COLUMN: Boise Revisited

It wasn't pretty. In fact, it didn't even approach pretty, on offense, but the Rebels survived a lackluster effort on that side of the ball, rode the defense all night and defeated Memphis 24-3 in a game of attrition.

After the last two games, a slaughter of Vanderbilt and a mauling of ULL, most believed the nationally-ranked Ole Miss Rebels had put the Boise State game, full of penalties and turnovers, behind them.

But the ghost of the Boise first half reappeared in the form of the Ole Miss-Memphis game in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night.

Like the Boise game, the Rebels prevailed, and even pulled away at the end, but not until the offense slopped around with a plethora of turnovers and penalties for a big chunk of the game.

Meanwhile, the Rebel defense didn't yield and continued their march toward excellence, bailing out the offense time and time again.

First with the heroics, then we'll delve into the myriad of miscues.

The Rebel defensive line, dubbed the Sackmen, were dominant, giving up little real estate and producing poor throw after poor throw from Tiger QB Paxton Lynch, the same guy who put up 35 points on UCLA three weeks ago.

Freshman DE Marquis Haynes sealed the deal in the fourth quarter when he sacked and stripped Lynch on the Tiger 23. On the next play, TB Jaylen Walton sprinted 23 yards for a 17-3 Rebel lead that essentially put the contest away.

"That was the best defensive effort we have had since we have been here. I think Memphis had 13 first downs, at least that's what the stat sheet says," said Coach Hugh Freeze. "They were phenomenal because Memphis has been really putting up some points."

Defensive Coordinator Dave Wommack had stated earlier in the week that the scheme, and not the players, were the reason the run defense had not been up to par in the first three games.

In this game, the scheme was on the money and the results were outstanding. Memphis had 104 yards of total offense on the night.

It seemed as if every fit was perfect, every coverage, except one, was smothering and the pursuit of the ball was relentless.

Defense: A+. Nothing more could have been asked of that unit.

Meanwhile, the offense was moving between the 20s OK, but four turnovers and enough penalties to lose count made it look like a fire drill.

The Rebel offense was consistently behind the chains, facing 2nd and long and third and long, not favorable down and distances.

And when they weren't behind the chains, they were throwing interceptions or fumbling away opportunities.

Or being flagged by the American Conference officials, the worst crew I have seen since I went to see Benoit play Anguilla in high school ball in 1981.

Before I go railing on the stripes, which I will do, let's make it clear the offense did not play up to the standard necessary moving forward. Having said that, however, that crew of officials lost control of the game early and were simply incompetent throughout.

I have been covering football for 40 years and I have never seen an official stop a play to allow a team to get their personnel on the field and lined up. This crew did that. I have rarely seen a hold called on a play 15 yards behind the play, which happened when Mark Dodson's electric TD jaunt was called back in the third quarter.

I have never seen a kicker ejected from a game. That happened to freshman Gary Wunderlich, who I doubt seriously was in that kickoff scrum throwing cheap punches, all 170 pounds of him.

They were laughably lousy.

Freeze is usually a calm, collected coach on the sidelines. Two or three times he went ballistic on the calls by this crew. I'm surprised it wasn't five or six times.

OK, so now the Rebels are 4-0 and now they are allowed to look to next Saturday and the Game Day matchup with Alabama.

Guess what? As hard as Freeze and his staff tried to keep the team focused on Memphis and not Alabama, it turned out to be an impossible task.

And how could they not be thinking ahead?

"We'd go to class or go to Wal-Mart and everyone would come up to us and say 'what about Alabama?' That was hard to ignore and put out of our minds," said WR Laquon Treadwell, who caught TD passes of 63 and 17 yards on the night. "Man, we tried not to think about it, but we're only human."

Now they can think about the Crimson Tide all they want.

The pesky Memphis Tigers are behind them, in the victory column.

Corrections will need to be made on offense and the intensity level on defense will have to go up yet another notch. Boise revisited again against the Tide will not hold up the next time.

Meanwhile, relish 4-0.

And get yourself ready for the Tide.


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