The 65,889 fans who packed Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday must have been thinking “oh, not again” for all of two minutes.
No. 16 Ole Miss has had a knack this season of building impressive first-half leads only to see them dwindle away in losses to Florida State and Alabama.
After holding a commanding 20-point lead against Memphis on Saturday, the Rebels once again saw their lead gradually disappear as the Tigers clawed within six points late in the third quarter.
Unlike in the losses to the Seminoles and Tide, Ole Miss responded in a big way.
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The Rebels immediately marched down the field with a seven-play scoring drive and later piled on, icing the 48-28 victory.
“If my memory serves me correct we went on a scoring drive that took about a minute,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said dryly of the Rebels’ quick response. “So I thought the response was really good. Liked it a lot.”
Asked how big the win was, Ole Miss quarterback Chad Kelly pointed back to last year’s 37-24 defeat at Memphis.
“It was definitely a big game just because last year they won,” he said. “I want to be able to go to Memphis and act like we won the game, so I can feel like I’m welcomed in Memphis now.”
Junior running back Eugene Brazley had a breakout game of sorts for Ole Miss (3-2 overall), rushing for a career-high 124 yards with touchdown runs of 6 and 32 yards. Starter Akeem Judd also rushed for 108 yards, but with D’Vaughn Pennamon sidelined with an injury and Eric Swinney out for the season, Brazley made the most of his chances Saturday.
With 14:53 remaining, Brazley took the handoff around the left side of the line, picked up a block and dove through a defender for the corner of the end zone. His 32-yard touchdown, slicing through the middle of Memphis’ defense with 5 minutes remaining, put the game on ice.
“He showed out. That’s Eugene,” Kelly said. “I’ve been waiting for that day for a long time. He’s another version of J-Walt (Jaylen Walton) and I just think he’s a great player. He can pick up the blitz and make plays.”
Backup quarterback Jason Pellerin also had plenty of success, rushing for touchdowns of 1 and 3 yards.
“(Pellerin) made plays, ran hard,” Kelly said. “He was aggressive and did what he had to do.”
Spreading it around
The Rebels spread the ball around, with six different players catching at least three passes. Van Jefferson had a team-high seven receptions for 79 yards. Damor’ea Stringfellow caught six passes for 94 yards. Evan Engram caught the Rebels’ only touchdown pass — a 12-yarder from Kelly — and finished with four receptions for 82 yards.
Kelly finished 30 of 44 passing with 361 yards with a touchdown and interception.
Memphis quarterback Riley Ferguson threw for 343 yards and rushed for two short touchdowns, but Ole Miss’ defense ended up forcing three interceptions and recovered a fumble.
“That was big. We haven’t won it much this year so that was nice to see,” Freeze said. “We’ve been on the other end of that twice this year where we felt the turnovers cost us games.”
Zedrick Woods had two interceptions, including a 31-yard touchdown return to put Ole Miss ahead 14-0 late in the first quarter. Defensive lineman D.J. Jones also picked off Memphis (3-1), diving at a low throw on a screen play.
“They just kept running screens,” Jones said. “I knew that particular play was to the back, so I followed him, read my keys, he tried to throw it away and I got under it.”
Anderson to miss time
Freshman defensive back Deontay Anderson will miss the first half of the Arkansas game on Oct. 15 after being ejected Saturday for targeting. Anderson made one tackle before the ejection. …
Ole Miss announced during the game that linebacker DeMarquis Gates has been suspended for violating “team standards.”
Freeze declined to elaborate on the suspension other than to say the length will be up to Gates.
“Kids have to put the team first,” Freeze said. “I love our kids and I want to do things that help them long term. If it means I sit one, I’ve done it this year and I’ll continue to do it. The ball is in their court. They understand very clearly what our expectations are.”
Gates entered the game as Ole Miss’ leading tackler with 30. He also has 2.0 tackles for loss, two sacks and three quarterback hurries on the season.
The Rebels have a much-needed bye week before traveling to Arkansas and LSU in back to back weeks.