When taking to the Indoor Practice Facility for postgame interviews, a heightened atmosphere of frustration lingered following No. 3 Alabama's 22-3 shelling of Ole Miss Saturday.
Make no mistake; the Rebel defense did more than enough to support an anemic offense on national television. But due again to an array of turnovers and the addition of a blocked punt, Ole Miss was sunk by a far superior team in Alabama, which limited the Rebels to only 19 yards of total offense and one first down in the first half alone.
With the loss, Ole Miss sits 3-2 overall, with both losses coming by way of conference opponents. In reality, dreams of a conference championship or national title aspirations are all but shot. For the only team yet to grace the elusive gates of Atlanta from the SEC West, a once promising season has now reached its turning point.
"What's so important is that they stay together and be real positive, and let's work through this thing," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "But when you have losing seasons, four straight until last year, it's easy to get back in that cycle. But what's important for our guys is that we don't worry about what other people are saying. Just come back and go to work. We have a lot of football left."
True, but the clock is ticking.
Need for Snead:
By now, five games into his junior season, it's safe to say Ole Miss quarterback Jevan Snead is long since removed from a stellar debut season in 2008.
Against Alabama, Snead completed only 32 percent of his passes with four interceptions. Paint it inconsistency or distrust in an underperforming offensive line, but at no point this year has Snead seemed confident in what was supposed to be a breakout year for the Stephenville, Texas native.
"Coming into the year there was a lot of pressure on him," Nutt said of Snead. "He was talked about from when you win the last six ballgames and win the Cotton Bowl. There's a lot of hype and expectation. He'll be the first to tell you he can play better. You just don't want to turn it over. That's been our biggest problem. He's just forcing a few things."
In fairness, Snead did endure countless interview requests and magazine cover shoots in a highly-publicized offseason. However, such is life as the quarterback of a contending team in the SEC.
Few could predict nine touchdowns compared to nine interceptions so far for a quarterback many hyped as a dark horse candidate for the Heisman Trophy. When an opposing punter, Alabama's P.J. Fitzgerald, has seven times more passing yardage than your starting quarterback through the entire first quarter, there are obvious problems.
"We knew going into the game that they had a good defense," said Snead, who completed only 11-of-34 passes in the effort. "They were extremely quick. They jumped routes and flew around. Overall, they were just a great defense and played every snap. They didn't make any mistakes."
On the season, Snead is completing only 46.8 percent of his passes. The 6-foot-3, 220 pounder also holds a meager average of 173.6 yards per game through the air.
For Ole Miss, worries of the top-25 are of little concern. Unless some form of consistency arises in Snead, a spiraling season could turn disastrous.
With the inept play of the Ole Miss offense against Alabama dominating conversation for much of Saturday, the brilliant play by an inspired defense was somewhat overlooked.
"We played pretty decent, but there's still room for improvement. We can tackle better. But as a whole, I thought we played a good game," senior free safety Kendrick Lewis said.
Sure, the unit surrendered 354 yards of total offense to the Crimson Tide. But Ole Miss had to endure over 38 minutes of Alabama possession, with an almost 20-minute disparity between the teams.
Further, despite having the ball six times inside the Ole Miss 20-yard line, Alabama was held to five field goals. Junior quarterback Greg McElroy, who entered the day completing over 65 percent of his passes, was limited to a mere 16 completions on 34 attempts.
To put it simply, this Rebel defense is some kinda good. And therein lies the reasoning for disappointment.
"(The offense) is going to come around. We know how good they can be - we face them every day," said senior cornerback Cassius Vaughn. "Jevan (Snead) is going to get it going and I'm going to tell you something - he is our quarterback. Every player on this team feels that way. He's going to come around and we have his back. Every player on this team does."
Entering the game, Ole Miss ranked fourth in the SEC in total defense. On Saturday, the unit did nothing but again prove its mettle against the stiffest of competition. So, to a unit having drawn a wealth of criticism in previous seasons, high praise is warranted.
"They're playing with a lot of heart, fire, and energy," Nutt said. "They're zeroed in on stopping the run first. They didn't give up the big play. There were lots of gang tackling and a lot of pressure on the quarterback. They didn't stop. I was proud of them. They played to the end."
In any other year, the significance of a homecoming matchup with UAB Saturday at 6 p.m. would carry little weight.
But with Ole Miss' alarming play offensively so far, a strong showing has now become critical, as a home date with Arkansas and road trip to Auburn follow in consecutive weeks.
Though the likelihood of Alabama suffering three conference losses are slim to none, senior wide receiver Dexter McCluster believes a trip to the Georgia Dome is still within the realm of possibility.
"It's going to be difficult, but it can be done," he said. "I would say to not count us out, because all we need is one spark to get us going. Once we do that, we're going to be a good offense."
Notebook: On the Brink
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