Houston Nutt tries stopping Ole Miss' freefall

By David Brandt/The Associated Press

OXFORD — The astonishing freefall of Ole Miss’ football program is reaching historic levels.

If the Rebels (2-4, 0-3 Southeastern Conference) can’t figure out a way to upset No. 10 Arkansas (5-1, 1-1) on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, they’ll extend their SEC losing streak to 10 games. That’s never happened in the program’s 79 years in the league.

“It’s not fun,” Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said. “Winning is how you spell ‘fun.’ So you can imagine that it’s not a good feeling because you want to win. That’s all you try to do each and every Saturday.”

Ole Miss’ psyche was further bruised last weekend when the Rebels were crushed 52-7 by No. 2 Alabama. While there’s no shame in losing to the talented Crimson Tide, the thorough beating was the program’s worst since 1981 and set off a fresh round of speculation about Nutt’s job security.

The bad news hasn’t stopped there. Nutt confirmed on Sunday that two defensive starters — defensive end Wayne Dorsey and cornerback Marcus Temple — suffered season-ending injuries against the Tide. During Monday’s press conference, Nutt said backup receiver Melvin Harris has been dismissed from the team for unspecified reasons.

Running back Brandon Bolden, guard Alex Washington, center A.J. Hawkins and return specialist Philander Moore were all suspended for the Alabama game after a team rules violation. Nutt re-instated all four on Sunday and expects them to play against the Razorbacks.

It’s not an ideal backdrop for a mid-season revival. Even so, Nutt remains optimistic.

“The only thing I know is roll up your sleeves, go to work and take the guys that you have and get them better and compete hard,” Nutt said. “I just believe we’ll have some guys step up.”

There’s usually plenty of buzz around the Arkansas-Ole Miss game simply because of Nutt’s history. He spent 10 seasons coaching at Arkansas before a messy divorce led Nutt to the Rebels. Nutt is 2-1 against his former program, but admitted this felt more like a regular game.

Besides, he’s got other things to worry about.

The Rebels have problems everywhere, ranking 10th or worse in the SEC in almost every major statistical category. But some young players have provided hope.

Freshman Nicholas Brassell caught four passes for 104 yards against Alabama, including a 59-yard reception that set up the Rebels’ lone touchdown. Sophomore linebacker Mike Marry ranks third in the conference with 9.2 tackles per game.

The Ole Miss defense certainly will be tested against Arkansas, which averages 39.2 points per game and has one of the league’s best quarterbacks in Tyler Wilson. The junior is averaging nearly 300 passing yards per game and has thrown 12 touchdown passes to just three interceptions.

“You just have to stay focused and stay positive,” Marry said. “Even though things are going bad, we’ve still got six games left. We’re still trying to make a bowl. We’re working and trying to get better.”

Arkansas coach Bobby Petrino said Alabama’s blowout win over Ole Miss wouldn’t change his team’s opinion of the Rebels, noting that the Crimson Tide has “done that to everybody.”

“We know we’ll get their best shot,” Petrino said. “They’ve got good football players and they’re well-coached, so we know we gotta go down there and play a good game of football to come out with the win.”

Ole Miss has already tied a program record with nine straight SEC losses, which first happened in 2007 and 2008. The Rebels lost all eight conference games in Ed Orgeron’s final season before Nutt took over in 2008. Nutt lost his first conference game against Vanderbilt before a win against Florida. That shocking victory over the No. 4 Gators in Gainesville, Fla., jump-started a terrific two-year stretch that included two Cotton Bowl victories.

Those days seem like ancient history.

Now Nutt is just trying to get the Rebels competitive in the SEC again. Despite much evidence to the contrary, he’s certain better days are ahead.

“I feel there’s a light at the end of the tunnel — I really do,” Nutt said. “I know it’s not a train coming.”

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AP Sports Writer Kurt Voigt contributed to this story.

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