OXFORD – I watched the state’s two SEC rivals play in Oxford last year, “the school west of here” and “the school south of here,” I suppose they might be called in one brand of lingo.
Ole Miss completely dismantled Mississippi State, winning every phase of play in a 45-0 victory.
I thought I was seeing spacing between the programs that wouldn’t soon be overcome by the school down south.
The school west of here has a 21-game lead in the series, but as a Mississippian since 1989 I’ve only seen the Rebels win 11 of the 20 games played.
It looked like the gap was widening last year and that MSU might not catch up in the immediate future.
What a difference a year makes, especially when that year includes good coaching as it did with Ole Miss last year and this year and as it has with MSU this year. The wins aren’t higher in number, but Dan Mullen has gotten a roster of average inherited talent at many positions to play hard and believe.
Meanwhile out west, Houston Nutt has chided the media a couple of times for giving up on his team. Two weeks ago I fell somewhere between giving up and buying in. I had seen enough to know the Rebels were capable on offense but not enough to believe they could be consistent. After losing 33-20 at Auburn, I believed the nightmare scenario for Ole Miss fans was quite possible … that turnovers would continue, offense would remain hit and miss and that home losses to both Tennessee and LSU could happen.
The move of Dexter McCluster to tailback was the beginning of consistency. The tweaking of the right side of the offensive line further enhanced the offense.
After last week’s heart-stopping 25-23 win over LSU, Nutt is 7-0 in November at Ole Miss.
The new and improved Rebels will win in Starkville Saturday if they execute on offense and protect the football like they have in the last three games.
There is an emotional factor in football, though. Had the Bulldogs picked up another win somewhere they’d be playing for a bowl game this week. That would be motivation by itself. But had the Rebels lost both of those home games and needed a win in Starkville to get to a bowl, well, that’s where 45-0 comes in. A new level of emotional high would have been created for MSU.
So humiliated were the Bulldogs last year that there’s a clock in the football building at school south of here just counting down to the opportunity to again play the school west of here.
Passion is an effective tool when properly channeled.
The emotions generated by this rivalry have been worn on the sleeves early this week with Nutt’s somewhat veiled charge of negative recruiting against Mississippi State, and Mullen’s subsequent denial. Somewhat of a denial.
Without naming MSU, Nutt on Sunday told media of some recruits canceling visits for the LSU weekend because of the KKK speech on campus that morning. That was being used against him in recruiting, he said. He named no school in making that charge but went on to say, “It’s not going to help them. This is one program in the state that’s getting very strong.”
In response on Monday, Mullen said, “We don’t do a whole lot of negative recruiting.”
Emotion is important in football, but the game will be decided Saturday by the players who release it at the right times, contain it when necessary and execute much more often than they fail to execute.
Forty-five to nothing and countdown clocks notwithstanding.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs about Ole Miss athletics at www.NEMS360.com.
Parrish Alford/ NEMS Daily Journal