Not even three minutes in and, as expected, the boo-birds could be heard amongst the small fan contingent inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Memories of a season-opening loss to Jacksonville State rang fresh. This was an all-too-familiar scene.
"We came out, I don't know if you say unfocused or what," senior defensive tackle Jerrell Powe said.
Ole Miss responded to the early deficit. Jeremiah Masoli led the team on a six-play, 60-yard scoring march a drive later.
A much-maligned defense finally showed signs of life, as sophomore cornerback Charles Sawyer tipped a pass attempt of Brad McGuire into the air and returned the theft 10 yards.
Ole Miss added a field goal shortly after.
"It was real big, because it just brought momentum to us," Sawyer said. "We just got to let our offense do what they do best. It was a big momentum change."
Two more turnovers in as many ULL drives (one interception, one fumble recovery) gave way to 10 more points for Ole Miss. All in all, an ugly start to the first quarter ended in a flurry. Ole Miss was well ahead, 24-7.
"Them turnovers, they give you momentum and they give you confidence," freshman linebacker Mike Marry said. "They make you play even harder each and every play. And the harder we played, the more things went our way."
But no lead, no matter how significant, is safe with this team. Ole Miss has proven as much against lesser teams this season, most notably in the double-overtime loss to Jacksonville State.
When Nathan Stanley replaced Jeremiah Masoli, who left the game with a mild concussion midway through the second quarter, the offense was more conservative. The Rebels totaled just six points in the quarter, while Louisiana-Lafayette had 14.
Rodney Scott fumbled near the opposing goal line as the half neared a close, resulting in a 93-yard touchdown by ULL's Melvin White. Bryson Rose scored 12 points in the first half, including a 30-yard try to give Ole Miss a 30-21 halftime lead.
"Rodney fumbles that ball at the one-inch line, and that's a nightmare," Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt said. "It goes back the other way, and now it's a completely different game. I'm glad we got the three points right before half. I thought that was critical."
Ole Miss inevitably won the game, 43-21, moving to 4-5 overall on the year, but the stadium was nearly empty when it happened. Louisiana-Lafayette, those Cajuns with an 0-37 record against SEC teams, had made a game of it, playing Ole Miss reasonably close in what was supposed to be a nerves-free victory.
"I got on them a little bit at halftime," Nutt said. "I asked them to really step up and finish."
There were positives in the second half, even if the offense managed just 13 points. The defense shut out Louisiana-Lafayette, helped by consistent pressure from a depleted defensive line. Ole Miss had four sacks in the game, three by defensive linemen.
It was the first time this season that Ole Miss had shut out a team in the second half.
"We were able to play harder," sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford, who started the game at defensive end, said. "We've seen (a comeback) before. Just look at the first game. You can't underestimate no opponents. We kind of let our guard down in the first half. Second half, we were able to play Ole Miss Rebel football."
Youth is served:
Saturday's game offered an opportunity for many young players to receive significant playing time.
Among the most notable who saw action included freshmen Carlos Thompson, Martez Eastland and, of course, Marry. Eastland returned a kickoff 39 yards to the ULL 28, setting up an Ole Miss field goal as time expired in the second quarter.
Marry filled in for injured middle linebacker Jonathan Cornell for the first start of his career. He collected a team-leading 11 tackles.
"He can play ball, man," Shackelford said of Marry. "Cornell going down, he stepped in there and played lights out, in my opinion. He came in there and played good ball."
"It felt real good," Marry said. "A little nervous at first, but after the first play, that all went away."
Stanley made his first appearance since September, when he completed each of his two pass attempts for one yard in a 27-14 win at Tulane.
"A little bit," Stanley said when asked if he felt rusty. "There were some passes I should've completed, I feel like I'm good enough to complete. Just got to keep getting better."
For the game, Stanley, who opened the season as Ole Miss' starting quarterback, was 6 of 14 for 108 yards and no touchdowns or turnovers.
"Nathan Stanley did a good job coming in, handling the ball, the clock management," Nutt said. "I was proud of (the way) Nathan (played), for not playing all year."
'The year of the injury':
Masoli was headed towards another solid game before suffering a mild concussion in the second quarter of Saturday's game.
The senior quarterback was 5 of 8 for 72 yards and a touchdown before leaving the game. He also had three carries for 17 yards and another score. Masoli entered the game as one of only four players in the nation averaging at least 50 rushing yards and 180 passing yards.
Masoli was hurt on his six-yard touchdown run.
"He's better right now, but you always worry about concussions," Nutt said. "They'll run those tests. They're so thorough now. We probably won't know on Jeremiah until Tuesday."
Jeff Scott and A.J. Hawkins were also injured in the win. Scott pulled a calf muscle in pregame warm-ups. Hawkins hurt his ankle, though the severity of the injury was unknown.
"The year of the injury," Nutt said.
A golden foot:
Rose accounted for almost half of Ole Miss' 43 points.
The sophomore kicker made all of his five field goal attempts, three of which of at least 25 yards. He was also perfect on his four point-after attempts. Rose's 19 points, which led all scorers, were the second-most for a kicker in a single game. The five field goals is also tied for the second-most field goals made in school history.
"They were all inside 30, 35 yards," Rose said. "It makes it a whole lot easier when I have Richie (Contartesi) holding the ball and Wesley (Phillips) snapping. I owe them a lot of credit."
Running game shines:
Both Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis topped the century mark on the ground.
The pair combined for 252 rushing yards and two touchdowns. It marked the first time the Rebels had two runners rush for 100 yards in a game since Deuce McAllister and Joe Gunn both topped the century mark against Georgia in 1999.
"Just appreciate Coach Nutt giving us a chance to do that," Bolden said. "Me and Enrique kind of just came up with it and put the game on our shoulders. That's what we did."
Bolden paced the team with 136 yards on 18 carries. He also had four receptions, 80 yards and another score as the leading receiver. Davis had 19 carries for 116 yards.