Animated, determined Nutt wants Rebels to fight

During his 13 years in the Southeastern Conference, Mississippi

coach Houston Nutt has been known to morph from football coach to

Southern Baptist preacher when the need arises.

Earlier this week, with the Rebels in the throes of a miserable

season, the veteran coach made this impassioned plea to the fan

base and his players: Don’t give up.

”If you think you’re hurting, you ought to just look at the tip

of my itsy-bitsy little finger and then go all the way up through

my body,” Nutt said. ”I’m sick to my stomach.”

And rightfully so after Ole Miss was pummeled by Tennessee 52-14

last weekend in Knoxville. The Volunteers, who came into that game

winless in the SEC, scored touchdown after touchdown against the

mistake-prone Rebels.

Now, Ole Miss (4-6, 1-5 SEC) is on the verge of missing the

postseason for the first time in Nutt’s three-year tenure in Oxford

– it needs to win its final two games to become bowl eligible.

That’s not going to be easy considering the Rebels travel to face

No. 5 LSU (8-1, 5-1) on Saturday at Tiger Stadium.

Nutt isn’t ready to concede the season, despite losing the past

four SEC games by an average of more than three touchdowns.

”There’s not a sin about getting knocked down,” Nutt said.

”There’s no sin about that. The sin is if you stay down.”

The reasons the Rebels are currently knocked down are

plentiful.

The defense has been atrocious all season and is trending

downward after giving up more than 50 points twice in the past

three games. To make matters worse, defensive tackle Lawn Scott is

done for the season after breaking his ankle against Tennessee and

backup cornerback Tony Grimes was suspended indefinitely on

Wednesday after breaking team rules.

The offense has started to crumble, too. Although senior

quarterback Jeremiah Masoli has had a solid season since

transferring from Oregon in August, he had his worst game with the

Rebels against Tennessee, completing just seven of 18 passes for 80

yards and three interceptions, including two that were returned for

touchdowns.

Senior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe admitted he was a little

bewildered at how quickly things have fallen apart.

”I never would have thought it,” Powe said. ”Never would have

thought it coming into the season with the defensive line

expectations we had coming into the season, with the front seven,

the arrival of Jeremiah Masoli, the wide receiving corps, the

stable of running backs that we got.

”I never would have thought we’d be sitting here with the

record we’ve got.”

But that’s the stark reality, and the Rebels are trying to

figure out a way to change that against LSU, which steamrolled

Louisiana-Monroe 51-0 last weekend and appears to be getting

stronger as the season progresses.

Ole Miss has beaten the Tigers twice in a row, including last

year’s 25-23 victory that is most remembered for LSU coach Les

Miles’ questionable clock management decisions in the final

minutes.

”The Ole Miss rivalry has certainly changed in my mind –

especially considering how well they’ve done against us the last

few years,” Miles said. ”We’re very respectful of that team and

we’re going to play.”

He also added that this year’s Ole Miss team was ”better than

their record.”

The Rebels agree. Now they’re trying to prove it.

Nutt’s impassioned speech this week might be the first step, but

it’ll take a lot more than words to knock off LSU.

”They are big, huge, fast, and give up very few points,” Nutt

said. ”We’re playing the No. 5 team in the nation. We have to get

ready.”