Though the final score read a respectable 33-20 loss at the hands of Auburn Saturday, Halloween couldn't have gone much worse for Ole Miss, as a Rebel squad in desperate need of victory fell flat on the Plains amidst damp and dreary conditions.
A schizophrenic offense returned in the effort, with Ole Miss totaling 394 yards but only 13 points. After an impressive 94-yard drive on their opening possession, the Rebels mustered no points for the remainder of the first half, despite 233 yards of total offense compared to 183 for Auburn.
Trailing 10-7 at intermission, Ole Miss saw its counterpart amass 21 unanswered points in the third quarter. The 31-7 deficit in the period was the team's largest of the year, with Ole Miss surrendering season highs in both points (33) and yards (401) in the loss.
"It's just disappointing. That's not the way we had it planned. It hurts," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "I thought we had greater preparation throughout the week, and guys were ready to play. Give them credit. They did a good job playing very physical. I thought we had our chances. We were up and down the field the first half. But I was hoping for much more than seven points. That first drive was beautiful. You just can't turn it over. That's our problem. We turn the ball over."
A One (Dex)mensional Offense:
Following a 260-yard all-purpose performance a week prior versus Arkansas, senior wide receiver/running back Dexter McCluster once again proved to be a one-man show Saturday.
With little else in terms of offense, Ole Miss relied on the heroics of McCluster for consistent production, including 26 touches for the Largo, Fla. native in the loss. Responding accordingly, McCluster topped 100 yards rushing for the second straight game, as his 186 yards gained on the ground marked the most for a Rebel runner since 2007.
"Right now we're just putting that ball in his hands," said Nutt. "He's getting the most opportunities. He gives us our best chance."
And apparently their only chance.
As one of four Rebels to record catches in the contest, senior wide receiver Shay Hodge notched his third career 100-yard receiving performance. However, the Ole Miss offense shown dormant for much of the contest, as junior quarterback Jevan Snead completed a mere 16 of his 35 pass attempts for 175 yards.
Again inconsistent, Snead failed to reach 200 passing yards and also failed to throw for multiple touchdowns for the first time in three games.
"We didn't finish what we started," McCluster said. "We moved the ball pretty well all day, but you have to finish. We were poor finishers today and that's what is really disappointing to all of us."
When senior linebacker Patrick Trahan returned to Auburn for the first time since transferring in the summer of 2006, emotions for the 6-foot-2, 235 pounder were certainly high.
For Trahan, whose exit from the Plains was mired in bitterness due to academic issues, a Halloween meeting with his former team was to be a victorious affair to enact revenge. But as the clock struck zero on a 33-20 loss for Ole Miss, Trahan could only stand in disbelief.
"It's tough for me to come back here and go back with a loss, but I think we will learn from this," said Trahan, who accounted for six tackles and one forced fumble. "It was my first time coming back to Auburn since I left. It felt weird to be coming out of the other tunnel. It was hard for me to leave and it's still a big thing for me to be here."
As a Tiger, Trahan appeared in all of 12 games over two years, recording 11 tackles and one tackle for loss. However, when faced with the possibility of academic ineligibility as a sophomore, Trahan decided to take his services elsewhere.
"I just didn't like the situation with the coaching staff and the academics staff," says Trahan on his reason for transferring. "I felt like that wasn't the best place for me. I just didn't like the way things were handled and the situation I was put in. I didn't think it was right."
Trahan would relocate to Northwest Mississippi Community College, where he earned second-team All-America status in 2007. He was credited with 96 tackles, 14 losses, six sacks, four forced fumbles and one interception for the year.
Rated as the No. 13 JUCO player in the nation by SuperPrep, Trahan eventually made his way to Oxford where he saw action in all 13 games as a junior at linebacker.
Though he managed only meager numbers with 29 total stops and 4.5 tackles for loss on the year, his five-tackle performance in the 73rd Annual Cotton Bowl Classic made Trahan a focal point headed into 2009. Seven games into a highly-anticipated year, Trahan had amassed the fourth-most tackles for Ole Miss with 42. His 4.0 sacks tied for second on the team, while his 5.5 tackles for loss ranked fourth.
However, to Trahan, a season's work would culminate in an 11:21 a.m. meeting at Auburn. The date was circled on his calendar and the script already written. All that remained was the ride home with a victory in hand.
But it wasn't meant to be.
"Everything that's happened to me has built character and made me a better person," he said. "It taught me a lot about accountability and doing stuff for myself. Nobody wants to take the hard route, but in the end, it does make you a better person."
In lopsided losses, bright spots are few and far between. But when a true freshman becomes just the third Rebel to return two kickoffs for touchdowns in the same season, praise is warranted.
In only his fourth game handling kickoff returns, frosh Jesse Grandy notched his second kickoff return for a touchdown with his 82-yarder in the third quarter.
"I fumbled the opening kickoff and we were lucky to get it back. I knew I had to make up for it sometime in the game," Grandy said. "I looked for an open hole and it was there. I just hit it as fast as I can."
"Jesse Grandy really gave us a shot in the arm," Nutt added. "I really thought when he returned that kick that we were back in it. We just didn't capitalize like we needed to."
For the game, Grandy logged 150 return yards on five attempts. His second score of the season marked the first Rebel to do so since John Avery did it in 1996.
"He's making a name for himself quickly as a return man," said McCluster. "He has such good vision and when he hits an open lane, he can move. I'm proud of him."
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