Apart from yesterday's nastiness (not their fault -- we don't think), we've had a very good week with our friends at SB Nation Ole Miss blog Red Cup Rebellion. On Monday, we had The Ghost of Jay Cutler on our podcast:
. . . and on Wednesday, they had Will on their podcast:
. . . and today, we are exchanging Q&As with them. Their answers to our questions are below, and ours to theirs are over at their place.
And so . . .
RTT: From our perspective way over here, the two main knocks against Houston Nutt as a head coach are (a) that his teams seem to succeed when they're not expected to do well but fail when they are and (b) that Nutt is a certifiable quarterback-killer. Vol fans know from experience that memes that go national rarely tell the whole story. So what's the rest of the story on those two criticisms of Nutt? Are they valid or not?
Red Cup Rebellion: Well, we’ve learned the hard way this season that even memes that go national are occasionally right. Team Speed Kills did a story before the season began about how Houston Nutt does in fact live up to expectations. They used fancy schmancy mathematics and tables. Suffice it to say that until this season, the only expectations Houston Nutt didn’t live up to were those that were only held by the fans (delusional Arkansans at that). However, this season is different.
This season, everyone and their mama thought the Rebels would play well. I mean, we returned a "dark horse Heisman candidate" at quarterback (that’s so funny to type now). Also, our stable of halfbacks was supposed to be great. Turns out that both of those things may or may not be true. We have no idea because our offensive line is so bad. They don’t give Jevan time, and they don’t open holes for Brandon Bolden.
So in answer to part A, I would say that, while this season fits the mold quite well, it is the first season Nutt has ever had that did so. To say that he doesn’t live up to expectations because one season out of eleven in the SEC didn’t is nonsense.
In answer to part B, see the second paragraph of this answer. Jevan certainly isn’t helping himself out much, but I’m not sure it’s Houston Nutt’s fault that Ed Orgeron signed only 4 players who would ever start on the offensive line. Jevan doesn’t have any protection, and he’s not the type of quarterback who can succeed in that situation. He makes poor decisions when pressured, and we’re seeing that week-in and week-out this season.
In further answer to B, which quarterbacks has Houston killed exactly? Clint Stoerner flourished under him. Matt Jones wasn’t a real quarterback. Casey Dick shouldn’t have been starting in the SEC. I don’t know a ton about Arkansas football, but I’ve missed the examples of quarterbacks who actually regressed under Nutt.
So in reality, Houston Nutt is actually just bad at recruiting good QBs. Quarterbacks used to illustrate this by Arkansas fans are Tarvaris Jackson and Kodi Burns. Yeah. Those guys are tearing it up these days. I mean, my goodness, Tarvaris Jackson threw for nearly 2,700 yards as a senior at Arkansas State… in the Sun Belt…
RTT: Y'all haven't had a week off since after your very first game. Are there any injuries or depth or fatigue issues we should know about?
Red Cup Rebellion: It’s a good thing I waited until today to answer this. My answer was going to be just a flat out no, which would have been no fun.
Then yesterday happened, and our best pass rusher is done for the year after having wrist surgery. Yeah. Greg Hardy. You may have heard of him.
The loss of Hardy is absolutely devastating to our team. He has been in and out of injury trouble during his career at Ole Miss, but he was playing this season relatively injury free and giving 100% on every play, something that had been a knock against him in years past. Hardy is our most technically sound defensive end, and he weighs 270 pounds. Oh, he’s also really fast.
Losing Hardy doesn’t mean all hope is lost in pressuring the quarterback. Junior DE Kentrell Lockett was actually starting over Greg and leads the team in sacks and tackles for loss, but Hardy is incredible at getting after the passer, and he will be missed.
Other than that, we’re doing fine. It seems like our coaches are pretty good at recognizing when our players need some rest. We don’t generally have fatigue issues (other than our offensive linemen who seem to have spent the entire summer sitting in a la-z-boy recliner eating Doritos.)
RTT: Just looking at the numbers, we made the following conclusions earlier this week:
a) Against common opponents, Tennessee has fared better than Ole Miss. We beat Memphis worse and played Alabama and Auburn better. The Rebels' best victory this season came against Arkansas. We got ours against South Carolina, a team to which Ole Miss lost.
b) Much like Tennessee (discounting the recent trend), Ole Miss is middle-of-the-pack on offense but very good on defense. They're especially good at pressuring the QB and stopping plays before they can get across the line of scrimmage.
c) The keys to the game for Tennessee will be winning the line of scrimmage on offense and balancing the defense to stop McCluster's big-play ability and Snead's potential as a good passer.
