Rocky Flop

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. - Ole Miss fell hard, 52-14, to Tennessee Saturday. Go inside for a detailed notebook, including notes on Jeremiah Masoli, the Rebels' struggling defense and Brandon Bolden.

Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt was coy all week on the status of his starting quarterback, Jeremiah Masoli. For Nutt, it was a strategic move.

He wanted Tennessee to prepare for two quarterbacks, including sophomore Nathan Stanley, who saw his most extensive playing time to date against Louisiana-Lafayette. So Nutt kept quiet. Masoli was cleared to play Friday evening, according to Nutt.

"I felt good," Masoli said.

Jeremiah Masoli

Initially, Masoli showed no ill-effects from his mild concussion. He came out throwing, completing his first pass to Korvic Neat for 24 yards. Masoli said he actually practiced a lot this week, and felt good in pregame warm-ups.

"I practiced a lot. Nate got more reps than usual, but I practiced enough," he said.

But the game, a 52-14 loss, quickly turned sour.

His team trailing, 14-0, Masoli attempted a throw to running back Jeff Scott on third-and-6. However, Tennessee's Eric Gordon was waiting, ultimately taking an interception 46 yards for a touchdown.

"That was just on me," Masoli said of the play. "I thought Jeff Scott was open, but obviously he wasn't. I tried to get it over somebody and gave it a little too much air down there by the goal line."

It was the first of two Masoli interceptions returned for a touchdown Saturday. He threw another interception a drive later.

Nathan Stanley replaced Masoli midway through the third quarter, his team trailing 45-14. Masoli had completed 7 of 18 passes for 80 yards, no touchdowns to three interceptions – his final line in the game.

"He just wasn't setting his feet, not doing some stuff he normally does," Nutt said. "That hurt us."

Stanley finished 3 of 6 for 19 yards and an interception.

Maybe Masoli wasn't 100 percent. Maybe he simply had a bad day. Either way, he was far from himself. He reentered the game late, but again gave way to Stanley. He didn't attempt another pass as Tennessee ran away with a one-sided win.

"To me, it was just the same old Jeremiah, we just made a few more mistakes," running back Brandon Bolden said. "We just didn't give him big enough targets to throw to."

Defense picked apart:

A struggling Ole Miss defense entered Saturday's meeting with Tennessee with a renewed confidence.

The Rebels had shut out Louisiana-Lafayette in the second half of a much-needed win a week earlier, allowing just 47 yards and no points. They had created turnovers and finally limited the explosion plays that had killed them over a trying season.

But in one play, the first in the game for Tennessee, Ole Miss came crashing back to reality. Linebacker Jonathan Cornell saw a would-be interception go through his hands, only to fall into the gut of Tennessee wide receiver Justin Hunter.

Two Rebels whiffed on tackles, leading to an 80-yard touchdown and 7-0 Volunteer lead.

Johnny Brown

"Oh my goodness," Nutt said when asked of the play postgame. "We're in pretty good position, get a hand on the ball. That guy continues on his route, catches it full stride and goes 80. You couldn't do that play again."

In three Tennessee offensive drives, Ole Miss allowed three pass plays of at least 30 yards. Two of those explosion plays led to touchdowns. Also of note, Tennessee scored on additional touchdown plays of 22 yards and 36 yards.

"It's very frustrating," sophomore linebacker D.T. Shackelford said. "You don't plan on that type of stuff happening. We all work on tackling drills. It's not like we're not putting forth the effort and not preparing well. We've just got to put it out on the field."

Ole Miss was helpless in pass coverage.

Tennessee quarterback Tyler Bray, a freshman, made it look easy. He completed 13 of 24 passes for 265 yards and three touchdowns in the first half alone. For the game, Bray was 18-38 for 323 yards.

"These last few games are going to be a lot about character," Shackelford said, his team now 4-6 (1-5 SEC) on the season. "Are a lot of people going to quit or give up? Or are we going to dig in deep and say, ‘Man, we got two games left. We can play our hearts out.' That's basically what it's going to come down to.

"You'll be able to see what this team is really made of; if we've got the heart and courage and go on, even when stuff's not going our way."

Bolden solid in losing effort:

Ole Miss running back Brandon Bolden was possibly the only high point in Saturday's blowout loss. The junior rushed for a game-high 113 yards on 12 carries, also scoring Ole Miss' only two touchdowns.

"The offensive line got some real good push," he said. "They were moving guys out of the way, they were opening holes, they were protecting real good. Everybody was getting a hat on a hat. (My game) was what anybody would've done - just hit the hole and get into the end zone."

Bolden now ranks fifth in program history for rushing touchdowns in a career with 20. He has 11 this season. Deuce McAllister holds the record with 46.

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