Scoring its most points against Memphis since 1980, including a 28-point fourth quarter, Ole Miss opened the 2009 season in convincing fashion Sunday with a 45-14 win in front of 45,207 fans inside Liberty Bowl Stadium.
With the win, the Rebels extended their win streak over the Tigers to five games, and have now won 14 of the last 18 meetings dating back to 1988.
"Wins are precious. There's nothing like being 1-0," said Ole Miss head coach Houston Nutt. "A lot of people would love to be where we are. The thing I love about it is we stunk it up the first half offensively, but came back, didn't hang our heads and went out and executed. Now we'll look at the film and get better."
Slow Start, Strong Finish for Snead:
Before completing 7-of-10 passes for 101 yards to close out Ole Miss' 31-point victory Sunday, junior quarterback Jevan Snead didn't have much going for him in the 14th start of his Rebel career.
Despite leading Ole Miss to a quick 10-point lead by completing three of his first four pass attempts, the Heisman candidate sputtered for most of the first half. At halftime, Snead's line read five completions on 12 tries, for 74 yards and two interceptions, with his offense managing no third down conversions.
"I'm unhappy with the way I played in the first half," he said. "I forced things again, things I didn't have to force, but at least now I can recognize it and correct as I go. I did much better in the second half. We were kind of kicking ourselves in the locker room at halftime, but we didn't panic. We knew we could do a lot better and we were determined to step up in the second half. In the second half, we all played better."
"Jevan Snead, I thought, didn't have his game in the first half. But it wasn't all his fault," Nutt added. "In the second half, he came back like a warrior. He came back and really executed. The thing you love about Jevan, if things don't go just right, he doesn't hang his head. You don't have to be concerned about that. He's a winner. He came back and really threw the ball well."
On each of Snead's turnovers, the Stephenville, Texas native appeared rushed an uncomfortable. Three new starters along the offensive line struggled with consistency for much of the day, with Snead hurried due to pressure by an opportunistic Tiger front seven.
Only one Snead turnover resulted in points, however, as Deante' Lamar returned a theft to the Ole Miss 25 to setup a Curtis Steele two-yard score.
"On the first interception, Jevan just missed Dexter. He has to hit that pass - Dexter was open," offensive coordinator Kent Austin said. "On the second one, he made a bad decision. At halftime, we simplified and went with a smaller package. We told Jevan not to audible as much - even though he checked into some good plays in the first half - and just run the plays we called for the most part. He became more efficient in the second half.
"We just wanted to execute in the second half and not over-think things. Once we did that, we started executing better and Jevan quit trying to force things. You know he did that some to start last year. Once he quit forcing things, some things opened up for us then."
Sowell has Mixed Debut:
Making his first start as the replacement for departed All-American Michael Oher, sophomore left tackle Bradley Sowell had a mixed bag of sorts in his 2009 debut.
"It was pretty tiresome," Sowell said. "In the third quarter, I started cramping pretty good. I learned a lot, like game speed. I think I did pretty good."
While he held up well against the run, Sowell struggled a bit in pass protection. The 6-foot-7, 310 pounder allowed a sack and was up-and-down when left on an island against rushing Tiger ends.
However, Sowell believes he'll receive a passing grade come film study.
"I think I'll grade out well," he said. "I thought I played well for my first start. I guess I need to just get in a little better shape. I just have to keep working hard. It's the first game. We weren't really that sharp."
"For his first game, I was really proud of him. He was fighting through (the cramping)," Nutt said. "He was hurting a little bit, but he fought through it, sucked it up and got back out there. He was a little dehydrated, but kept fighting hard. For his first time, pretty good."
While the struggles of the Ole Miss offense through three quarters dominated headlines, it was the play of backup free safety Fon Ingram and the defense that stemmed the tide in critical fashion Sunday.
With the Rebels clinging to a 10-7 lead and under a minute left until halftime, Ingram jumped an errant Arkelon Hall pass for his second career interception, dashed for daylight and found the endzone for six points.
The game-changing play gave Ole Miss a welcomed 10-point cushion and much-needed shot in the arm after a dismal first half offensively.
"I knew when I caught it, it was six," he said. "It made me feel good. I went out and kept busting my butt. I thought I did pretty well."
"That was huge. They had some momentum at that point and Fon was in the right place at the right time," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "Allen Walker slid off to take his man and left Fon open. He caught the ball, got a block from a defensive lineman and scored. Big play."
Ingram's interception was the second of the day for Ole Miss, marking the sixth-straight game the Rebel defense has posted multiple INTs dating back to last season.
"Wild Man" Comes Up Big:
Throughout fall practices, freshman middle linebacker D.T. Shackelford had become known for making impressions.
That reputation certainly held true Sunday, as Shackelford made one of many big plays for Ole Miss defensively with a crucial fourth down stop of Tiger running back Curtis Steele at the Rebels' 43-yard line.
"I came on a blitz and came clean," Shackelford said. "The play was there for me to make and I did my best to make it. I wasn't sure I tackled him before he got the first down, but in the end I did."
Before the stop, Memphis found itself trailing 17-7. However, having driven 37 yards from inside the Ole Miss 10-yard line, the Tigers were gaining momentum and confidence with the game in reach.
But the lone solo tackle for Shackelford for the game proved pivotal, as the Rebel frosh finished his first action as a collegian with two total tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss.
"I felt real good. I was very excited," he said of his first live action. "This is such a difference from high school. I had some ups-and-downs, but overall I was very happy with my play. I know I can get a lot better, but that will come with time and hard work."
Notebook: Landsharks Swarm
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