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The Cage Dive: Fake pees are funny until they aren’t

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Onward and upward.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi State Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

The 2019 Ole Miss football season is over. Finally.

In a wild-and-crazy year full of quarterback calamity, coaching incompetence, defensive revival, freshman phenoms, turbulent feelings and disappointing losses that went down to the wire, it was to end in the only way imaginable... or unimaginable, perhaps.

The Rebels finish the year at 4-8, and (in part due to a postseason ban) miss out on a bowl game for the fourth consecutive season. With the one-point loss on Thursday, five games finished within a possession’s reach, and all five ended in disappointing fashion.

It was a season of interesting dichotomy; both demoralizing in the moment and unnerving for the future of the program, but optimistic in a sense of pure, raw talent.

Putting results and poor coaching aside, Ole Miss freshman accounted for just under 90% of the offense in 2019, the highest percentage in the nation. Points were scored and numbers on the ground were impressive. If only numbers and points meant results.

And................. Matt Luke has set a bar SO low, there is no way it can get worse.................

Right?

Here are the five major takeaways from Thanksgiving Day dismay:

The Fake Pee.

The state of Mississippi is divided primarily into two fan bases of two schools on polar ends of the spectrum that openly despise one another— Ole Miss and Mississippi State.

In a rivalry full of bitterness, in which generations past and present find deep-rooted hatred, the hostility on each side of the aisle is translated into the Egg Bowl. Many have said that the rivalry is out of hand, and that includes the very conference who fed kindling to the fire.

But that’s an entirely different story, with a lot to digest.

For those who do feel such a way, that narrative may have played out on the field on Thursday. But at the end of the day, it is just a game played by college kids.

In the 116th meeting between the two schools, the final sequence brought that notion to the forefront. As the clock dwindled, the Rebels faced a seven-point deficit. Elijah Moore hauled in a touchdown catch to bring the game to 21-20. In celebration, he crawled toward the back of the end zone and lifted his leg to mimic a dog urinating on a fire hydrant.

As DK Metcalf had done two-years prior, he fake peed. In the moment, it was glorious.

But Moore made a mistake.

The humorous celebration would prove costly, as a 15-yard excessive celebration penalty was enforced on the extra-point attempt. The kick missed wide right and ended the Rebels’ chances of beating the Bulldogs.

Moore made a mistake.

Before the clock could strike zero, he was labeled the cause for loss. Social media berated him with insults of circumstance, maturity, and race, and some demanded his removal from the team.

All over a funny celebration in a football game. Ludicrous.

Though the issue at bay speaks to a larger societal issue, it comes as a reminder to Mississippians of the gravity, or lack thence, of the sport and of the rivalry.

Moore made a mistake.

It hurt the team, and played a role in the final result. Ole Miss was losing, as a collective unit, and he made the moment about himself, a singular. It is understandable to find his celebration bad-mannered, ill-intentioned and foolish, but to place the weight of the loss squarely on his shoulders is flawed.

Moore made a mistake.

He deserved criticism, but he deserves forgiveness. A 19-year-old sophomore got caught up in the emotion of a rivalry its fans had festered, playing a game he loves. It does not define him, nor does it warrant negative slurs against his character.

If the script was flipped and Ole Miss had won the game, Moore would have been a folk hero in Oxford, as his predecessor Metcalf bears label today. The celebration would have been immature, yes, but hilarious and legendary. The image would have been plastered on message boards, twitter, and held over Mississippi State fans for decades to come.

Instead, because of the final result, Moore made a mistake.

You too were once a kid who made mistakes. Just be glad those blunders were not broadcast on Thanksgiving night, with the eyes of the world watching.

Instead, take solace in the fact that he FAKE PEED ON THE OPPONENTS FIELD and laugh. Stop crucifying him.

Matt Luke regressed, again.

Rumor has it that the man who really loves Ole Miss will return for 2020.

The question is why?

With the loss on Thanksgiving, Matt Luke is 15-21 in his three years at head coach. A 40 percent winning percentage is bad enough, but the former offensive line coach is now 3-15 against SEC West opponents, with the three wins coming against an abysmal Arkansas program, and Mississippi State in his first season at the helm. With his only win against the Bulldogs in three years he finished the 2016 season at 6-6, and received the full-time tag shortly after. Since then, the Rebels have won one game less in each proceeding season, going 5-7 in 2018, and 4-8 this year. Three years with such poor results and a steady decline gets most coaches in the nation relieved of his duties.

In fact, Missouri, which went 4-8, 7-6, 8-5, 6-6 in the past four seasons, fired head coach Barry Odom on Saturday morning. For Luke to reach Odom’s win total, he would have to go 10-4 next season. Looking ahead at the 2020 schedule, wins are even harder to come by on paper.

Missouri pulled the plug after three straight bowl seasons. And that’s MISSOURI, bah gawd!

One has to question why Ole Miss continues to bask in inferiority, when other conference opponents aren’t accepting mediocrity. Excuses for Luke have been made, pointing to the youth and inexperience on the 2019 roster. That is true. However, that does not explain a 5-8 season with a gaggle of elite NFL talent. Winning is not everything, it’s the only thing.

Luke does not win games.

Beyond his inability to reach program expectations in the win/loss column, the way in which he loses games is perplexing. Thursday is the perfect example.

Luke is a former offensive line coach and former guard himself. Yet, somehow, the Big Uglies have played progressively worse since he transitioned to the top dog. There is no denying the circumstance of injury and a learning curve, but that is no excuse for poor technique and a lack of awareness.

Wins begin and end in the trenches. The record can speak for his former group’s play.

