OXFORD - The construction zone at the south end of Vaught-Hemingway Stadium is for a shiny new indoor practice facility that Ole Miss football players hope to occupy in less than a year.

But the lot outside the south gates right now is a mess ... workers working with heavy equipment and dust flying. On the outside it looks bad.

In that way, the south lot is a lot like the Rebels. On the outside things look bad. That much is certain.

How good things look on the inside, well, it isn't crumbling, players say.

After Saturday's 44-34 loss to Memphis, the talk is of working hard in practice, improving and bouncing back.

But how well the Rebels actually do recover won't be known for at least three weeks. The Texas Tech game Sept. 27 in Oxford will be Ole Miss' next chance to show it can prepare, play at a high level and defeat a quality opponent.

The Rebels were "good enough" to beat Vanderbilt. They were good enough to beat Memphis but didn't. The Rebels were out of position enough on defense to off-set four touchdown passes by Eli Manning. It should have been five TD passes for Manning, but a sure thing was dropped at the 5 by Taye Biddle, just one of a number of mistakes made on the offensive side.

For an Ole Miss team that isn't dominant, one that is seeking to climb the ladder in the Southeastern Conference, two road games to open the season is not an easy thing.

"We fully expected to play well and win those games. I thought our team was capable of that," head coach David Cutcliffe said.

For a team is trying to move from average to something more than that, the loss is a stinker. And now it ferments.

The home opener is Saturday night at 6 against Louisiana-Monroe. God bless my alma mater, but if Ole Miss doesn't beat the Indians there are real problems. The University formerly known as Northeast Louisiana has won six games in three years and is in transition after an Alabama-like off-season in which head coach Mike Collins resigned after an arrest for suspicion of driving while intoxicated.

A coaching change at an inopportune time, however, is the last of the similarities between the Indians and Alabama.

New head coach Charlie Weatherbie has had success at Utah State and Navy, but his Indians lost at home to Division I-AA Stephen F. Austin Saturday night to drop to 0-2.

There is optimism that better times are coming, but they've yet to arrive. After two games in 2003, the confidence of many who follow the program that it is about to take the next step is shaky.

In that way, the Indians are similar to Ole Miss.

"On the outside it looks bad, because people have imaginations. Your mind runs," junior wide receiver Bill Flowers said. "But we're doing little things wrong, things I think we can correct. I don't have any nervousness about what's going on. In no way do I feel the team is imploding."

Memphis gained 506 yards on 70 plays against Ole Miss and gained 301 of those yards on seven plays. That means on 63 other plays the Tigers averaged 3.25 yards.

That would lead you to believe that the Rebels are close to real progress, but big plays were often a problem last year, too.

The only way to cut down on big plays is to have players in the right position and execute.

And that means practice. You don't get better if you're not trying to.

"It's difficult during these times not to sound like you're using coaching clichŽs when you talk about getting better, but really, from the standpoint of approaching our football team, it's all about work," Cutcliffe said.

That all happens on the inside.

But soon the Rebels are going to have to go outside and prove they're a better football team.

Parrish Alford covers Ole Miss for the Daily Journal. Email him at parrish.alford@djournal.com.

Recommended for you

comments powered by Disqus