Agree? Disagree? And what of Jesse Grandy's two kickoff returns for touchdowns? Has he used up his quota for the season or is he always a threat to break one?
Red Cup Rebellion: a) Yeah. Your victories are certainly better than ours. Our best win came against an Arkansas team whose receivers had butter on their hands, and we still didn’t approach the 20 point win that was possible. Did I mention that Arkansas has a losing SEC record? Your signature win is against a South Carolina team that absolutely destroyed us. Disconcerting to say the least.
b) Yeah. That’s the name of our game. Pressure the quarterback and try to put the defense into third and long situations. On offense, the team goes about scoring touchdowns in a risky manner, while the fans just ask them to not lose the game for the defense.
c) If Tennessee’s offensive line can consistently beat out our defensive big guys, Tennessee will roll with this one. Our linebackers and secondary aren’t awful, but they’re not of the same caliber as our front four. One linebacker to keep an eye out for though is Allen Walker. Most of our fans haven’t noticed, but he has made some awesome plays this season. If anyone in our back seven is a threat to get into the backfield in a non pass-rushing situation, it’s Walker.
d) Well, there’s really no question D, but that question about Grandy is just kind of stuck in there. Here’s my answer to that: in three games as a kick returner, the freshman has two kickoffs returned for touchdowns. He’s a danger because of his flat-speed. We have trouble getting him the ball in a lot of situations on offense since he’s not a polished receiver, but on kickoffs, we don’t have to worry about that. I’m not sure that Ole Miss has ever had a player who returned three kickoffs for touchdowns in the same season, but I woudn’t put it past Grandy. He’s dynamite. Now if only he could gain about six inches of height and twenty pounds while still maintaining his speed…
RTT: Is there a common thread in the Rebels' three losses? You know, besides the Ls.
Red Cup Rebellion: Yes. The offensive line has struggled in pass protection against all the teams against which we have lost…. or won. Honestly, it’s just about whether Jevan is able to compensate for the offensive line and whether our defense is able to hold the opposing offense relatively in check. We have been a bend but don’t break defense all year, but we’ve broken a few times in the losses, and our offense simply isn’t good enough to make up for that. Also, as good as the defense is, they never ever force turnovers. It’s really frustrating.
The only reason the Alabama game wasn’t even more of a blowout is that our defense only allowed one touchdown while forcing Bama to kick five field goals. If only a few of those Bama drives had ended in seven points instead of three, people would have had their heads hung a great deal more.
RTT: Stealing yours: What's your prediction for Saturday's game? Give a predicted score and talk about the way it will shake out.
Red Cup Rebellion: Well, there are really three options here.
Option one, Tennessee blows Ole Miss out. A 20 point win is possible considering the matchup difficulties. If we have trouble stopping the draws and misdirections against Hardesty and Brown, we’re in for a long day. I have total confidence that Monte Kiffin will give us fits, so our defense has to carry the game for us. If they are unable to do so, we’re going to get hurt, badly. This can’t happen. If it does, our season is over.
Option two, Ole Miss wins a close one against Tennessee. Hell, we’re favored by five points right now. Apparently there’s something that bettors see that gives them reason to bet on Ole Miss winning this one. I could see it happening. The recipe for success against Tennessee is going to be capitalizing off of any mistakes the offense makes and keeping the ball in the hands of our halfbacks. Sure, Jevan will need to make some plays, but if we can continue to ride on the back of Dexter McCluster, we might be able to win this one.
Option three, Tennessee wins a close one against Ole Miss. Unfortunately for the Rebels, I’m afraid this is the answer. Our defense will probably play pretty well for the first three quarters and then get fed up with our offense, opening the floodgates and allowing a very close game to end up with a 7-10 point win. When this happens, our fans will be saddened, but they may not completely lose hope for the season.
So that’s it. Tennessee 24 – Ole Miss 14.
We can live with that. Thanks, guys. Be sure to keep your eye on Red Cup Rebellion all throughout the day for more on their perspective on tomorrow's game.