And then there were three. Yes, only three more trips into the abyss of agony remain before we can stop looking at old YouTube clips of terrible football and wondering how much more refreshing our lives would've been had we not cared for sports and gone to teach English in South Korea or something.
Last week we recalled the season when one of Lafourche Parish's sons, armed with the ability to holler really well and no tolerance for male jewelry, arrived in Oxford to repair a damaged football program. This week in our countdown, we turn our attention to Houston Nutt, armed with only paranoia, and his quest to take Ole Miss to back-to-back-to-back Cotton Bowls and New Year's Day bowls for the first time in FORTY-NINE YEARS. FORTY-NINE. FOR-TY-NINE.
Following the 2009 season, starting quarterback Jevan Snead and his 20-interception effort departed early for the NFL, meaning Ole Miss opened the 2010 season with a new quarterback, but not a quarterback with 33 interceptions in 26 games. Going into August, Nutt's options behind center were redshirt sophomore Nathan Stanley, redshirt freshman Raymond Cotton, and junior college transfer Randall Mackey.
However, once August started, THE REAL FUN BEGAN. Cotton left the team and Nutt acquired the services of former Oregon quarterback Jeremiah Masoli, who applied for a waiver to be eligible to play immediately and expected said waiver to be approved.
Because the NCAA is always gonna NCAA, they initially denied that waiver four days before the season opener, citing HARRUMPH ACADEMICS AMATEURISM HARRUMPH (a loose translation on my part). Incredibly, an NCAA subcommittee overturned the initial ruling one day before the opener, making Masoli eligible to play the next day and for the rest of the season.
So fresh off a waiver victory, but continued uncertainty at quarterback, Ole Miss began its third campaign under the direction of Houston Nutt. Thankfully, the first opponent was little ol' Jacksonville State, which meant the Rebels had some time to find a reliable starting quarterback. Surely nothing would go wrong with that plan, right?
3) 2010 (4-8 overall, 1-7 SEC)
stats/schedule via olemisssports.com
Whoops. WAS THAT BAD?
As we remember all too well from the Jacksonville State game, the offense was not usually a problem throughout the season, though they were not as good as some like to remember. Ole Miss outrushed opponents 2,491-1,834, but the passing yardage went the other way, as opponents threw for 2,956 yards to the Rebels' 2,307.
The team's leading receiver was running back Brandon Bolden (32 receptions) and wide receiver Melvin Harris was the only receiver to catch 30 or more passes (in 2015, Ole Miss had six receivers catch 31 or more passes). The issues in the passing game were related to a bad pass-blocking offensive line, talent at the receiver position, Masoli's accuracy issues (57% career completion percentage), and what happens when Houston Nutt runs an offense (or a program in general).
But let us be clear, the most significant issue with this team (other than Houston Nutt) was Tyrone Nix's miserable defense. Once teams got inside the red zone against Ole Miss, they scored 95% of the time (84% in 2015). And of those trips in the red zone, opponents scored touchdowns 73% of the time (50% in 2015). All of that helped Ole Miss get outscored in SEC play 301-194, which comes out to an average score of 37.6-24.3 (that's less than a field goal shy of 40 points allowed in conference games).
Reading these defensive stats can put your imagination to work in creating psychological terror for yourself, but we need to see the actual footage to remind ourselves to scream FIRE EVERYONE if this happens again.
Against Jacksonville State, Ole Miss led 31-13 entering the fourth quarter. The Rebels' three possessions in the fourth resulted in an interception, turnover on downs, and a field goal, while Jacksonville State scored on its final six possessions of the game (including overtime) by doing things like this:
And don't forget this:
If you've kept a journal to document this experience, that's two broken two-point conversions that worked and a touchdown on 4th and 15 from the 30.
Instead of being told he was no longer the coach at Ole Miss, Houston Nutt was allowed to continue coaching and give comments on what he told his players after the game:
I told them that this is when we find out what everybody is about. Everyone can celebrate pretty good when we win. There will be people on the outside trying to turn you into a locker room lawyer, but don't listen to them, come back and just work.
(brief pause to die of laughter from "locker room lawyer")
The good news for the 2010 team was that things did get a little better. In the process of defeating Kentucky*, they picked up their first defensive interception on the season and moved to 3-2 and .500 in conference play. The bad news was they were about to play all of the good teams on their schedule.
*Thanks to the Wildcats being awful in 2005 and 2010, Ole Miss only had two 0-8 SEC seasons from 2005-2011 instead of four.
After losing a boring game to Alabama, Ole Miss traveled to Fayetteville, where they found themselves trailing Arkansas 24-3 in the third quarter. Inexplicably, the Rebels didn't accept an inevitable 45-3 loss, instead rallying to cut the score to 31-24 with nine minutes to play.
If the defense could just get one stop, they had a ch-
After the loss, Ole Miss returned to Oxford to host number one Auburn in a game many thought might give the Tigers problems due to their defensive struggles. Wearing their CONFEDERATE GRAY UNIFORMS AMIRITE, the Rebels provided those problems early, as Jeff Scott scored on an 83-yard touchdown less than 30 seconds into the game.
But the real highlight of Scott's run was on the sideline. Watch Jerrell Powe do his version of high-stepping.
Every breakaway touchdown deserves such a trailing escort.
Sadly, due to the rules of football, Auburn was allowed to have the ball for several possessions. With those possessions, they did things like throw touchdown passes to their starting quarterback.
Despite being incapable of remotely causing any interference with Auburn's offensive attack, Ole Miss kept it close for most of the first half. With just under three minutes until halftime, the Rebels needed one stop and they'd be within one score when the third quarter open-
Auburn would amass 572 yards of total offense (343 rushing yards), and Houston Nutt would leave in the first team offense until the bitter end because only Houston Nutt would care if his team got blown out by 20 instead of 27.
Later that night in the Grove:
"Hey, I sat right behind Archie and Eli at the game."
"No way! Very cool. I'll bet you were on TV too."
"I hope they didn't catch me looking silly or anything."
"Nah, I'm sure it was fine."
A lot going on in that last frame, so let's rewind and unpack all of the action.
A week after beating Louisiana-Lafayette, Ole Miss had three games remaining on the schedule. Win two of them, and they're miraculously in a bowl.
The first step towards Birmingham began with a street fight against Tennessee in Knoxville. How did the first step and all of the subsequent steps go?
Ole Miss went on to lose in the last minute against fifth-ranked LSU and got dominated in the Egg Bowl, trailing 31-9 to start the fourth quarter, before losing by eight (WASN'T NO 22 POINTS, Y'ALL) to close out a brutal season.
After 12 games of incompetence, and knowing 2011 would be even worse, there was only one thought to have at the end of November 2010:
I WANT TO SEE IT PAINTED, PAINTED BLACK
BLACK AS NIGHT, BLACK AS COAL
I WANT TO SEE THE SUN BLOTTED OUT FROM THE SKY