- Associated Press - Monday, October 2, 2017

Mississippi is still smarting from one of the most lopsided losses in school history.

Worse for the Rebels, it’s hard to see a lot of wins in the near future.

Ole Miss (2-2, 0-1 Southeastern Conference) is preparing for a difficult road game against No. 12 Auburn (4-1, 2-0) on Saturday while also digesting an embarrassing 66-3 loss to No. 1 Alabama last weekend. There’s not much shame in losing to the talented Crimson Tide, but the game was nowhere near competitive.

Now the Rebels are trying to mitigate damage to their psyche and focus on the rest of their season.

“Throughout my tenure here, we’ve had a lot of gut punches and a lot of tough losses,” interim head coach Matt Luke said Monday. “But we’ve always responded. We’ve always bounced back and we will again.”

Luke gave credit to Alabama for its dominating performance, and there was certainly an on-field talent disparity. But lurking under the surface is the feeling that more than a year’s worth of bad news off the field is starting to have an effect on the team’s game performance.

The Rebels are ineligible for a bowl game after a self-imposed, one-year postseason ban related to a long-running NCAA infractions investigation . More punishment could be coming depending on the governing body’s final decision. If that weren’t enough, former head coach Hugh Freeze resigned in July following an investigation into personal misconduct related to his phone records .

Luke - who was the co-offensive coordinator before Freeze resigned - has kept a positive demeanor in a nearly impossible situation. This might be his toughest week yet.

“We have to be focused enough and mentally tough enough to keep our focus on football,” Luke said. “That’s our challenge this week moving forward. We have eight opportunities and we’re going to take advantage of each one starting with Auburn.”

It’s not a huge shock that the Ole Miss defense struggled against Alabama because the Rebels have been one of the SEC’s worst defensive teams for two seasons. But now the offense is struggling as well, scoring just three points over the past six quarters dating back to the second half of its 27-16 loss to California.

Sophomore Shea Patterson had arguably the worst game of his young career, completing just 14 of 29 passes for 165 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions.

Luke stressed that the Rebels wouldn’t panic. They have five SEC games over the next five weeks.

“What we are right now is 2-2, we’re no better and no worse,” Luke said. “I think when you play Alabama, it shows them, ‘Hey, this is how far we have to go.’ We’ve got to keep our confidence. We’ve got to go back, simplify and go back to work.

“That’s the only way to get the bad taste out of your mouth is to get back on the practice field and go to work.”


More AP college football: https://collegefootball.ap.org and https://www.twitter.com/AP_Top25 .

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