Most recreational golfers will play a skins game.
If one golfer in the foursome wins a hole outright, he wins the skin(s). But he has to validate the skins - make them for keeps - by either tying or winning the following hole. If not, all his effort goes back into the bank and not in his pocket. Validation is the key to taking home the spoils.
The Rebels were in a similar position this week against South Carolina. They had won the skins at Florida with a stunning upset of the Gators, but badly needed to validate the win by defeating the South Carolina Gamecocks.
They needed to validate they are a good team. They needed to validate the win over Florida was not a flash in the pan. They needed to validate their chances to invade Tuscaloosa in two weeks and take a victory over number 2 Alabama.
They did not validate.
The Rebels did something I suspect is quite unique. How many teams can say they lost to Vanderbilt and South Carolina at home but sandwiched a win over Florida - at their place no less - in between? It defies logic, if there is such a thing in the crazy world college football.
White is black and black is white, it seems, with these Rebels. This team is now in the reverse world, where hello is goodbye.
Ironically, the Vandy and South Carolina games had a common thread.
In both games, at the worst possible times, the Rebels committed grave errors - two fumbles, both mind-numbingly critical and allowing a 20-yard completion for a TD on third-and-goal from the 20 were the culprits against SC.
Setting the scene, as if you want to relive it, the Rebels obviously were not carrying over a Florida hangover. The first two times they had the ball, they cruised down the field and scored with relative ease against one of the top-rated defenses in the country. With the first quarter almost over, disaster hit.
First, Gamecock QB Chris Smelley, who the Rebs made look like Eli Manning for much of the day, found Jason Barnes in the back of the end zone for a score on the aforementioned 3rd-and-20. Although Barnes was almost decapitated by Johnny Brown, he held on to the ball.
Exactly a minute later, Rebel QB Jevan Snead, who also had a good day throwing the ball, tried to get too much out of a collapsed play, fumbled and watched from his back as SC's Nathan Pepper scooped and scored from 29 yards out.
In the span of 60 seconds, the Rebs went from a 14-3 lead to a 17-14 deficit. Shock time.
The Rebels did come back to score before halftime on a cool 24-yard misdirection pass from Snead to Brandon Bolden, but the swagger they had to start the game had subsided. Something was different and something was similar.
In one fell swoop, the momentum of the game changed from all Ole Miss to pretty even. We'd seen it before - where a mistake here and there affected the psyche of the team. Vandy two weeks earlier ring a bell?
And even though the Rebs had the advantage at the intermission, it was apparent the Gamecocks felt more sure of their position than the Rebels did.
Ole Miss seemed to get a little bit of their mojo back with a long drive deep into USC territory and appeared headed for a 28-17 margin that would have restored their confidence and probably deflated Carolina's, but alas, McCluster coughed up the ball inside the SC 5, and it was scooped up and returned into Ole Miss territory.
From there, for all intents and purposes, it was all South Carolina. Rejuvenated, the Gamecocks got their second wind and started running and throwing the ball effectively, enough to score one more TD and get a better grip on the Rebel offense.
The Ole Miss Rebels, in my book, are not a bad football team. At 3-3, I can't call them a good team either, but there is a marked difference in last year's team and this one, which was just plain bad.
But they are not a mentally tough team, it says here, and they are mistake-prone.
These players care. They work hard. They love to play football and they want to win. Their coaches are putting them in a position to win and they know it.
But it still, even knowing all that, does not take much to flip the switch on them and for them to lose their momentum.
And the mistakes? I've lost count.
So it's back to the old drawing board. Even though they now have an open week to lick their wounds, they are going to be facing the same situation they were in Florida.
And that is going against a Top 5 team at their place with a win the only thing that will keep their record above .500.
Tough card to draw once. They've now drawn it twice, but they really have nobody to blame but themselves.
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