered that much. Public unrest, anti-Nutt sentiment, was already at an all-time high. Ole Miss wasn't supposed to be great in 2011. The Rebels were picked to finish last in the SEC West for a reason. No excuses for Saturday. The last time Ole Miss was beaten as badly by Vanderbilt as it was Saturday was 1916. An every-year bottom-feeder in Vanderbilt completely dominated the game from start to finish.

In a word: Unacceptable.

"Just looked bad," Nutt said postgame. "Really bad. After the week we had of practice, I'm really disappointed. That looked bad."

Look at the schedule. Where are the potential wins? You know, the wins that get Ole Miss to a .500 record, good for bowl qualification. Vanderbilt was supposed to be one of them. Now the magic number is down to but a few teams, one of those teams being Louisiana Tech.

But if Ole Miss has two wins, three wins maybe, by the time the Bulldogs roll into town November 12, is that game still a sure-win? The hot seat talk surrounding Nutt is blazing. The seat would be even hotter in a few months, like Yosemite Sam sitting on a booby-trapped fire.

This team will be as flat as ever, and very few -- if any -- fans will be in attendance. Remember 2007 against Northwestern State, the final season under Ed Orgeron? Think that bad.

Houston Nutt
Bruce Newman

With where things stand today, Ole Miss, for the second straight year, is one of the worst teams in the SEC. A shame, because the Rebels do have some talent. Really, they do. But the holes throughout the starting lineup are obvious and significant.

The offensive line? Yikes. A unit lauded by Phil Steele as the second-best of its kind in the country has flopped, and that may be putting it nicely. They're not even average after three games. Rather, this offensive line, having lost the battle in the trenches in every game this season, can't block with any consistency whatsoever. None. Nada.

Ole Miss has no quarterback. Zack Stoudt fell apart Saturday. He finished the day 13 of 26 for 139 yards, one touchdown and five -- yes, FIVE -- interceptions. He got little to no help from the offensive line, obviously. He felt pressure all day, which is never good for a traditional drop-back passer.

Randall Mackey, who played one series in the first half but ultimately took over in the third quarter and handled the quarterbacking duties until an injury late, wasn't any better. Mackey is a run-first, pass-second quarterback. He proved as much against Vanderbilt.

Arguably the best player on the team, running back Brandon Bolden, isn't 100 percent. He played about as well as he could when you consider he suffered a slight fracture in his ankle/foot in the season-opening loss to BYU.

"We haven't been playing well," Nutt said. "I thought after this week (in) practice and the way we went about things, I really thought we were going to have a good offense today. That's what's so disappointing."

After a strong season opener against BYU, the defense is back to the ways of last season, when disaster plays were routine. When average quarterbacks were made to look like world beaters. When opponents, even the lesser opponents, ran the ball at will. The defensive line can't apply pressure. The linebackers are scary thin. The secondary, while improved, remains a work in progress.

On and on and on. This is bad, folks. Hard-to-quantify bad.

"I've never felt that way on the sideline," Nutt said. "Just not right, you know? Didn't feel right. That was a first."

Can Ole Miss beat Georgia next week, especially after this loss, a 30-7 blowout at the hands of a better-than-usual Vanderbilt team, but one that will be fighting an uphill battle to be any good this season? Nutt is now 1-3 against Vanderbilt as Ole Miss head coach.

Randall Mackey
Bruce Newman

Where are the wins? Fresno State? Kentucky? LSU looks like the best team in the country. Auburn is playing pretty good football; certainly better football than Ole Miss, and the game is on the road. Alabama is, well, Alabama. Arkansas can score points; Ole Miss proved Saturday with its anemic and vanilla offense it can't.

The 2011 season is not so much about wins and losses anymore. Sure, the possibility exists that Ole Miss wins a big game along the way and drastically turns around its fortunes, a la 2008. But another possibility exists that I could sprout wings and fly to Florida. Not going to happen.

Realistically, this season is nearing its end after week three. Maybe I'm missing something. I just can't see Ole Miss bouncing back after this. Vanderbilt was far and away the best team on the field Saturday. I repeat, Vanderbilt was far and away the best team on the field.

A haunting, sad reality.

"It is ‘cause (of) the world that we're in," Nutt said, when asked if this week is the ultimate gut-check for his team. "It'll be negative, so my guys, I've got to let them know that I still believe in them. I've got to do a much better job of getting them ready to go."

To think, Ole Miss won the second of back-to-back Cotton Bowls just two seasons ago. Now its losing by 23 to Vanderbilt.

Saturday began the Houston Nutt watch.

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