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.''