At Thursday's practice last week, Ole Miss Coach Houston Nutt fielded the weekly "how do you feel about this game?" question as matter-of-factly as anyone could.
"We will win if we don't give them any gifts," he said. "If we will take care of the ball and play sound football, we will beat them."
Nutt was prophetic, but in the wrong direction for the team and Rebel faithful.
Ole Miss only lost by two, on a last-second 41-yard field goal, but they did what Nutt feared and warned against most - gift-wrapped the game with double-digit glaring mistakes.
And it was not just gift-wrapped, it had ribbons and bows.
How did we lose it? Let me count, or recount, the ways, as painful as that is.
Number 1 - The Rebel defense forced Wake to punt on the opening drive of the game after a couple of inconsequential first downs. Good start, right? As Lee Corso would say, not so fast my friend. On the ensuing punt, Dustin Mouzon appeared to bump into or distract Marshay Green, who was trying to field the kick. The ball hit off of Green's leg, Wake covered it on the Reb 14 and scored a TD two plays later.
Number 2 - Even though it didn't cost the Rebs points, the next one did cost valuable field position. Again, the Reb defense held and forced a punt, but on the kick, LB Patrick Trahan lost control of his rush and roughed the punter after the ball was well off the punter's foot.
Number 3 - After the Rebs overcame those early miscues and gained a 14-10 intermission lead, Snead didn't see a streaking safety and threw a pick at the WF 44, killing a drive. It happens, but it still has to go under the heading of critical error.
Number 4 - On the very next possession, on the very first play, Dexter McCluster, running out of the Wild Rebel set, decided to pass instaed of run and threw another interception that Wake converted into another field goal and cut the score to 14-13 Rebs.
Number 5 - On the following kickoff, Brandon Bolden took his eye off the kick, fumbled it and was smothered at the Reb 15. Poor field position there just added some girth to the Wake rolling snowball in the third quarter. Wake's next scoring drive started on the Rebel side of the field because of that field position issue.
Number 6 - Trailing 20-14, Snead hit McCluster for a 62-yard catch-and-run to the Wake 2. Bring it back, boys. Holding on senior RG Maurice Miller.
Number 7 - The Rebels came right back to take a 21-20 lead, but on Wake's next drive, they were aided by a personal foul penalty on SS Jamarca Sanford, who rode a Demon Deacon ballcarrier way out of bounds. The resulting 15-yard penatly put the ball on the Reb 12. One play later and it was 27-21 Wake in the early stages of the fourth quarter.
Number 8 & 9 - These mistakes shouldn't be mentioned because they did not halt a heroic late drive of 80 yards to give the Rebs a 28-27 margin with 1 minute to go, but they were the kind of errors that teams often do not overcome. During that critical drive, the Rebs jumped offsides and fumbled a snap, but managed to overcome them and score anyway.
Number 10 - On Wake's last drive, the LBs were supposed to take deep drops, but did not. Riley Skinner looped a 22-yard pass to a wide open receiver over the middle to the Rebel 46.
Number 11 - Two plays later, Reb DC Tyrone Nix sent MLB Jonathan Cornell and FS Kendrick Lewis on a middle blitz. It appeared Lewis had a clean shot at Skinner for a big loss with 22 seconds to go. Instead, Lewis whiffed, Skinner threw the ball up for grabs on a deep route and. . .
Number 12 - . . . Marshay Green was called for interference, putting the ball at the Rebel 29.
You know the rest. Wake hits the FG and the Rebels were stunned.
As you can see, those were a dozen game-changing mistakes, most not caused by Wake Forest.
This is not a rant, not even close.
The Rebels did a lot of good things as well.
Snead threw for four TDs, the defense held a good rushing team to 81 yards on 31 carries, and the Rebs came from behind three times in a hostile environment against a Top 20 team.
And therein lies the rub.
Houston knew it all too well. He's been around long enough to recognize a well-coached, sound, experienced team that does not beat itself, which Wake is.
He also knew the Rebs would have to play near flawless football to come away with a win.
As it turns out, the Rebs didn't even have to do that. Just cut the mistakes in half and they win easily, maybe going away.
If you are looking for a silver lining, that probably won't make you feel very good, the Rebels were - in this opinion - a little more talented than a Top 20 team. When is the last time we could say that?
But there's more to this game than being more talented. You also have to play better than the opposition.
The Rebs did not do that.
Mistakes were Nutt's keys to the game going in and they were his keys to the game coming out.
There's little argument that an opportunity to capture a winnable game was squandered.
Hopefully, the Rebs will learn a valuable lesson and not make that mistake, or dozen mistakes, again.
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