In addition to poor coaching, his leadership and player-management was placed under the microscope as Moore hiked his hind-leg in the closing seconds. When Metcalf did such in 2017, the administration was quick to acknowledge the wrongdoing, and released a statement on the matter shortly after.

“This will serve as a teaching moment for these men, and we look forward to seeing them grow from this experience,” Luke said in his media-relations-written address.

Two years later, the same incident occurred, and cost a chance at a win.

Beyond the disparity between Luke’s words in 2017 and his player’s actions in 2019, the loss on Thursday was an unacceptable finish to an unacceptable season. Not only did the result swing in favor of an inferior team, it granted them bowl eligibility and reiterated a consistent theme on the season of falling behind early and being unable to battle back after it was too late. It was a matter of being out-coached. Again.

Though inconsistent play and a lack of definitive offensive strategy are the biggest reasons Ole Miss will miss out this bowl season, one particular moment stood out on Thursday.

Down one touchdown with under 10 minutes left, the Rebels faced a fourth-and-3 at their own 40-yard-line. Luke chose to punt. Though the decision ultimately paid off, because of a stout defensive stop, he played it safe in another big moment. Had Mississippi State scored off of the punt, the game would have been out of reach. A coach needs to be aggressive, especially with his back against the wall, on the road, in a losing season. Luke is not.

The most astonishing decision of the evening came midway through the fourth quarter. After insisting that Plumlee was his quarterback all season long, and expressing that sentiment on the field, Luke turned to his backup quarterback in the fleeting moments of a losing effort. He showed a complete unawareness as to the slap-in-the-face statement he was making. For a player’s coach, who got to where he is by loving his team, it certainly spoke wonders of his ignorance to undermine the guy who he has called the future of the program.

There is more to be said about Luke and his future in Oxford, but it has been written.

The Curious Case of Matt Corral.

The 2019 season has been nothing short of a headache at quarterback. Matt Corral began the season as the starter. He got hurt in week four against California Berkeley, missed his next start and never had the keys handed back over.

John Rhys Plumlee, who was thrust into the starting spot against Alabama, broke multiple Ole Miss records, and passed the 1,000 yard rushing mark on the season. He’s crazy fast, but struggles to throw the ball downfield.

When Corral was fully healthy, Luke and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez used both quarterbacks in a carousel system initially, but gave Plumlee the job in the end. It was apparent as to who would lead the team for the remainder of the 2019 and beyond; the freshman from Hattiesburg.

Corral was on the sideline “in case of emergency” against both New Mexico State and LSU, and his body language showed disappointment. As much as Corral carried himself with class, it was clear that the former starter, turned afterthought was frustrated. Rumors began to circle that he was headed to the transfer portal after the season, and the assumption among onlookers remains that he will be with a different program in 2020.

Thursday’s game plan appeared to remain consistent to how it had been to date. Through the first 52 minutes and 30 seconds, Plumlee led the offense and did a fine job. Neither he nor Jerrion Ealy could get into open space and get going, but the ball moved down the field enough to put 14 points on the board.

With seven minutes and 30 seconds remaining and the ball in their possession, the Rebels faced a seven-point deficit. As opposed to sending out “his guy” who had taken over the starting role and played well enough in the game to that point, Luke inexplicably called on Corral to lead the offense.

Had the nod come earlier in the game, it may have made sense. In the situation in which it occurred, the decision went against everything Luke had insinuated to that point.

More notably, it was quite the gamble in a crucial spot.

Corral had stood cold on the sideline since pregame warm-ups, and hadn’t any indication that he would see time in the season finale. Instead, he was thrust into the lineup with the game in his hands. With the opportunity, Corral stepped into the moment.

He completed his first two passes for 12 and 38 yards respectively, getting Ole Miss into the red zone. Corral’s third attempt was intercepted, but the defense forced a punt and gave the Rebel offense the ball back with two minutes and six seconds.

Luke stuck with Corral for the final possession, who worked a drive only college football could provide. He took a sack on third-and-15, but stepped up in the pocket and connected with Braylon Sanders for 57-yards on fourth-and-24. Moments later, he threw the touchdown of his career to set up the game-tying extra point.

It was a valiant effort, on the national stage.

Now, at season’s end, there is much uncertainty surrounding his future. Will the former four-star recruit choose to remain in Oxford, knowing he may play second fiddle? Will he choose to seek a new start in a program that will offer him the opportunity to compete for the starting spot? That information is being, and will be, kept close to the chest from those in Corral’s camp, but gossip and speculation will continue to circle.

Do not be surprised if Thursday’s near-game-winning effort was the last of Corral in Oxford.

Go sling it, Iceman.

A fresh leg.

Luke Logan’s miss was heartbreaking. For the team, for the fans, and for Logan.

Putting the sheer disappointment of the moment aside, a 35-yard kick with the game on the line needs to go in. Logan finished the year 11-of-19 on field goals, and 35-of-38 on extra points, with the most crucial miss coming to end the season.

Those numbers are, as you would say, not good. The question is what happens next.

Looking ahead to beyond Logan, the special teams are in good hands. Oxford’s own five-star kicker Jack Tannehill has committed to stay home and he can boom it.

However, Tannehill is in the class of 2021 and Logan will be the kicker in 2020.

Presumably, he can’t get much worse with another off-season under his belt. However, if drastic improvement does not occur, trusting Logan from any distance is tough.

If Luke (or whoever coaches Ole Miss next season *fingers crossed*) can’t trust his kicker, how he looks at down-and-distance changes, the play script changes, and late-game decisions become tense without being able to rely on a sure-make field goal.

No matter how it plays out in 2020, Logan will forever be remembered for his one moment on Thursday. Perhaps he will have the opportunity to redeem himself as a hero.

Wouldn’t that be special?

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