Rebels Finish, Finally

MEMPHIS,Tenn. - Coach Ed Orgeron has urged his team to emphasize finishing since the start of fall camp. The Rebels waited until the last possible moment before delivering, but in the end, the defense stiffened and a monumental collapse in Memphis was avoided.

The Rebels built a sizable lead for the majority of three quarters, but Memphis began a comeback, cutting the deficit to just two with 31 seconds remaining in the contest. The Tigers attempted a conversion to tie, but the pass was knocked down, thus allowing Ole Miss to escape 23-21 before an announced crowd of 45,457 on Saturday afternoon.

"Well, we finished," Orgeron said. "We made the play on the two-point play. We finished today. We found a way to win the game. We didn't finish with the way we wanted to the whole third and fourth quarters. But we found a way to win the game."

The Rebel defense rebounded in the end after slacking, but their opportunistic day of forcing turnovers deserve as much credit for the 23 points as does the Ole Miss offense. John Thompson's unit set a goal for 38 turnovers this season, and today was an excellent start.

Memphis quarterback Martin Hankins was harassed and pressured into four interceptions, which negated Tiger scoring chances and kept the home team at bay the first 40-plus minutes. The Memphis signal caller finished with 343 yards on 41-of-60 throwing, but the four picks ended up more eye-popping than the yardage.

Corner Dustin Mouzon will be one guy that Hankins is happy not to see again this year. The junior produced two interceptions, returned one of those for a touchdown and recovered a fumble in the season opener.

"We were looking for this kind of effort with turnovers," Mouzon said. "Last year, we couldn't produce them, but we stepped up today and did it. The pressure up front provided opportunities, and we were able to take advantage."

While Hankins had a subpar day, Ole Miss QB Seth Adams proved productive in his first start. The senior managed the offense and converted 30 attempts into 19 completions and one score. Utilizing a short passing attack, Adams found four different receivers at least four times. Marshay Green led the receiving corps with five catches for 59 yards.

"We got into a rhythm and moved the ball on our first drive," Adams said. "That gave me confidence, and the offensive line was excellent in protecting me the entire game."

On the ground, BenJarvus Green-Ellis rushed for a workmanlike 79 yards on 23 carries.

The season began on a high note with Ole Miss converting their first possession into a touchdown. Adams orchestrated an 11-play, 92-yard drive ending in a Greg Hardy scoring reception.

The momentum stayed with the Rebels as Kendrick Lewis scooped up a blocked punt by Jamarca Sanford and extended the lead to 14 with just more than three minutes left in the first half.

Memphis moved the ball on the ensuing possession and was threatening to score, but with 31 seconds remaining, Mouzon took a pick 99 yards for the third touchdown of the half. Kicker Josh Shene missed the extra point. Ole Miss' points came from offense, defense and special teams.

Shene added a field goal with three minutes still remaining in the third quarter to finalize the Rebels' scoring, Memphis was about to get started.

The Tigers removed the goose egg with a one-yard plunge by Joseph Doss near the end of the period and followed it up with a four-yard scoring run by Oxford native Matt Malouf early into the final quarter.

Duke Calhoun caught an 8-yard pass to set up the tying-conversion opportunity with half a minute remaining.

Ole Miss faces Missouri next Saturday at 5 p.m., inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.

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