Commentary: Rebs have to look within for answers

Ole Miss has to reach down deep and find some mental toughness in a hurry or a season with a lot of promise could turn into a season with a lot more grief.

A lot of people are speculating about a lot of things on the heels of the 28-7 loss to Alabama in Tuscaloosa last night. Who can blame them(us)?

And a lot of their (our) speculation is overstated, as is the case after every loss, but has enough validity to border on the truth.

I certainly do not have all the answers, but here are a couple of things I believe.

One, the rhythm of the offense is obviously poor. Putting back-to-back productive plays together has been a major undertaking. The flow seems helter skelter, not only from an execution standpoint, but it seems the coaches are grasping at air trying to find something that will work. Hunting and pecking for success is a hard way to run, direct and call an offense.

Bless his heart, Micheal Spurlock's decision-making and execution in the passing game has left a lot to be desired. Against Alabama, on a third-and-five in the first half, he beat the defensive end to the corner and appeared to have the first down if he had run. Instead, he threw downfield into tight coverage and the play was broken up. As was the case against Memphis, he hurried his throws on some key plays and did not let them develop.

In 23 years of doing The Spirit, I don't know if I've ever pulled harder for a kid to succeed. You've read it all here before - how good a kid he is, how athletic he is, how patient he has been, etc. What's not to pull for? But even I knew it was time for him to come out when he did.

A lot of fans felt he should have gotten the hook in the first game. Nick Saban would have, we were told and saw. Well, I didn't see it that way. Micheal earned a fair chance and Ethan Flatt, while improving, had not threatened Micheal for the starting job, in my eyes. I understand the situation at LSU Marcus Randle and LeMarcus Russell was different - that their preseason race was tight. Micheal's and Ethan's was not.

The coaches had a decision to make and from my viewpoint it wasn't a hard one. While Micheal in a game was somewhat of an unknown, Ethan was a complete unknown who did not earn equal billing in practice.

In hindsight, that decision was incorrect, it appears, but it was the only one to make, in my humble opinion. To jerk Micheal before they did would have caused more harm than good team-wide.

That said, I think Ethan deserves a chance to start against Vanderbilt, just from what I saw in the Alabama game. He may have a knack for moving the chains and for putting the ball in the right spot at the right time. That "maybe" is worth exploring with the offense going the way it did the first two games. He provided a small spark against Alabama. Let's see if it develops into a flame.

Two, we have to develop more mental toughness as a team.

For the most part, I think we are playing a physical brand of football. We have kids who enjoy striking you and who are trying hard. We have a bunch of good kids with the ability to win. I know that in my heart.

But one thing I haven't seen a lot of is the type of soul-searching, dig deep, band together, never-say-die attitude I saw last season when we started 2-2. The team I'm seeing now appears to be searching for an identity, waiting on someone else to get it done and playing more as individuals than as a team. That last statement is certainly not a blanket statement and it's not an indictment of their character. These kids work hard and want to be good, but I'm not sure they know how to put it all together into a neat little package.

There are many players on the team striving for that tightness that was apparent last year, but they haven't reached it yet and it's time for the leadership to step up. It's time for a closed-door senior meeting. I'm seeing the frustration, but I'm not seeing the anger. It's time for someone to get mad about their underachieving performances to this point.

It's certainly not time to panic, but it is a time to unite into a tighter fitting knit and to throw down the gauntlet. It's time for some challenges within the team to be made and some accountability standards to be set.

Right now, there are too many loose ends dangling out there. There was magic on the 2003 team, and it wasn't all about Eli, contrary to popular belief. There isn't a lot of magic on this squad right now and it's time for them to pull a rabbit out of their hats.

What does this doctor order? Same as last year - a win. The Rebels have to shift the momentum back in their favor, no matter how they have to do it, regardless of who is hurt and regardless of who is under center. Their confidence is shaken and it needs to be restored.

As badly as I've despised the term "must win" through the years, the Vandy game this Saturday comes close. The Rebs are on a downward spiral, but they aren't spinning too fast to turn it around - yet.

Here's hoping that is accomplished this week, but it won't be done by talking about it. It will be done with conviction and determination, something I know is lurking just beneath the surface with these Rebs. They proved they have the mettle in spring and in a grueling offseason, but now they have to transfer it to the field on game day. And they have to do it in a hurry.

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