One of my sports writer friends to whom I extended an invitation to serve as a Heisman Trophy elector this year e-mailed his acceptance along with a message.
"What a miserable season this has been for our Mississippi football teams," he said.
He couldn't be more right.
Ole Miss is facing another sub-.500 year. Mississippi State at this point might not beat Wayne County's High School team. The Dogs are 2-6 on the year and 0-5 in the SEC including their most recent defeat by Kentucky, considered the weakest team in the conference. Southern Mississippi has struggled to a 4-3 record but who knows what's ahead with Marshall, Houston, Memphis and Tulane yet to be faced?
And Jackson State is bad beyond their fans caring as evidenced by the fact that their game against Arkansas-Pine Bluff (which they lost by 28 points) drew only 2,800 paid in the 60,000 seat Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. A 2-6 team is not greatly beloved.
Where are those fans who believe Mississippi is a hot bed of talented high school players with more than enough to enable these four schools to have winning programs? You probably wouldn't recognize them anyway with that brown paper bag over their heads.
But let's concentrate on the Rebels. At their current 3-5 they would have to win all the rest, Arkansas, LSU and Mississippi State to finish above .500. The Rebels should beat Mississippi State (Why not? Everyone else is beating them), will be an even money bet against struggling Arkansas and have only he slimmest of slim chances to upset LSU.
As I see it that gives the Rebels either a 4-7 or 5-6 year, certainly not enough to indicate much progress, if any, over last year's 4-7. And look at whom they've beaten, a struggling Memphis team which lost its quarterback to injury in the game's first quarter, a Division II team in the Citadel, Kentucky which at the time was winless in the league even if now, thanks to Mississippi State, they are 1-5 in the SEC and then the anticipated victory over the Bulldogs.
I see no way to rationalize what's happened to the program in recent years. Two 4-7 years back to back is not the Rebel dynasty we used to know and enjoy.
It is not a matter of luck and/or bad breaks. This simply is not a very good football team. Its quarterbacking under Micheal Spurlock has been erratic to say the least and indecisive to say the most. In his preseason piece for the media guide new coach Ed Orgeron discussed Spurlock and Robert Lane with praise.
"I think that the quarterback we put out there….will be more than adequate and will be a good football player in our scheme," Orgeron said.
The truth is Ethan Flatt, last year's starter and this year's bench warmer looked better than either Spurlock or Lane in the one quarter he was allowed to play against Auburn. His stay-in-the-pocket style of quarterbacking may not be Orgeron's first style choice but it's better than what he's been getting from the others.
Then there's the offensive line. On that subject Orgeron said at the end of spring practice, "We will have an alternating offensive line. I think the five to six guys we are going to develop will be really good football players."
Sorry coach, but it hasn't worked out that way and the statistics show it. Against Auburn, Ole Miss ran the ball only 27 times and gained just 23 yards, less than one yard per carry. Including 21-35 passing for 186 yards the Rebels gained only 209 yards all afternoon. As for time of possession the Red & Blue had the ball just slightly over 25 minutes and Auburn did their thing for almost 35 minutes. In their last 12 quarters Ole Miss has scored exactly two touchdowns.
We have praised the potential of running back Mico McSwain and we stand by that. But McSwain is not a bull similar to Auburn's Kenny Irons. He is more of an elusive runner which means he needs his line to open up holes and they are simply not doing it. Against Auburn, McSwain was given the ball 18 times and gained only 48 yards-an average of about 2.5 yards per carry.
The defense is a different story. They are playing hard and well. There is no way to compliment them enough. But when they are on the field for 35 minutes and the opponent's defense only has to play for 25, physical wear and tear sets in.
Patrick Willis is phenomenal, Michael Bozeman has had an outstanding year and there are a number of others. But defense is no better than its offensive team. They win together or they lose together and so far they've been losing together.
The truth is this entire team was overrated from the git-go. As we said, the defense has been as good as predicted but the offense has been far worse and the kicking game has been very average-and it is being kind to use the word "average."
There is no question in my mind but that Orgeron is probably the most frustrated of us all. He's always been a winner and I know he expected to win at Ole Miss. He is a very hard worker and if dedication and long hours can force an upgrade maybe, just maybe, he can some day get it done. But it won't be this year and it probably won't be next year either.
He needs a big recruiting year. He is desperate for offensive linemen, a quarterback and a punishing running back. He also needs receivers to replace Mike Espy and Mario Hill.
But most of all he needs patience. His own—and yours. I'm checking to see if I can find some.
Rebs not a good team - obviously
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