Beyond the Numbers

Despite near equal totals in offensive production between Ole Miss (394) and Auburn (401) Saturday, the Rebels posed little threat in terms of offense outside of senior running back/wide receiver Dexter McCluster.

McCluster accounted for 203 of the team's total offense in a 33-20 loss, including 186 yards rushing on 22 carries. The Largo, Fla. native also tallied four receptions, while only one other Rebel wideout, senior Shay Hodge, caught a pass.

But the inept play of the Ole Miss passing attack goes far beyond the numbers. Through eight games, junior quarterback Jevan Snead has yet to gain any semblance of rhythm, having tossed 15 touchdowns to 13 interceptions.

Even more, the second-year signal caller has shown a glaring lack of confidence, as a highly-anticipated season is now tittering on the brink of vast disappointment.

"We talked to Jevan (before the season). Kent Austin talked to him. I talked to him. We told him you're not going to sneak in another stadium and sneak out. Those days are gone. We told him to continue to be Jevan. Don't feel like you have to be Superman," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said.

"Sometimes he feels like he has to make a play. You can't do that. Our protection is not as good as last year but it has gotten better. But all of us have to get better. Not one guy. It takes 11 and some backups."

As the story of 2009, inconsistency for the team offensively has plagued Ole Miss.

Though outgaining Auburn 233 to 183 at halftime, the Rebels trailed 10-7. Ole Miss had moved the ball at will in the frame, but numerous missteps led to stagnant play outside of a 94-yard scoring march to open the game.

"I don't want to say it, but I really think we beat ourselves (against Auburn)," Hodge said of the critical loss on the Plains. "It was a holding penalty or snapping the ball early on third down. There were a lot of missed opportunities where we could have scored or kept drives going and didn't. We messed up ourselves."

"When you have an illegal procedure. When you complete a pass and hold. We're not a good third and long team. That's what stops us. We stop ourselves," Nutt added. "That's been our No. 1 problem. Turnovers. Holding. Illegal procedure. You can't do it."

Again heavily reliant on Hodge, Snead, who had completed 3-of-4 passes with one touchdown in the opening drive, finished the day a mere 16-of-35 for 175 yards and two interceptions.

"I don't necessarily believe that's true," said Snead when asked if he was locking in on one receiver. "There are certain situations where I might have it in my head to go to a certain person I think may be good in that situation, but overall I don't think I'm locking in on any receivers. I feel like I'm going through my progressions.

"There are times where I may hang onto one part of the progression a little too long. But as far as locking on to one guy and not reading through progressions, I don't think there's much truth to that."

Or is there?

For the second straight week, Hodge emerged as the team leader in receptions with seven. So far this season, he's amassed 38 receptions for 564 yards, while only two other receivers have reached double digits in McCluster (27) and junior Lionel Breaux (10).

And with McCluster being used as Ole Miss' primary running back over the preceding weeks, Hodge has seemingly become the team's only consistent wideout for production. In fact, fellow receivers Pat Patterson and Markeith Summers have yet to reach the 10-catch plateau with four games remaining in the season.

"Some of it's by design and some of it is him being very comfortable with me," Hodge said of his enhanced role in the passing game. "But somebody else has to step up and make some big plays to get the focus off of me. Jevan needs to feel comfortable throwing to other guys.

"It can have a negative effect. Opposing teams will take away your No. 1 target. That could start happening. We have to go to other guys."

While the Rebels sit fourth in the conference in passing offense (218.5), they rank ninth in passing efficiency (124.2). Even more, the team is 11th in turnover margin at minus seven, with Snead tied for first in the country for interceptions thrown.

"I don't pay too much attention to that kind of stuff," Snead said. "The stat I really like to focus on is wins and losses. Of course, we have more losses than I would like. That's what I'm focusing on and trying to improve on. I'm going to try my best to be as efficient as I can and I know I can be more efficient than I'm being now."


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