Error-proned Rebs fall to Wyoming

Five turnovers and 14 penalties tumble the downtrodden Ole Miss football team to a 1-3 record. The latest calamity of the 2004 season took place in Laramie, Wyoming, as the Cowboys treated their visiting SEC opponent to an old fashioned rodeo with the Rebs getting roped.

LARAMIE, Wy. - On a sun-soaked day high in the Wyoming mountains, the Ole Miss Rebels self-destructed - yet again, losing to host Wyoming 37-32 before an announced crowd of 32,331.

Virtually every member of the team said the altitude of 7,200 feet was not a factor in the outcome, but from the way they played it appeared the Rebels were not getting enough oxygen to their brains.

With a Mountain West Conference crew flagging the Rebels 14 times, four interceptions thrown by starting QB Ethan Flatt, a crucial fumble in Rebel territory, two of Flatt's interceptions in the Wyoming end zone and many more errors, it led one to believe the Rebs were certainly missing something.

Over one-third of the way into a season that has all the markings of being ill-fated, the Rebels continue to make the same mistakes over and over. Errors in judgment and decision-making, errors in defensive assignments and errors in playing within the rules of the game.

Ole Miss is now 1-3 on the campaign. Wyoming is now 2-1 after getting whitewashed by Texas A&M in their opener.

"We found a way to get in a hole and found new ways to shoot ourselves in the foot," said Coach David Cutcliffe, as he stared ahead to the meat of the Rebs' schedule. "This was a total team loss - from top to bottom. Nobody is immune. We blew opportunities on offense and I am totally disgusted with the penalties. It is my job to make sure we play with discipline and we did not today."

The contest had an unsettling beginning.

The Rebs took the opening kickoff and methodically marched down the field to the Wyoming 26, mixing the run and the pass with equal success. But then Flatt tried to force a pass into double coverage and it was picked off in the Wyoming end zone.

One would tend to think "no harm done" that early in the contest, but three more interceptions would prove otherwise.

"Ethan's decision-making was not good in the Red Zone today," Cut said simply. "One time he checked into a fade route and tried to force it. It got picked off. One time, he just forced a throw into double coverage and it was picked off. Both times, we were going in to score."

That was an early sign on the offensive side of the ball. The defense had its own set of "early moments" as well.

After the Cowboy interception, Wyoming drove 80 yards for a score. Nothing out of the ordinary, you might think, but 40 of their yards were from defensive penalties on the Rebs - two offsides, one roughing the passer and one interference call.

7-zip with 7:48 remaining in the first stanza.

The Rebs' light-headed behavior continued. This time the Rebs drove the length of the field again, but had to settle for one of four Jonathan Nichols' field goals.

"We should have scored 50 points today, but turnovers in the Red Zone and stalling in the Red Zone killed us," said Offensive Coordinator John Latina, visibly shaken postgame. "We had so many opportunities to get seven points instead of three. . . . "

Wyoming missed a 49-yard field goal and the Rebs drove again, only to peter out at the Wyoming 8-yard line this time. Again, Nichols converted from 24 yards out, but you could sense Wyoming's confidence and momentum growing with each stop. They considered holding the Rebs to field goals a moral victory of sorts and it lifted their spirits higher and higher. Their belief they belonged on the same field with an SEC team was noticeably bolstered and their fans got more and more into the game.

The Cowboy offense rode the momentum created by the defensive stops and struck back quickly. A 26-yard pass completion and 31-yard run highlighted an 80-yard drive that was capped by a four-yard burst by TB Joseph Harris, who ended the day with 124 yards on 23 carries.

"We knew what they were going to do, but assignment busts and penalties killed us all day long," said FS Eric Oliver.

Wyoming held a 14-6 lead with 8:22 to go in the second quarter.

This time, the Rebels responded with a quick scoring drive of their own - 69 yards in just four plays. The "biggies" were a 45-yard pass to Mario Hill, who caught eight aerials for 145 yards on the day, and a 22-yard catch and run by WR Mike Espy, who caught five balls for 58 yards on the afternoon. TB Brandon Jacobs finished things off with a 2-yard jaunt around right end.

