We - the Rebel nation - are not a gullible lot, but we, if you will allow some lumping together and generalities, are hopeful and optimistic by nature.
Our football program has had turmoil in the past 14 months - starting with a 4-7 season in 2004, the firing of then Coach David Cutcliffe in November, some defections and dismissals of players since spring training, and some new coaches hitting the exit ramp out of Oxford due to some off-the-field improprieties. And now, a 1-2 start against opposition we felt we could be 3-0 against.
But through it all, our beacon has been new Coach Ed Orgeron, who has wooed us with his enthusiasm, energy, commitment to our program and toughness. Our hopes were, and are, high.
Although we would touch on the obvious deficiencies facing us - a head coach who had never been a head coach, a youthful offensive line, no proven SEC-caliber running backs, wide receivers with a history of the dropsies, a preseason quarterback dilemma, players learning new systems on both sides of the ball, no experience of any kind in the kicking game and a lot of the same defensive personnel returning that gave up a lot of real estate last year - we were so willing to declare "I'm In" that we essentially ignored all the signs and were swept away by the dynamic personality of Coach O.
Our enthusiasm - as a fan base - matched his, but in hindsight we were wishing for a magic wand, and even Orgeron doesn't have one of those.
I spoke at several Rebel Club meetings and essentially my comments were as follows, "We should be OK against the Memphis', Vandys, Wyomings on our schedule, but we will struggle with the traditional SEC powers on our slate unless we improve by leaps and bounds."
Frankly, not many wanted to hear that and, hell, I wasn't too pumped about saying it.
The Memphis game showed there were things we could do to win. The defense was ballyhooed for holding the Tigers to six points even though Memphis was, essentially, a one-dimensional offense, and QB Micheal Spurlock proved (kind of) that he could get the job done if he'd get a little help and we could develop some kind of running game.
Then along came Vandy and four of the top players on the team were incapacitated - MLB Patrick Willis, SS Jamarca Sanford, Spurlock and WR Mario Hill - in the close loss to the best team the Commodores have had since the mid-1980s.
Coach O, doing what he had to do for his team, said he would not let those personnel losses hinder the progress of the team. I can't blame him for saying that, for the mental well-being of his team, but the reality of that simply was not feasible. Take four of the best players off any team and they will struggle too.
Wyoming wanders in - also an outfit with their best team in a lot of years, similar to Vanderbilt - and I truly believe we can walk away with the victory. Hey, we gained over 500 yards of offense on them last year and beat ourselves with turnovers and getting suckered by a trick play or two. We'll win this year, right? Seemed easy to say, but harder to do.
Well, we all saw what happened last night - a defense that tackled magnificently against Memphis that seemingly forgot that fine art during portions of the game, an offensive line that was porous against a smallish Wyoming DL, a first-time starter at QB who couldn't get or make a break, a muffed punt snap, untimely penalties, four turnovers, a running game that did put up 162 yards but 89 of those were on two plays leaving 26 rushes for 73 yards as the real story, and a defense that had its back to the wall most of the second half and couldn't stoney the Cowboys' offense when needed most. Eerily like the Vandy game.
My hope was to go into the Tennessee game 3-0 or 2-1 with some mementum and confidence. Oops.
Every player we talked to said they would not let the doubt creep in, that what's happening is fixable and they will go to Knoxville with the intention to win.
Coach O, for his part, did not dodge any questions from the media and shouldered the blame for the loss. He said it all falls on him and that he told the team that after the game.
He said the Rebs have to do whatever it takes to correct fundamental mistakes, they have to learn the schemes better and that he will have to recruit his way out of this jam in the long run. The most telling quote of the night was "we don't have enough talent at some spots, but we do have enough talent at others and they aren't producing like they should."
He also said he "probably" should have kicked the field goal with 12 minutes to go in the fourth quarter that - if good - would have cut the deficit to 24-10 and made the game a two-score affair, but he was trying to give the team a boost and some momentum. In hindsight, which is always crystal clear, he "probably" should have kicked it, but does anyone really believe that the Rebs were going to rally from that deficit with a one-handed QB that late in the game? I didn't get that feeling, so he may as well have gone for it, despite conventional wisdom saying "kick it, coach."
So what's the bottom line of this stab at a commentary?
We probably should have seen a little bit of this coming with all the variables we have seen in the last 14 months, but what fun would that be? I have never entered a season without high expectations and hope I never will.
Now is the time to regroup. Now is the time to face reality. Coach O, his staff and our players have an uphill battle and the climb may reach well beyond this season.
We can jump ship or bow our necks as fans. I'll take the latter.
Personally, when I declared "I'm In" before the season started, I didn't mean "I'm In until we lose a couple."
No, I didn't expect to be 1-2 right now, but I never harbored visions of, as some fans boldly declared, "an eight-win season."
Maybe now we can start dealing in some reality about our football program. And that reality is aht we have problems that need addressing - short and long term.
I'm suprised, but not shocked.
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