NOTES: Defense Rising
That D.T. Shackelford, the only player to wear Chucky Mullins’ No. 38 jersey in two seasons, was the leading tackler is highly appropriate on this day.
That the defense, where Chucky once played for the Rebels, led the way was also apropos.
“Everything was for him and the way he represented,” Shackelford said of Mullins and the defensive effort the team showed against the Tigers. “The way he represented this program and the way this community has flocked toward him, his demeanor and his courage. It was totally about him. We are glad we were able to come out and play well for him.”
The Rebel defense limited Memphis to 23 yards rushing, 81 yards passing, and a total of 104 yards on the night. Shackelford said the Rebel “D” is performing at a high level currently.
“I certainly think we’re playing with a swagger and we’re playing with some confidence,” he said. “But we have to get in the film room and fix the little mistakes. We have to make sure we’re prepared for the next game.”
Alabama’s up next. It’s his home state team. The Rebels haven’t beaten the Crimson Tide since 2003.
“I’m not going to downplay it like it wouldn’t be a big win,” said the Decatur, Ala., native. “But we have to make sure that we take it one play at a time, and one day at a time. That’s starting tonight. We have to get back on it and get ready to play a 60-minute game.”
Another shining star for the defense was Denzel Nkemdiche, who had one of his best performances this season.
The junior linebacker had six total tackles in the contest – three of the unassisted variety and three assists. He said the defense continues to get better and better.
“What you’re seeing is how our defense is coming together,” Nkemdiche said. “Week by week it gets better. “It’s confidence, competition, accountability, our expectations. Everything.”
Nkemdiche said the Rebels’ defensive line is a pleasure to be associated with, since the guys up front are a big part of the success the defensive as a whole is having.
“It’s great because as a linebacker having them up there, it makes you confident,” he said. “They play really clean, not sloppy, and they do their jobs. It makes it easier for us.”
Jaylen Walton scored Ole Miss’ second touchdown of the evening, a 23-yard run to paydirt that, along with Andrew Fletcher’s extra point, made it 17-3.
Only 9:34 remained in the game, so it was an important score, helping the Rebels get some air between themselves and the visitors from the Bluff City.
Walton said the Rebels believed they’d finally get it together on offense, and they eventually did.
“I wouldn’t say panic,” he said of the first three quarters of the game. “We were pretty much frustrated, not just myself, but as an offense. We are a lot better than what we played today. We’ve just got to study film from our opponent from tonight, and we’ll learn and be fine against Alabama.”
Walton finished as the Rebels’ leading rusher with 78 yards on 10 carries and his lone touchdown. He said the Rebels’ offense knows what it needs to do and will go about the task of improving.
“We just need to be more patient, more focused,” Walton said. “The running game is going to be there. You’ve got to run the football in the SEC. The offensive line is doing great. We’re all getting better. It’s the game of football. Things are going to happen. You’re not going to have a perfect play every play. We just have to bounce back from the plays we don’t make.”
Walton said all he heard about was from his hometown before this one. That wasn’t necessarily a bad thing, but he’s pleased to have this game behind him.
“I’m definitely glad (it’s over),” he said. “All I was hearing was ‘Memphis, Memphis, Memphis.’ Now I can focus on our conference, the SEC games.”
Will Gleeson, the Australian redshirt freshman punter for the Rebels, was solid again against Memphis. He punted four times for an average of 46.2 yards per kick with a long of 54 yards. Two of them were downed inside the 20-yard line.
Andrew Fletcher had a rougher time of it, but in this one it ultimately didn’t cost his team. The senior placekicker from Nashville, good on all three extra points in the game, missed two of three field goals.
The first miss from 40 yards early in the second quarter would have given Ole Miss a 10-3. The kick was wide left.
The second miss, also wide left, would have made it 10-3 Rebels as well, that one coming at the 7:11 mark of the third quarter.
Third time was charm for Fletcher as he was good from 19 yards out, kicking into the north end zone and making it – finally – 10-3 with 13:04 to go in the game.
The Rebels’ kickoff man, freshman Gary Wunderlich, was ejected early in the game, and Nathan Noble kicked off after that.
Two TD Treadwell
Laquon Treadwell, along with Cody Core, led the team with five receptions each. Treadwell, the junior from Crete, Ill., had 123 yards and two touchdowns against the Tigers.
There were some one on one matchups for him in this one, and he took advantage.
“I just think they respected everybody else,” he said of those matchups the Tiger defense presented. “They shaded a safety over, but they really didn’t want to bring him over too much because of the inside threat. So that’s really what happened out three tonight.”
Treadwell said the Rebels’ offense was not quite itself, for sure. But that will be fixed before the Alabama game. Or it had better be.
“A lot of little things held us back,” he said. “Penalties, fumbles, interceptions, things we could prevent. We’re looking to prevent those this week. If we don’t, we’ll lose the game.”
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