Apathy has not set in at Ole Miss.
Instead, the Rebels are finding that this whole winning thing is so pleasurable, they want to do whatever it takes to keep doing it.
Houston Nutt called Tuesday's practice "our best practice of the year," a bit of a surprise, perhaps, given the fact that Ole Miss doesn't play Saturday and won't play again until Nov. 15 when Louisiana-Monroe (3-6) comes to town.
"That's what a dose of winning does," Nutt said. "To have all your upperclassmen stay around and watch every scrimmage play of (redshirted) freshmen with a lot of enthusiasm and encouragement, that's what it's all about. We just want to keep building, keep getting better and this is a good start in an open week."
Nutt admitted that he wondered how Ole Miss would respond to an open date following back-to-back wins over Arkansas and Auburn.
"It's always (human) nature to say, 'Well, we don't play this week,' and take it off, but boy, they didn't," Nutt said. "They came out here and went to work and I appreciate that. That's how you get better."
Ole Miss defensive line coach Tracy Rocker was talking about defensive end Kentrell Lockett on Tuesday, saying that one of the reasons Lockett has improved so dramatically is football practice has become fun. Lockett, Nutt said, isn't alone.
"It has filtered through," Nutt said. "Our scout team guys are really having pride and giving a great look for the varsity. From Kentrell Lockett to Ashlee Palmer, I see guys coming to work with a smile on their face and it's contagious. That's the atmosphere that you want."
NUTT SADDENED BY FULMER RESIGNATION: Nutt was asked Tuesday about Monday's news that Tennessee coach Phillip Fulmer would step down after the season, his 17th with the Volunteers.
"I was disappointed," Nutt said. "He's been there so long, done so many good things, won a national title. I just think it's kind of sad. I know he's changed a lot of young people's lives and done so much good that it's not good enough."
Nutt, in his 11th year as a Southeastern Conference head coach, said the dynamics of the league have changed since he began his tenure at Arkansas in 1998.
"I think it's much more difficult," Nutt said. "It's just hard. Everybody wants to win. Everybody wants to go to bowls. Everybody wants your team to go to Atlanta and it's just highly, highly competitive. You have to understand, everybody's not going to go to Atlanta, not every year. There are injuries involved and people don't want to hear about that. There are things that don't work out right. The ball bounces wrong and people don't want to hear that. They want to win.
I think the days of the Bobby Bowdens and the Joe Paternos are pretty much over. You get to that 10th year in one spot _ I'm just going by experience _ they get tired of you, tired of your words, tired of your same response."
SCOTT CREDITS INCREASED TIME TO EFFORT: Ole Miss defensive tackle Lawon Scott had just one tackle against Auburn this past Saturday. However, the sophomore from Florida appears to be holding off Ted Laurent off as the two battle for playing time opposite Peria Jerry.
"I just realized that I guess I had to step up," said Scott, who moved into the starting lineup at Arkansas two weeks ago. "It's mostly just hard work. That's about it."
Competition, of course, has been a bit of a motivating factor as well.
"If you see one person making a play, you want to make a play too," Scott said.
Whatever the reason, Ole Miss' defense has improved dramatically in recent weeks. The Rebels held Auburn to just 75 yards on the ground this past Saturday, a key to Ole Miss' 17-7 win.
"Coach Rocker challenged us to be a better run-stop defensive line," Scott said. "He said the front is the key to stopping the run. You have certain gaps you can fit, but sometimes you just have to go be a playmaker."
That get-it-done mentality has made its way from the defensive line meeting room to the entire roster, as the Rebels prepare for a final stretch against Louisiana-Monroe, LSU and Mississippi State that will determine if Ole Miss goes bowling and if so, where.
"Some people say we're probably going to lose to LSU, but our goal is to 8-4 and finish our season hard," Scott said.
THOMAS' YEAR WASTED?: Freshman running back Devin Thomas got some scrimmage work in Tuesday afternoon, prompting questions of Nutt if he wished he hadn't used Thomas earlier in the season.
"Hindsight is 20-20, you know," Nutt said. "I could redshirt him next year to get it back. At first, when we got into it, they all naturally wanted to play and we were unsure because we hadn't been here long enough and we didn't know. You can't play them all. I've been very proud of him. He's given us great looks."
RECRUITING GOING WELL: Nutt said the recruiting class he and his staff are working on "is the least of my worries right now. We're getting so much positive (feedback)."
The Rebels have 13 verbal commitments and figure to add some 14 more between now and National Signing Day in February.
"We've actually kind of slowed things down as far as wanting them to jump in the boat so quick right now," Nutt said. "We're going to be selective as we get down to these last 12-14 guys. We're going to be real selective."
Nutt said offensive line and cornerbacks are the key areas of need. He added that he expects to sign 2-3 junior college offensive linemen and another 2-3 high school offensive linemen in February.
WARHAWKS' LANCASTER EXPECTED TO RETURN: Louisiana-Monroe coach Charlie Weatherbie said Monday that he expects quarterback Kinsmon Lancaster to return to action this week when the Warhawks visit Middle Tennessee, the Monroe (La.) News-Star reported.
"I think he's going to be fine," Weatherbie said during the Sun Belt's conference call for media. "He's got a bruised hand a little bit and he twisted his knee. But he'll be OK."
The knee injury forced Lancaster to leave the Warhawks' game against Troy in the fourth quarter Saturday night. Backup Trey Revell came on to lead the game-winning drive in ULM's 31-30 victory.
Revell hit 4-of-4 passes for 41 yards on Louisiana-Monroe's last drive and threw a 7-yard touchdown for the game-winner. Weatherbie said Lancaster will remain the starter as long as he's healthy.
"Kin is still our starting quarterback and Trey is our backup," Weatherbie said. "He did a great job and we're excited about the way he played."
Middle Tennessee coach Rick Stockstill offered high praise for Lancaster, calling him "slippery as a greased pig. We couldn't tackle him last year and he ran all over the place. He's run over a lot of people throughout his career."
Weatherbie said that senior wide receiver Marty Humphrey suffered a broken fibula in the Troy game. Presumably, his season is over.
"I wish we still had him," Weatherbie said. "Not only is he a heck of a player, but he's a darn good leader."
REBEL RUMBLINGS: Fullback Jason Cook (concussion) didn't practice Tuesday. Defensive end Greg Hardy (foot) dressed but was limited. Wide receiver Lionel Breaux (ankle) returned to practice and participated in all drills.
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