"I talked to them about Grand Valley beating Michigan State, Gardner-Webb beating Kentucky. I ran the gamut on everything that I could talk about relative to respecting your opponent and getting ready to go out and dominate the people that you play. I failed in that, obviously."
That quote was by Nick Saban, nearly one year ago. On November 17, 2007, Alabama turned a would-be Iron Bowl tune-up against the University of Louisiana at Monroe into an embarrassing loss thanks to four turnovers and a blocked field goal. Before the game, Saban spoke of basketball upsets and how intensity must be 100 percent. Obviously it wasn't for the Crimson Tide.
For the past two weeks, Houston Nutt has placed mouse traps all over the indoor practice facility and echoed the same statement as Saban –intensity and effort have to be there.
Overlooking anyone isn't an option. Different methods, but the same main idea. The Warhawks aren't going to be intimidated, and SEC schools have to prepare in order to come out unblemished.
"They were in different places because we are trying to get our players to understand that sometimes these big ole rats will get to feeling good about themselves and getting fat and all a sudden you walk into a big trap where you think is a big piece of cheese, but it isn't," Nutt said. So, it is about how you approach things. It is about attitude and the respect you have to have for Monroe. Don't worry about the record.
This is a super bowl for them, and they are excited about playing us. You can't just roll your helmet out there and show up."
With ULM visiting Oxford at 1 p.m. Saturday, the Rebels can all but visualize their sixth win and subsequent bowl eligibility. However, there is plenty of evidence to suggest Ole Miss shouldn't get ahead of itself.
The Warhawks' overall record against the SEC is just 3-31-1, but last year's scene in Tuscaloosa should be enough to deem that irrelevant. Many of the unfocused players that lost to the Sun Belt squad are now No. 1 in the nation just 360 days later.
And before 2007, the only ULM wins over SEC opponents came in back-to-back years. Then Northeast Louisiana University beat Bill Curry's Kentucky team in 1994 and followed that up with a win over Jackie Sherrill's Mississippi State club in 1995. Ole Miss' attention to detail can make sure that pattern doesn't duplicate.
The current season can be used to keep the Rebels alert as well. ULM has a record that is less than impressive at 3-7, 2-4, which includes a 34-0 defeat at Auburn and a two-touchdown loss at Tulane.
But the Warhawks held a fourth-quarter lead on Arkansas in Little Rock before Casey Dick engineered a late scoring drive to push the Razorbacks to a one-point win. Also, ULM defeated a quality program in Troy and lost by three to Middle Tennessee – who were a bobbled hail mary from beating Kentucky this season.
Geography alone lends itself to ULM having the ability to pull an upset. The South is loaded with athletes, and the larger schools can't scoop all of them up. While Ole Miss has a larger quantity and a higher grade of athlete, the Warhawk roster features enough size and speed to keep things interesting if given the opportunity.
ULM also doesn't make a habit of beating itself. The offense has just 10 turnovers through 10 games.
Nutt spent ample time changing the Rebels collective mindset when he arrived, and the past couple weeks have been a similar situation – except hammering home the opposite message. While media and fans talk of bowl trips to Dallas and Atlanta, the Rebels are trying to stay grounded.
Ole Miss is a 20-something point favorite and should roll over ULM. And Saturday should be a day of celebration, with the sixth win of the season becoming final around 4 p.m.
But these days of preparation are imperative to making that happen. Focus and executing fundamentals are the difference between locking down postseason plans or copying what happened last season on the Capstone.
Trumping the Trap Game
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