Every week we like to check in with a fellow SEC blogger to get a different perspective on the upcoming game. As you may heard, this Saturday's matchup is kind of a big one, with you-know-who returning to Fayetteville to battle the team he coached for 10 seasons. So we're especially pleased to do the following Q&A with Juco All-American from the always-entertaining Ole Miss blog, Red Cup Rebellion. And, be sure to check our answers to his questions over at RCR. Enjoy!
How much long-term damage, if any, did the Jacksonville State loss do to Houston Nutt's relationship to the Ole Miss fanbase? Will there be any "Fire Nutt" banners over Vaught Hemingway Stadium anytime soon? (There are some Arkansas-based pilots with experience flying such banners if you guys are in the market.)
Really, it did a lot of damage. There are a lot of fans that he lost for at least the remainder of the season with that loss alone. It was devastating; more than any loss I've had to endure in my brief tenure avidly watching college football (10 years or so). It was just so difficult to understand. All Spring, our offense struggled to even pick up first downs against our defense. The defense was supposed to be incredible and carry a poor offense on its back. Then we lost to an FCS team during a game in which we eclipsed the 40 point mark. Just.... Ugh.
I think that there's some rumbling of people that want Nutt gone, and I don't necessarily think they're being ridiculous. I particularly like what Houston has been able to do during the past three years as our head coach, but his recruiting is drifting, and he's losing without much end in sight. Realistically, the steadiest offensive part of this team, Jeremiah Masoli, is gone after this year. After that, no one really knows what to expect.
I don't think you can expect "Fire Nutt" banners at all. First of all it's because our fanbase hopefully has a modicum of decency. More importantly though, Nutt beat Fresno State and Kentucky, and that may have saved his job. With losses to Jacksonville State and Vandy and a near win over TULANE, Ole Miss fans struggled to find more than one more win on the schedule. Sitting at 3-3, Nutt has put himself in a position to get to 5-7, a record which, while bad, isn't going to get a 2-time cotton bowl winning coach fired.
What are the overall strengths and weaknesses of this year's Ole Miss team?
Wow. A bit broad eh?
I'd say that offensively, we can run pretty well. We're not incredible at it or anything, but the backs (and even receivers) have the ability to get some yardage on the ground. Our offensive line is currently starting three freshmen, a sophomore, and a junior, so pass protection is pretty rough. Masoli is pretty much running as soon as he catches the snap. It's a difficult situation that doesn't afford him much time in the pocket.
On defense, it's really difficult to ascertain what we're good at vs. what we struggle to do. Until our matchups against Kentucky and Alabama, we couldn't stop the pass even if we knew exactly where it would be thrown. We also couldn't stop zone-reads (which we still can't do). In our past two games though, the secondary has actually looked pretty good (save the fourth quarter against Kentucky when we had lost three players to concussions and were playing walk-ons at corner). We're able to stop the run quite well as long as it's from conventional sets. When misdirection is involved, it's like we've never played football before.
How would you assess Jeremiah Masoli's performance so far? And is safe to say that any frustrations he's experienced on the field have been offset by his chance to pursue his dream of a graduate degree in parks and rec management?
He has been quite good at everything. Obviously a better thrower or a Cameron Newton clone would have been better, but Masoli has been pretty steady despite an offense that took three games to really suit him. The fact that he was only cleared four days before our first game didn't give the coaching staff a lot of time to change the offense to suit his needs. Once it had been changed, he took off. We don't throw too much with him (other than the 40 passes against Alabama), but he's actually pretty good at getting the ball to receivers.
Off the field, he has been perfect. No news is good news. On the issue of parks and recreation, people laugh about it, but don't roughly 60-70% of student body populations at SEC schools go to college for something other than the academic side of things?
Hog fans had a bit of a collective nervous breakdown because of the controversial calls in last Saturday's Auburn game. Are there any Rebel players that could come out of the blue on Saturday and push us closer to the brink?
Melvin Harris. If there's one receiver on our team who is poised for a strong second half (and there may not be), it's Harris. He's legitimately 6'6", pretty fast, and uses his body well when the ball is in the air. We haven't thrown to him too much this year, but whenever we have been able to get it to him downfield, it has been rewarded. He turns looks that would be deflected or maybe even interceptions into 20 yard gains on fade stops. The coaches have specifically singled him out as someone who needs to get more balls, so I guess you could see that happen in this game.
Also, Brandon Bolden. He's not really someone who would come "out of the blue," but a player with the ability to break tackles like he can is capable of frustrating a defense that struggles to bring down halfbacks. I don't think you'd disagree with my assessment that the Arkansas defense fits that bill.
Finally, what's your prediction for Saturday's game and for the rest of the season? Is another one of Houston's late-season rallies on the horizon?
Honestly, here's what I expect to happen. I'd actually guess that Ole Miss jumps out to an early lead. Maybe 10-0. Nutt will prepare for this game like no other (not that pre-game preparation is really his strong suit). He'll punch Arkansas in the mouth early. However, I expect Arkansas to then answer with a few touchdowns and end up nursing a 7-10 point lead for the rest of the game. With these offenses, I wouldn't begin to predict a final score, but 21 points won't win this one for either team.
I sure hope another late-season rally is on the horizon. It's possible, I guess. Our last four games are against Tennessee, Louisiana-Lafayette, LSU, and Mississippi State. None of those are sure losses, but only one is a sure win (there's a joke about Jacksonville State here that I just don't want to develop). If we can get to bowl eligibility after such a rough start, I think that will be a good sign for the strength of the program. Other than Masoli, we barely lose anything on offense to graduation. Our defense, on the other hand, faces another year of rebuilding or at least reloading next year.
Remember: Check out our answers to Juco's questions over at RCR.