Ole Miss Football and Houston Nutt: What's Wrong in Oxford?
Well, after Saturday night's game with lowly Tulane, two things are evident. First, my article on 10 reasons that the Rebels would rout Tulane, was not on target. The second thing that we learned from Saturday's match-up is that Ole Miss is in trouble, big trouble.
The Tulane game was very much like the Jacksonville State game in many ways. The Rebels came out fired up and dominated the game in the beginning. Then came the second half. Both the offense and the defense were sluggish during the second half, allowing Tulane to get right back into the game.
Ole Miss's offense actually had 0 net yards in the third quarter and once again, only scored three points in the second half of the game. This is pathetic stats considering the competition. I do not want to take anything away from Tulane, but this Green Wave team should not have been able to shut the Rebels down like the did in the second half.
The Rebel defense was once again terrible in the second half. If it weren't for Tulane self-destructing at several points in the game, this could be loss number two for Ole Miss. I hate to be pessimistic, but Jacksonville State and Tulane are two of the easiest contests on the Rebel's schedule this year; it doesn't get any easier. In fact, the level of competition is about to jump to an entirely different level.
Let's be perfectly clear, with Ole Miss's talent, both of their games so far should have been blow-outs. The Rebels talent level is in a whole other class than what Tulane or Jacksonville State have to work with, and yet both of these teams gave Ole Miss all they could handle. Something is wrong with this picture.
Is Houston Nutt turning Ole Miss into the "Vanderbilt of the SEC West?"
After the first two games, Ole Miss is ranked #58 in total defense and #81 in pass defense. This from a defense that was supposed to be stout, even with the new faces in the secondary. There is a missing piece to this puzzle. The talent is obviously there, so what's missing?
The missing piece of this puzzling picture is simply Houston Nutt and his coaching staff. There is no way that either of these two teams should have presented a threat to Ole Miss, but both did so. Jacksonville State defeated the Rebels and the Tulane game kept the Rebel faithful on the edge of their seats in the second half. There is something wrong in Oxford!
During the Tulane game, it seemed as if the Tulane defense knew exactly what the Ole Miss offense was going to do many times during the game. In fact, during the second half, the Green Wave was not fooled at all. If it were not for the Tulane secondary getting burned on three long passes, this game could have turned out much differently.
In contrast, the Ole Miss defense, which was predicted to be one of the best in the country, at least the front seven, looked like a sieve. The pass defense was terrible and never really improved. Tulane receivers were constantly wide open all night long. This is a sign of poor coaching.
Another indicator of a coaching problem was the constant, conservative play calling in the second half. Tulane knew what the Rebels were going to do and did a great job stopping them in the second half. Halftime is when the coaches should make appropriate adjustments, but Houston Nutt just doesn't seem to get this concept. The rebels have been dismal in the second half of play so far this year.
For the second week in a row, the rebels were in total control at the half and did little to nothing in the second half. This is poor coaching, plain and simple. There was no meaningful adjustments on either offense or defense when the momentum began to change. Substituting Stanley in for Masoli just as momentum was starting to change for Tulane, was a ridiculous coaching decision. This is not a trait of good coaches.
I know that Houston Nutt's teams have gone to back-to-back Cotton Bowls since Nutt has been at Ole Miss, but let's be real. Nutt walked into a gold mine of talent when he accepted the Ole Miss position. Yes, the Rebels have gone to back-to-back Cotton Bowls, but did the Rebels accomplish this feat because of Houston Nutt's coaching expertise or in spite of Houston Nutt's lack of coaching skills?
Many of the so-called experts of college football look only at a team's record, bowl invitations, and the coach's resume and awards when evaluating a coach's skills. These stats do not tell the whole story. You have to look below the surface. Things are not always as they seem to be. In fact, most things are not as the first appear. Houston Nutt is a perfect example of this.
While it is true that Ed Orgeron made a lot of mistakes as a head coach, I ask you to consider this radical supposition: Ole Miss would have done just as well, if not better had they have kept Orgeron as head coach. Ole Miss's cupboard was bare when Orgeron took over at Ole Miss and he brought in the mostly talented players that Ole Miss has had in years.
Just when he was about to reap the fruits of his labor, he was canned and Houston Nutt was hired. Nutt has been on cruise control since coming to Ole Miss. Now Nutt can no longer simply depend on Orgeron's talented players to take up the slack for his lack of coaching skills. It is time for him to step up and it appears that he is not up to the task.
Nutt has taken a solid foundation and failed to build on it. I put to you the supposition that almost any coach could have taken the Rebels to back-to-back Cotton Bowls in the last two years, if not a much better bowl in 2009. The Rebel's success over the last two years should not be seen as the result of Houston Nutt's coaching.
Those who really keep up with Rebel football closely can testify that many of the games lost over the last two years were a direct result of poor coaching decisions. Examples of this range from never benching Snead to not giving McCluster much playing time at the beginning of last season. These are just two of the more obvious examples. I could list many, many more.
While it is true that it is much easier to see what should have been done after the fact, Nutt has a history of poor coaching decisions. Just ask any knowledgeable Razorback fan. Under Houston Nutt's guidance, the Rebels have gone from possible national contenders to the "Vanderbilt of the SEC West." In fact, there is a real possibility that Vanderbilt will defeat Ole Miss next week.
Considering the Rebel's schedule, their performance so far, the lack of coaching adjustments, even after one of the worse defeats in the school's history, it is conceivable that Ole Miss may only win two more games this year. I do not think their season will be that bad, but it is a definite possibility, especially if Nutt does not make some immediate changes in his coaching philosophy.
While the Rebel's did win in New Orleans, you have to look deeper than the final score. When you look at how the second half went, Rebel fans cannot be satisfied with their team's performance. Houston Nutt was quoted after the game saying, "Wins are precious." This should not be the attitude of a quality team playing an inferior opponent. He should not simply be satisfied with escaping with a win!
Both the Jacksonville State game and the Tulane game should have been blowouts, but the Rebels scraped by Tulane to enter SEC play with a 1-1 record. Basically every team left on the schedule is a better team than either of the opponents that the Rebel's have played in the first two weeks.
Casual observations of Houston Nutt during press conferences and on the sideline this week, seem to suggest that Nutt realizes that the gig is up. He knows that things are going in the wrong direction, but doesn't seem to know what to do about it. His demeanor over the past week was almost one of panic. You could see it in his face.
The Rebels should beat Vanderbilt and UL Lafayette, but even those two games are a toss-up if the Rebels continue down the same path that they are currently on. As for all the other games on the schedule, Nutt has to be sweating bullets. He knows his team has major problems. This year will give the Rebel faithful a much truer picture of who their coach really is, and that has to be a scary prospect for Houston Nutt.
Bohdi Sanders - www.TheWisdomWarrior.com
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