Nutt plays defense

OXFORD – Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt delivered an impassioned opening statement to his regular weekly news conference Monday, in essence saying he stands in the schoolhouse door between his embattled players and negative outside influences.
In the midst of a four-game SEC losing streak, Nutt expressed his determination to keep the Rebels (4-6, 1-5 SEC) focused and fighting as the close the regular season against ranked opponents LSU and Mississippi State beginning Saturday at 2:30 p.m., on CBS against the No. 5 Tigers in Baton Rouge.
“Yeah, I planned on being at seven wins, right now, maybe eight, six at the worst, but the bottom line is, reality is we’re not,” Nutt said. “I’m not going to allow my players to be gloom and doom. I’m going to let everybody else be gloom and doom.”
Nutt claimed responsibility for the current state of affairs, pointed back to recent success and ahead to a future he believes will include a berth in the SEC championship game.
So far, the Rebels’ only SEC win was a 42-35 decision against Kentucky on Oct. 2. In the last two SEC games Ole Miss has been outscored 103-45 as both Auburn and previously SEC-winless Tennessee surpassed 50 points against the Rebels’ defense.
In its last two SEC road games Ole Miss has been out-scored 35-0 in the first quarter.
Ole Miss is giving up 34.8 points a game, a distant last in the SEC and 107 out of 120 Division I teams.
Nutt cited a rash of knee injuries – most notably to senior end and captain Kentrell Lockett – and concussions as factors in defensive problems that first surfaced in the season opener in a 49-48 2-OT loss to Division I-AA Jacksonville State. Nutt said that loss put the Rebels in a “tailspin.”
Still, the team battled to a 3-2 mark after five games, the second loss a surprising home defeat against Vanderbilt, 28-14. Like Tennessee, Ole Miss remains Vanderbilt’s only SEC win.
“There were a couple of other games where we weren’t as sharp, weren’t as ready as we should have been,” Nutt said “And that’s my fault.”
Nutt said he and his staff had already identified their third year as possibly “difficult” because of the number of veteran players lost and younger players playing key roles for the first time.
He called on Ole Miss fans to remember that before the Rebels defeated Oklahoma State 21-7 in last year’s Cotton Bowl, it had been 50 years since the school had won back-to-back Jan. 1 bowl games. He increased his volume and said “50″ three times with emphasis.
Nutt is convince he can recruit at Ole Miss. “We’ve proven that the last two seasons,” he said, and he believes the next class will be his best one.
One of the bright spots in an often-dismal season is that 12 freshmen are gaining significant playing time, Nutt said.
His immediate goal is focusing on the next two games, but his thoughts drift further ahead.
“We can get to Atlanta from Oxford. I know we can,” Nutt said.
Injury update
• Senior defensive tackle Lawon Scott sustained a broken ankle late in the game against Tennessee and is done for the year. Redshirt freshman cornerback Charles Sawyer (knee) could be back on the practice field today. Wide receivers Jesse Grandy (shoulder) and Ja-Mes Logan (achilles tendon) will be observed through the week.
Decision looming for Powe
• Defensive tackle Jerrell Powe has been listed as a senior, but because he was initially a partial academic qualifier can reclaim a year of eligibility if he wants it.
“I have no problem coming back. I like this place, and I enjoy being around here,” Powe said.
Powe will evaluate his draft status with the NFL and talk with Nutt before making a decision. He said the current labor situation in the NFL, with the possibility of a lockout next year, could also affect his decision.
Nutt says his policy is to advise players to leave if he believes they will be drafted in the first round.
Contact Parrish Alford at 678-1600 or parrish.alford@djournal.com.

PARRISH ALFORD / NEMS Daily Journal