After only two games of this still young football season it is easy to generalize what to expect from 2004 and, frankly, it may be difficult not to agree.
Earlier this season I wrote a column in which I said Alabama had been overrated by the preseason prognosticators. After two games it's obvious I may be wrong about Bama but this Ole Miss team apparently has the same problem. It appears they simply are not as good as we had hoped or believed.
Watching them in the early part of last Saturday's game against the Tide it was obvious on the field leadership was lacking. When they got in trouble there was no one out there that seemed to have the ability to kick fannies and take names. Leadership is hard to define. Eli had it. His fellow players believed in him and if he said "we can do it" there wasn't a doubt in anyone's mind that they could.
It reminds me of the now famous, or infamous, game against Southern Mississippi in 1970. The Rebels were 4-0. nationally ranked and Southern was, well the Southern of those days. Ole Miss fell behind and eventually lost 30-14 in probably the biggest upset I have ever seen. Talking with players in the locker room afterwards they told me that even after falling two touchdowns behind they never worried about losing.
"We just figured Archie would find a way to bail us out and win the game," they told me. "He'd done it so many times before we didn't have a doubt."
This time Archie couldn't and didn't.
There is no Eli out there this season. The Rebel's quarterbacks are young and inexperienced. There is no running back who can break a game open with his muscle, skill or speed. The wide receivers have been disappointing, to say the least. The Rebels of 2004 look more like 11 individuals than they look like a team.
After all we heard preseason about Michael Spurlock he simply hasn't lived up to the faith expressed by his coaches. He is helter skelter rather than smooth and assured. His passes have the velocity of a baseball thrown from the pitchers mound and the receivers have not been able to handle them. They are also continuously slightly off-target. His supposed running skills have not been apparent.
Coach David Cutcliffe said post game about changing to Ethan Flatt at the half, "We just weren't doing much. Michael just didn't get it done....We just wanted to take a little pressure off Michael and let him see it from the sideline. It doesn't mean anything for next week. We're going to evaluate the tape and we'll talk about it as we examine the situation. We'll make decisions as we practice next week."
That could mean a little or it could mean a lot. Flatt was obviously the better man last Saturday. But I am troubled by a locker room comment the young QB made: "We need to improve on the little things, penalties, a drive here and a drive there. We've just got to work on that."
That's called rationalization, a toned down excuse of sorts. This team has more than just the little things to worry about. This team has to discover why the offensive line is not living up to the preseason expectations, why there is little or no production from the running game, why the wide receivers are dropping catchable balls even as we admit there have not been that many of them. A passing attack that is 21 for 58 after two games is not going to put many points on the board. That's 36% completions. Last year it was over 60%. Any average college QB hits over 50%.
Give Cutcliffe credit. He told it like it was after the game ended. "We were anemic offensively again." he said. "I think the biggest issue was hurting ourselves with penalties and miscues. Defensively we held our own early, but again we asked too much of our defense."
There will be no finger pointing here at the defense. They played hard and well and were a bit of sunshine on an otherwise dreary day.
No, the Rebs' problems start with the offensive line. I went back to my media guide to read what the forecast for 2004 had been and the preseason review read like this.
Offensively, it all starts up front and Cutcliffe continues to praise the Rebs' starting five on the offensive line which includes experience and power.
The coach then goes on to say he is really excited about the offensive line and calls them "probably the most physical group that we've had. They're all 300 pounders, strong, good athletes and experienced."
Maybe so, but they have't looked like it so far.
As we said these are generalities, based on two games of an 11 game season. But let me give you one more. If Ole Miss doesn't find some people who can throw the ball, run the ball. catch the ball and block for those who do, we're looking 4-7 in the face--or worse. The Rebels will beat Wyoming and Arkansas State, and probably Mississippi State. This week's Vanderbilt game is a "maybe if" affair but we need it for 4-7. Unless something good happens soon, you can write off South Carolina, Tennessee, Auburn, Arkansas and LSU-and the rest of the 2004 season.
That's a generality with which you may not agree. But to ease your mind and my conscience, my political friend had another favorite saying.
"All generalities are no damn good," he would say, "including this one."
One Man's Opinion
*There will be no miracle in Starkville this season. Mississippi State clearly showed how outmanned they are in their loss to Auburn. They simply do not have the physical attributes to win in the SEC. They're not big enough, not strong enough and not fast enough. It's going to be a long first season for Sylvester Croom. But I still feel hiring Croom was one of the best moves the Bulldogs have ever made. Croom will run a straight up program, play by the recruiting rules and make his kids student-athletes of whom the school can be proud. Believe me, that's progress.
* As for Auburn, they are really, really tough. Last year they wasted two of the finest running backs in the conference in Carnell Williams and Ronnie Brown with some weird calls based on a passing offense rather than one that featured running the ball. This year the philosophy has changed and those two were on-the-field-wrecking balls against State. I originally picked LSU to win the West but based on what I saw Saturday I have changed that opinion to Auburn. Williams and Brown are the best two running backs side to side we've had in the SEC in years.
* South Carolina in their game against Georgia reminded me of Coach Jim Mora's famous quote when he was at New Orleans. "We coulda, woulda and shoulda won that game," he was quoted as saying. Well, South Carolina coulda, woulda and shoulda won the game against Georgia. The Gamecocks led 16-0 in the first half and never scored another point as the Bulldogs came from behind to win.
Nevertheless, Carolina is much better than last year. They are playing harder and better and will win their share in 2004. Georgia is still the team to beat in the East but they're happy to get past Lou Holtz' kids.
*So what do we have this week? We've got Auburn and LSU at Auburn in a game that may very well decide the outcome of the SEC West in only the third week of the season. I've already made my choice. Go back a couple of paragraphs. Auburn.
But that's not the only earthshaker. Tennessee and Florida play in Knoxville. And to repeat myself with only a geographical change, that one could very well decided the SEC East.
The Ole Miss-Vanderbilt game is important to both teams as far as the season is concerned, although neither one os going to be playing in Atlanta for the league's overall title. Kentucky has a pride game too, a meeting with an Indiana team that has apparently improved. The rest are cupcake games, Mississippi State and Maine (I didn't know Maine even had a football team); Alabama vs. a woeful Western Carolina bunch; Arkansas and Louisiana Monroe to give their fans in Little Rock a reason to come to a game; Georgia hosting a not as good as last year Marshall team; South Carolina against South Florida, if there's anything left of South Florida or Columbia, South Carolina by the time hurricane Ivan has finished with each.
Competitively, this is one of the best weekends of the season. How did we ever get along before network and cable television?
Torgerson: Bama better than predicted; Rebs not
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