Upside down

After a sub-par showing in Columbia last Thursday, the Ole Miss Rebels have had nine long days to ponder their immediate future. Read about it inside.

Ever buy a stock at a buck a share in August with the thought it'd be at three dollars by Christmas only to see it drop to 50 cents by mid-October?

Ever go to a car dealer ready to trade and the value of your old vehicle was way less than you still owed on it?

In simplistic financial terms, it's called being upside down. In Byhalia, MS, where I am from, it's called bend over and grab your ankles.

Either way, your commodity is devalued and you are behind the proverbial eight ball.

There's only one way to get out of the hole - dig like hell.

That's kind of how I felt after South Carolina beat the then-number 4 Rebels in Columbia a week ago this past Thursday.

I had been buying all the Rebel "stock" I could get my hands on since the Cotton Bowl and in one fell swoop, the value dropped, all the way to 18 in one poll and 21 in another.

It was on the same weekend that four Top 10 teams bit the dust and four previously riding high fan bases went into panic mode.

As college football fans, we are accustomed to one or two upsets a weekend - it's the nature of the beast with the parity out there now, but nothing like that. It sent shock waves throughout college football, sending coaches everywhere scurrying for their cliche' handbooks and preaching never-taking-anyone-lightly rhetoric.

But that's neither here nor there.

Back to the Rebels, the only program I give a hoot and holler about.

Do I now sell and absorb my losses or hang on and hope the ship is righted and the value goes back up? The former is not an option. As a diehard, lifetime Rebel, there is only one answer - hold on tight and fight like Kimbo Slice in a dark alley.

That fight starts today in Nashville against Vanderbilt, another SEC opponent, like USC, who beat Ole Miss last year and probably shouldn't have before the Rebs went on their incredible year-ending run.

Last Sunday, the shock from the Thursday failure had not worn off. There were some hollow eyes on the practice field that day, all wondering, as we all were, how in the world did that happen?

Monday was an off day. Tuesday was a little sluggish as well, but you could see the Rebs starting to turn the after-a-loss corner and get some pep in their steps.

Wednesday and Thursday, the real Rebels surfaced and it was business as usual. The bounce returned.

But, as Coach Houston Nutt asked himself, how will good practices translate into Saturday play?

Only the game itself will answer that, but here are the areas that have to improve, according to Nutt, for the Rebs to get back on the winning track.

Offensive Rhythm/Consistency: The Memphis and SLU games should have gone a long way in establishing those two precious attributes for the 2009 season, but they did not surface at South Carolina. A paltry 1-13 third-down conversion ratio is as far as you have to look to prove the Rebs were out of synch.

There were a ton of reasons why, but none of them suited Nutt, his staff, his players or the fans, so they aren't worthy of rehashing.

The bottom line, Houston said, was that "everybody" had to do a better job. "The staff, the players - everybody has to execute," was the way he put it, aptly.

In other words, not only did Nutt say the Rebel players have to execute what is called better, it is also a matter of the coaches calling what puts the players in better positions to be successful.

I'm not well-versed enough in football to know the minute examples and details of what he meant by that, but the we-are-all-to-blame and we-are-all-in-this-together explanation seemed plausible and noble to this country bumpkin. Pointing fingers is no way to fix what went wrong on that fateful night.

From a layman's viewpoint, it would be too easy to say so-and-so has to do better. The bottom line is the offense - all 11 of them - has to get out their sharpening tools and grind a razor's edge on their product. They were digging with a dull spade in Columbia.

To simplify even further, just play, Rebs. Just play the way everyone knows you are capable of playing. There are enough of you who returned from last year to know what you can do, so go do it. Relax and play football, the game you love. Just play. Unlock whatever mental barriers are bouncing around in your heads and just play.

On defense, the Rebs put in a stellar performance against the Gamecocks, but all involved felt they can, and will, do better. The overall tackling took a step up from the first two games, which was gratifying and the way they were expected to respond, but all of them on that side of the ball will declare without hesitation it can still get much, much better.

So the defense's simple task when they line up against the Commodores is to stay on the steady path of improvement they have established in the first three games and everything will be just fine.

Not to live in the past, but to act as a reference point and reminder, we saw QB Jevan Snead dazzle, RT John Jerry dominate, Dexter McCluster razzle, WR Shay Hodge blister and the rest plow through a lot of teams last season. That was not a mirage, it was as real as real can be.

There is no reason to feel they won't get the train back on the track in short order. It's not a matter of if, but when.

For the type of year all of us want to have, the "when" has to come against Vanderbilt, because circumstances get a bit more "iffy" after that when Alabama rolls into Oxford next Saturday.

We're keeping our Rebel stock, expecting a big pay day against the Dores.


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