Certainly it does factor in, and one of the biggest bullet points on Houston Nutt’s resume has been his ability to rally his players.
As long as Nutt coaches at Ole Miss, the Arkansas game will bring a certain amount of intrigue. A native of Little Rock, he played football for the Razorbacks and later coached them for 10 years.
He got the Razorbacks to Atlanta a couple of times and won a lot of big games. He didn’t win enough of them, his detractors say, and there are plenty in that corner across the western border.
Time will take the edge off of the emotion, but not enough of it has passed in this, Nutt’s second year at Ole Miss.
This is a bit of different rivalry right now, because it’s more about the grown-ups than the kids. Nutt is a player’s coach. His Arkansas players didn’t want to see him leave, and some of them still keep in touch with him.
He’s earned that same type of loyalty at Ole Miss.
Nutt wants to win this game. Not only for himself, of course, but this one does carry more meaning … more emotion.
Does that mean he’ll prepare harder this week and coach harder Saturday? No, it doesn’t. A win against Alabama two weeks ago, which could have led to an SEC championship, would have been pretty meaningful too.
Still, the emotion has a place. From a players’ standpoint it may compel them to play harder on each individual snap and therefore come closer to achieving the maximum of their ability on more plays during the game.
That’s why talent doesn’t always win out.
There’s another aspect of emotion to consider. Sometimes – when an underdog comes very close and narrowly misses a big upset win – as Arkansas did last week at Florida – emotion is spent, and the team plays flat the following week. You can only “get up” so many times a year.
“It’s difficult. You still have that taste in your mouth, you’re still sore, and practice is the last thing a person wants to do. But it all goes back to your goals in the off-season, to focus, taking it one day at a time,” Ole Miss cornerback Marshay Green said.
The Rebels didn’t really approach victory, but expended no small amount of emotion in their 22-3 loss to Alabama.
They benefitted by a non-conference home game last week and responded in the appropriate manner, shaking off a slow start and executing on offense to beat UAB 48-13.
Emotion will play a part Saturday. It always does. The beef isn’t between the Arkansas players and Nutt, it’s between the coaches. Petrino has no grudge with Nutt other than the fact that the people who sign his paycheck do. Beating Nutt would please a lot of them.
Ultimately, the game between two evenly-matched teams will be won by the players who properly channel their emotions, reign them in when necessary, and make big plays at big times.
At 4-2 overall, 1-2 in the SEC, Ole Miss is still in search of its first quality win, apologies to Vanderbilt.
Most goals are still on the table for the Rebels, though they’ve already used a couple of 2009’s lifelines through six games.
If they intend to duplicate the excitement and success of Nutt’s debut season, the winning has to start now.
That would stir the positive emotions in the Ole Miss fan base, many of whom expected more than the Rebels have shown so far.
Parrish Alford (firstname.lastname@example.org) covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. He blogs daily at www.NEMS360.com.