Tigers tame Rebels 20-13 in season opener

The post-Eli Manning era began tonight in Oxford and all was not well. The Ole Miss offense sputtered and misfired early and often as the visiting Memphis Tigers eventually took home a 20-13 victory.

The third-largest crowd in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium history, a standing-room-only throng of 61,112, watched as Memphis made it two in a row over Ole Miss and pulled a bit closer in the lop-sided series which the Rebs still lead 42-10-2.

Defensively the Rebels held a veteran Memphis team at bay much of the night, although the statistics didn't quite tell it that way. Memphis had 392 yards on offense, averaging 4.5 yards per play.

Tiger senior quarterback Danny Wimprine was 21 of 43 for 266 yards with one touchdown and one interception. Tiger junior running back DeAngelo Williams carried the football 37 times for 118 yards and one touchdown.

The Rebels, meanwhile, just couldn't get much going offensively, especially in the first half. Coach David Cutcliffe said field position was not in the Rebels' favor, and that Micheal Spurlock was too inconsistent for much of the night.

"It's obvious that it was extremely disappointing to play as poorly as we did at times," the Rebels' sixth-year head coach said. "The biggest issue was inconsistency as a team. We certainly had a hard time getting started offensively and getting anything done. We were certainly so bad on third down. It is hard to sustain drives when you're three of 15 on third downs. We've got a lot of work to do."

As for his junior quarterback Cutcliffe said he obviously wasn't at his best.

"Micheal was inconsistent," said Cutcliffe of Spurlock, who was 11 of 31 for 182 yards and no touchdowns. "He did some good things. He will learn a lot from this experience. Certainly he was inconsistent throwing the ball. It was a tough beginning."

Spurlock rushed the football 11 times for 23 yards. The Rebels' leading ground-gainer was Pearson with 60 yards on 14 carries and one touchdown.

Memphis won the opening toss and deferred. After the Rebels could not move it for a first down on their first possession, the Tigers moved methodically down the field following a Cody Ridgeway punt from their own 36 to the Rebel 1-yard line. On fourth and goal at the 1, Memphis running back DeAngelo Williams was stopped in the middle by Rebel defenders Michael Bozeman and Brian Lester.

The Rebels couldn't move it out of the shadow of their own goalpost and punted. Two series later the Tigers hit paydirt. Starting at their own 29 following a Ridgeway punt of 46 yards and an additional 10 yard because of a penalty on Memphis, the Tigers moved 71 yards in four plays, the big play a 55-yard pass from Wimprine to Maurice Avery to the Rebel 10. The touchdown came on the very next play, a 10-yard run for Williams. Stephen Gostowski connected on the extra point and it was 7-0 Memphis with 2:46 to go in the first quarter.

Ole Miss senior placekicker Jonathan Nichols got the Rebels on the board on a 26-yard field goal attempt with 6:45 left in the first half to cut the Memphis lead to 7-3.

Memphis started at its own 20 following Nichols' kickoff into the end zone and moved downfield for more points. Stalling out at the Rebel 22, Gostkowski connected on a 39-yard field goal to increase the Tigers lead to 10-3 with 1:51 to go before halftime, and that's the way the first half ended.

Memphis took the opening kickoff of the second half but couldn't produce. A Tiger punt was downed at the Rebel 13-yard line. Ole Miss, with its best offensive effort of the night thus far, moved to the Tiger 29-yard line where the drive stalled. Nichols kicked a 47-yard field goal to make it 10-6 with 9:13 to go in the third period.

The Tigers responded on their next drive with three points of their own. Moving from its own 20 after the kickoff, Memphis went in 11 plays to the Rebel 28 before running out of downs. Gostowski nailed a 45-yard field goal to put his team back up by seven points at 13-6 with 5:08 to go in the third.

Memphis added its second touchdown of the contest at the 10:43 mark of the fourth quarter on a Wimprine to Tavarus Gideon 20-yard pass play, capping a 12-play, 76-yard drive. Gostowski's point after made it 20-6 Tigers.

But the Rebels came back in a hurry for their first touchdown of the season. Spurlock to Taye Biddle was the order of this drive as the combo connected on back to back passes of 31 and 43 yards. The Rebels were in business at the Tiger 12. Following a short run by Vashon Pearson and a face mask personal foul on the visitors, Ole Miss was first and goal at the 5. Pearson then took it in from there, and with Nichols' extra point the Rebels trailed just 20-13 with 8:55 left.

Ole Miss got the football back twice with a shot at a possible tying touchdown. On its last possession, Spurlock almost connected with Bill Flowers on a long pass play of about 35-40 yards, but Flowers couldn't hang on. Sonce down was an incompletion to Lorenzo townesend in the left flat, and on third down Memphis brought the house to sack Spurlock at the 6.

For all practical purposes the game was over at that point. Only 1:35 remained in the contest. Ridgeway punted and the Tigers ran the clock out.

Ole Miss travels to Alabama for an 8 p.m. game next Saturday on ESPN2. Memphis hosts Chattanooga at 7 p.m.

For the complete statistics from tonight's game, go to www.olemisssports.com.

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