MEMPHIS, Tenn. - Ole Miss Coach Ed Orgeron has preached defense, defense, defense ever since he got to Ole Miss back in December. Saturday afternoon his defense saved the day as Ole Miss beat Memphis 10-6 before 53,339 at the Liberty Bowl.
To be more specific, it was sophomore linebacker Garry Pack who saved the day. Pack picked off a Will Hudgins pass at the goal line on second and goal from the 6-yard line and returned it upfield to the 35. Only 15 seconds remained and the Rebels simply ran out the clock with one snap as the Tigers had no timeouts left.
"I just stayed inside the No. 2 receiver and he threw it into my zone," said a happy Pack after the game. "I just went up and got it."
And in turn he helped the Rebs get win No. 1 on the 2005 season.
"I was proud of the way my team competed," Orgeron said. "Memphis is a fine football team. Give them credit, but we made the plays when we had to."
The Rebels had avoided one late bullet only minutes earlier when Memphis got it to the Ole Miss 37 with 2:37 left. But on first and 10 from that point, Tiger Maurice Avery took the handoff from Hudgins on an end-around and started upfield only to be met by Rebel linebacker Patrick Willis who stripped the football. Charles Clark recovered for Ole Miss at the 29, but the Memphis defense stepped up and stopped the Rebs.
Memphis started its final drive with 1:32 left from midfield following a Will Moseley punt. Ten plays later Hudgins had his troops at the 6 with second down and 24 seconds remaining on the clock. On the game's next play, the redshirt freshman quarterback took the snap, stepped back into the pocket, and threw into double coverage to wide receiver Ryan Scott. Pack, Ole Miss' outside linebacker, stepped in front of Hudgins's pass at the goalline, intercepted it, and raced upfield. That ended any threat of a Memphis comeback.
The Tigers led 6-3 at halftime, but the third quarter belonged to the Rebel defense, which held the Memphis offense to 33 yards over the entire quarter. The Ole Miss offense finally got a touchdown, the lone one of the contest, after Will Moseley missed left on a 41-yard field goal attempt during the Rebels' previous possession. The drive was sparked by a Memphis turnover, when on first down at his own 20, Hudgins threw to midfield for Carl Robinzine but the pass was underthrown and was picked off by an alert Trumaine McBride who returned it 30 yards to the Tiger 17.
After Brandon Jacobs gained five yards on two carries, Spurlock overthrew an open Hill in the end zone. On fourth down the Rebels decided to go for it. After looking for an open receiver, Spurlock kept around the right side and, with a block from tight end Lawrence Lilly, took it in for the score. Moseley's PAT was good and the Rebs led 10-6 with 5:45 to go in the third.
"I thought (the decision to go for it) was a no-brainer," Orgeron said of the decision to go for it on fourth and five at the 12. "We had to get some points. We had to generate something, so we went for it."
The Rebels got on the scoreboard on the game's opening drive. Quarterback Micheal Spurlock was 2-for-2 on the first two plays from scrimmage for the Rebs. From his own 35-yard line after the Memphis kickoff went out of bounds, Spurlock hit Mario Hill for 14 yards to near midfield. On the next play Spurlock hit a wide open Hill for 38 yards to the 13-yard line.
But three plays later on fourth and 15 from the 18, Matt Hinkle was good on a 35-yard field goal to give the Rebs a 3-0 lead with 13:03 left in the first period.
Memphis couldn't move it on its first possession and lost its starting quarterback on third and eight. Starting signal-caller Patrick Byrne was tackled on a keep that lost two yards. Byrne broke two bones in his right leg and was replaced on the Tigers' next series with Will Hudgens.
The Rebels moved the football on their next possession to the Tiger 33. After a delay of game on third and 22, Spurlock was intercepted by Brand McDonald at the 19.
Behind Hudgins, the Tigers moved downfield for points, the big play a 34-yard pass to Robinzine. But the drive stalled and on fourth and four from the 17, Stephen Gostkowski was good on a field goal of 34 yards to tie the game at 3-3 with 2:08 to go in the first quarter.
Hinkle had a shot to give the Rebels' a lead on their next possession. On the 13th play of a drive that started on their own 20 following the Tiger kickoff, Hinkle missed wide wide right on a 26-yard attempt.
The Tigers took over on the 20 and moved to the Rebel 29 in 11 plays. The Rebel defense held and Gostkowski connected from 47 yards to give the home team a 6-3 lead with 4:40 to go in the first half.
The Rebels had a shot to make something happen before the half. From the Memphis 40, Robert Lane threw deep on the last play of the half but it was picked off by Tiger Rod Smith who was dropped at the 16.
Spurlock ended the game 14 for 27 for 184 yards and ran for a touchdown. Mario Hill caught 8 passes for 132 yards.
Rebs win opener 10-6 at Memphis
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