Ugly victories are better than pretty losses
By By Stan Torgerson / guest columnist
Sept. 2, 2003
Granted, Ole Miss' 24-21 win over Vanderbilt Saturday was ugly. But an ugly win is better than a beautiful loss, so this one will be gratefully accepted ugly or not.
In truth this win belongs to coach David Cutcliffe for his decision to allow Jonathan Nichols the opportunity to kick two long field goals. When he let Nichols take a shot from Vandy's 34 yard line in the second quarter it looked like a risk, but a risk with 45 minutes remaining to play can be corrected if things go awry. Nichols rewarded his coach with a 51 yarder for three points.
But when Cutcliffe sent Nichols in with less than four minutes to play in the fourth quarter, that was a gutsy call. If the kick had missed the Commodores would have had the ball with great field position and the possible opportunity of a field goal of their own to win. But the Rebel coach had faith in the junior from Greenwood and Nichols won it with that never-to-be-forgotten 54 yarder, the fourth longest field goal in Ole Miss history.
That was the high point in the game. Unfortunately there were a number of low ones.
The more Ole Miss fans have hoped for positive changes this year, the more the problems have apparently stayed the same.
The Rebels had no rushing attack in 2002. They averaged only 94 yards per game on the ground, dead last in the SEC and one of the poorest in the country. Last Saturday against Vanderbilt they rushed for 95 yards. That's just plus one yard over last year's average performance. This was against a lineup with 10 sophomores playing defense for Vandy. If Tremaine Turner, Vashon Pearson or Ronald McClendon can't do better, we suspect Cutcliffe will have to sooner or later give redshirt freshman Jamal Pittman or true freshman Ian Abrams a try to see what they can do.
Part of the reason for the lack of a running attack was a questionable offensive line. Not only did they not open holes, Eli Manning spent much of his time running for his life because of inadequate protection. There wasn't any apparent improvement in the offensive line play last week either. Five Rebel linemen, each weighing over 300 pounds couldn't block their smaller and younger opponents.
There were defensive problems last season, and apparently still are. The cornerbacks for one. Vandy's receivers were wide open when they went to the outside. So were their runners. Part of the time there wasn't a white shirt in the television picture. Just some guy wearing gold running by himself. Bad as the cornerback play was, the defensive line almost equaled it. There was no pressure on Commodore quarterback Jay Cutler. None. All day.
Yes, the Rebels won and that's a good thing. But that are a lot of Saturdays coming up on which they won't win if there isn't some improvement.
If Ole Miss fans are worried as a result of last Saturday, Mississippi State supporters must be panicked. The first quarter against Oregon was as bad a display of college football as we have seen in years. To allow 28 points in 15 minutes was unreal, unforgettable and unforgivable. Their fans will point out the Bulldogs came back and made a game of sorts out of it in the second half but only of sorts. Jackie Sherrill's long career is in peril. He has an open date this week and needs it. Next there is a date with Tulane and he and his team need a win badly. The way they played against Oregon, last year's 3-9 may look like a successful season.
Mississippi State has major defensive problems. Where is Joe Lee Dunn when the Bulldogs need him?
Since there was no television locally for their game with California the only thing we know is what we read in this newspaper. It also was less than inspirational. Their famed defense fell apart. That was the most disappointing aspect. Everyone knew the offense would take some time to find itself but it was commonly believed the defense could hold the fort until the offense began to gel. Instead it appears the offense failed to make it to the airplane and stayed home in Mississippi while the defense went on ahead. There just weren't any bright spots.
The Golden Eagles were the underdogs going in, but no one on this side of the Mississippi River expected them to struggle so badly or be so outmatched.
This week they play UAB in a nationally televised game on ESPN2. At least they have an opportunity to get their reputation back. Then comes Memphis followed by Nebraska's visit to Hattiesburg. If something good doesn't happen between now and then there may be tickets available for the Cornhusker game after all.
It was not an auspicious start to the new season. It's too early to throw in the towel for 2003 but there's work to be done at every state school, including Jackson State which had its head handed to it as well. It wasn't that our schools lost. It was the way they played in losing. Perhaps Ole Miss, Mississippi State, Southern Mississippi and Jackson State may have learned something about themselves which will change their performance in the weeks ahead.