The Rebs went for the two-point conversion to tie the score, but a QB draw by Flatt ended up about a half yard shy. At 14-12, with the way the Rebs had played, there was no reason to panic.

Wyoming came back for a field goal, but things still looked OK. Unfortunately, we didn't factor in the Rebs' erratic play in that sentiment. On the Rebs' next possession, Flatt went back to throw and the ball slipped from his hand, falling into the arms of a diving Wyoming DT at the Rebel 20. The Rebel defense held the Cowboys to another field goal off the miscue. The scolre stood at 20-12 late in the first half.

Flatt and company put together another drive in the opening half that netted a Nichols' field goal and the score settled in at 20-15 in favor of the home team at intermission.

The score could be overcome with a solid second half, but it was a bit discouraing the Rebs had rolled up 320 yards of offense in the first half and only had 15 points to show for it. It was disappointing that Rebel TB Vashon Pearson had 114 yards rushing at the break, but one TD and three field goals were all the Rebs could put on the scoreboard.

"We weren't very opportunistic. You have to capitalize on every opportunity you get and we didn't," said Pearson, who ended the day with 139 of the Rebs' 221 rushing yards.

The misery continued early in the second half.

The two teams swapped punts, but on the Rebs' kick junior Josh Barge gathered in P Cody Ridgeway's effort at the Wyoming 13 and raced right up the gut 87 yards for a score. To add insult to injury, it was the first Cowboy punt return for a score in nearly a decade - the 1995 season being the last.

At 27-15, things looked shakier for the Rebs, but they got worse. Flatt threw his third pick of the game at his 49 and the ensuing Cowboy field goal made it 30-15 with 4:41 to go in the third frame.

After a QB sack by Reb DE Corvelli Haynes gave the Rebs good field position, Ole Miss cut the score to 30-22 on a reverse to Espy good for 15 yards and the score.

At this point in the contest, as was the case against Vanderbilt the week before late in that game, the Rebs appeared to be getting some momentum, but again Flatt, checking into a fade route with the Rebs deep in Wyoming territory, threw his fourth interception of the game.

The Rebs held on defense, but then one of the strangest plays you can imagine took place. With Wyoming lined up to punt, reserve TB Marvin Vaughan broke through to block the kick and knocked it backwards 20 yards. As he was scrambling to cover the fumble, Vaughan was tackled from behind - no flag. The Wyoming punter picked the ball up and punted it again. Vaughan again blocked it, but he only got a small piece of it this time and it rolled down to the Rebel 28.

"I've never seen anything like that before," Cut noted. "I hope I don't again."

What could have been a devastating blow to the Cowboys ended up being nothing more than the net result of a routine punt.

Despite that turn of events, the offense responded by driving for another Nichols' field goal, this one from 43 yards out that cut the score to 30-25. But Wyoming was having nothing to do with a Rebel comeback.

On their next possession, the Cowboys ran a reverse halfback pass for 69 yards and a 37-25 lead with 5:20 left in the game.

"We read it perfectly. (FS) Eric Oliver went through all his keys and reads and was right there to make a play, but the wide receiver running full speed threw a perfect pass to the other wide receiver running full speed across the field," said Defensive Coordinator Chuck Driesbach. "What can you do? It was a great play on their part."

On the next Rebel possession, Flatt appeared to be throwing a pass that slipped from his hands. His arm was clearly going forward, but the refs ruled it a fumble and Wyoming had the ball at the Ole Miss 20. All appeared lost, but as Wyoming was running the ball into the Rebel end zone, Harris was stripped and CB Nate Banks covered the loose ball in the Ole Miss end zone.

With little time remaining, the Rebs inserted QB Micheal Spurlock, who masterfully drove the offense 80-yards for a score to cut the deficit to 37-32.

The ensuing onside kick worked perfectly and the Rebs were back in business with a little over a minute to go.

There would be no miracle this week, however, as the Rebs could not muster a first down. On fourth down, Spurlock drilled Espy in the middle of the field, but a Wyoming DB hit him early and jarred the ball loose. Despite loud protests from the Rebel sideline, the refs ruled it a clean defensive play.

"We should have never been in that position in the first place," Cut said in a vallant effort to deflect criticism from the officials.

In the end, it was another stinging loss for the Rebels. The way they played, it was fitting.

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