OXFORD – South Carolina returned a fumble for a touchdown in the second quarter at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday, and Ole Miss fans became quiet.
What bothered Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt is that his players did, too.
“I was the only cheerleader over there on the sideline. I said, C’mon guys, it’s just one play,'” Nutt said.
That turnover and two others led to a 31-24 loss for Ole Miss. The Rebels (3-3, 1-2 SEC) are open this week and will travel to No. 2 Alabama next week.
Alabama is also open this week. If No. 5 Texas defeats No. 1 Oklahoma in Dallas on Saturday, Ole Miss will likely be facing the No. 1 team in Tuscaloosa.
That probably won’t be an intimidating factor to Nutt, who has won his last two games against top-five opponents on the road. Florida was No. 4 when Ole Miss won in Gainesville Sept. 27. LSU was No. 1 when Nutt’s Arkansas team won in Baton Rouge last November.
Nutt doesn’t really embrace the nickname of “Reverend,” attached to him by ESPN analyst Reece Davis.
He is, however, a fist-pumping, enthusiastic presence that preaches the power of positive thinking.
Believing he’s inherited a talented roster, Nutt has tried to get players to believe in themselves where self-confidence had been a wasteland.
The Rebels were 3-21 in SEC games under former coach Ed Orgeron.
If the upset win at Florida indicated the tide is turning, the loss to South Carolina, and certain plays within, underscore that the goal has not yet been attained.
Nutt says getting players to believe they can win has been harder than he thought, but his staff and players say he’s on the right track.
“Coach Nutt is unbelievable. He is the most positive guy I’ve ever been around,” offensive coordinator Kent Austin said. “After a win or a loss he’s the exact same guy. He keeps building the players, keeps edifying them and uplifting them.”
It is not a motivation-by-fear approach.
“He treats us like men, which is different from the way we were treated before,” senior fullback Jason Cook said. “Once you treat someone the right way and you genuinely care about them, it’s not hard to get guys motivated to play for you.”
With only 14 points separating the Rebels from a 6-0 start and a top 25 ranking, the belief factor is coming along.
Nutt is concerned with the fragile psyche of a team that hasn’t experienced sustained success, and he calls on his seniors to help him motivate when things aren’t going Ole Miss’ way.
Northeast Mississippi Daily Journal