Usually the prospects of playing 11-straight games are a daunting task for any college football team.
A bye-week following a season opener isn't the optimal scheduling format, considering the last game action for most squads came some eight months ago.
For Ole Miss, however, some time off is a welcomed sight, as 27 Rebels are suffering through flu-like symptoms and injury.
"We are blessed we have an open week this week," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "Based on (Wednesday's) report, the players are still in the bed and most would not be available if we played this Saturday. Some are getting back to normal, but not a lot yet."
In consecutive practices, the atmosphere around the Indoor Practice Facility has been that of a ghost town, as Ole Miss is forced to work with a skeleton crew of sorts due to a shortage of bodies.
It's made practicing difficult for the squad, with Nutt admitting to having never experienced such a wave of sickness in his over 20 years of coaching.
"I've never been associated with anything like this," he said. "I don't think I have ever had five sick before at the same time, much less 20-something. It's scary. That's why we didn't have Meet the Rebels Day. Had this happened the week of the Memphis game, it would have been tough."
Against the Tigers, many players could be seen vomiting on the sidelines. Head athletic trainer Tim Mullins confirmed some Rebels were struggling through symptoms during the game, but that the staff was aware and were treating each case diligently.
"We did have some symptoms that we treated before the game and during the game, but we're never going to put someone's life in jeopardy for the game of football," said Mullins. "We took care of each one of them and the symptoms they had. We treated them the best we could to make sure their health was taken care of."
Sophomore running back Enrique Davis, who spent Tuesday's practice in the comfort of his bed recovering, acknowledged to feeling unwell even before taking the field Sunday.
"I didn't like sitting out (of practice) at all. I'm happy to be back out here," he said. "Really before the game, my head was hurting, I was coughing a whole lot and my nose was running. It was a bad feeling. Probably about that Friday or Saturday I was feeling it, but then it went away. I was fighting it. I kept taking medicines the doctors gave me and now I'm good."
Most notably among those missing practice time this week have been quarterback Jevan Snead, wide receivers Dexter McCluster and Shay Hodge, defensive ends Greg Hardy, Kentrell Lockett and Marcus Tillman, offensive lineman John Jerry, linebacker Allen Walker and defensive backs Marshay Green and Johnny Brown.
While Mullins has begun to see improvement amongst the group, he said the staff will make sure each has made a full recovery before allowing them back on the practice fields.
"We had a half dozen or so whose fever has gone down and are normal now, including Jevan, but there is no need to rush them back," said Mullins. "It takes a little time to get completely over the symptoms and we want to make sure they are completely well before we return them to practice."
After running a high fever, McCluster spent the night Tuesday in Baptist Memorial Hospital before being released the following morning.
So far, the talented senior is the only Rebel to be hospitalized, but Mullins said McCluster is doing much better.
"Everybody responds different to it. That's what is so unique," he said. "That's why we want to see every one of them. It's not just a textbook – black and white – this is how you're going to treat it. We treat every patient with the symptoms that they have. That's why Dexter was one who had to go to the hospital, because his symptoms were a little more than other people's symptoms. Once we see each one of them and treat each one of them, we take a course of action from there.
"It wasn't necessarily the fever. We worry about a lot of the symptoms they have – fever is one of them, nausea, diarrhea – things like that. The thing with Dexter is, he did have a fever and it was going up-and-down. But he also couldn't hold his fluids. We had to put him in and get some IV fluids in him. Once he did that, he was great today. He's feeling much better."
Mullins said the training staff handles each case individually, with players required to report early in the morning, and frequent check-ups throughout the day.
"They're spread out in all the places that they live," Mullins said. "They all have to come in and report in at 7:30 in the morning. We check every one of their individual temperatures. We also go over their symptoms at that time. Then, after we evaluate them in the morning, we check on them during the day. But we keep them away from here."
As mentioned earlier, the typical recovery time for flu is 48 hours.
When asked if he thought the worst of the spreading was over, Mullins was quick to respond.
"I hope so. I've seen a slow decline over the last few days," he said. "We had a lower number (Wednesday) than we had in the previous days. We've all been exposed to it. From the tightness, to the confinement of the game and locker room in Memphis, to the buses, we've all been exposed. Some people are fighting it and some people's immune system couldn't. But I hope we're seeing the tail end of it."
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