State has big opportunity as USM, Ole Miss recover

Published 12:00 pm Thursday, September 9, 2010

It’s only week two of the college football season, and the wailing and gnashing has already begun in two corners of the state.

And joy has broken out in the other.

First the good.

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Mississippi State dominated a pretty lousy Memphis team 49-7, but the Bulldogs beat them soundly with a complete effort. That’s something that hasn’t been a hallmark of Mississippi State teams since the Jackie Sherill era or error, depending on what you think of the former head coach.

The offense, playing both Chris Relf and Tyler Russell at quarterback, looked poised and overcame some early struggles to make some big plays in the passing game.

The new defense was extremely solid and shut down Memphis quite well.

Tonight, the Bulldogs have a huge opportunity on an ESPN national stage against Auburn. Will they take advantage of the opportunity? Auburn’s defense was more of a speed bump than a stop sign against Arkansas State’s spread attack and the offense was dependent on the arm and legs of Cameron Newton, who accounted for five touchdowns.

If the Bulldogs can get another relatively error-free performance out of Relf and Russell and the defense answers the bell against Gus Malzahn’s oddball gadget offense, there’s no reason why the Bulldogs can’t be 2-0.

Speaking of national TV, how about the 41-13 egg laid by Southern Miss in South Carolina last Thursday? Little went right for the Golden Eagles, who looked like they were not ready for primetime or any time for that matter.

The USM defense made South Carolina quarterback Stephen Garcia look like Tim Tebow while getting rolled for 450 yards and 41 points. The offense moved the ball between the 20s and that was about it.

During the Jeff Bower era, the Golden Eagles always had a stellar defense and a vanilla, ball-control offense that didn’t make many mistakes, but wasn’t explosive either. Now the Golden Eagles have an explosive offense — except for wide receiver DeAndre Brown — and not much of a defense.

Why can’t they seem to find a happy medium?

But the loudest wailing and gnashing emanates from Oxford, where the crowd that hadn’t sauntered into the Grove after the half spent the fourth quarter and two overtimes staring jaws agape at the biggest fiasco in the Houston Nutt era. Jacksonville State’s 49-48 win quickly became a national punchline.

The Rebels were outplayed thoroughly in the fourth quarter by an FCS team. An FCS team, folks. A cupcake that was supposed to be nothing more than a glorified scrimmage with a final score. When the Rebels went up 31-10, the intensity disappeared like ponchos for sale at a rainy game or votes for the Land Shark mascot.

There are now more question marks defensively than on the Riddler’s costume and the offense, after a banner effort in the first half, was shut down in the second. The mood has got to be a sporty one in Oxford.

It’s not going to be a good week to be Tulane.

Steve Wilson is sports editor of The Vicksburg Post. You can follow him on Twitter at vpsportseditor. He can be reached at 601-636-4545, ext. 142 or at