OXFORD, Miss. — What a game! What a game!! The first half of Ole Miss’ 76-41 win over Southern Illinois Saturday was a shootout reminiscent of the 2016 Texas Tech vs. Oklahoma Sooners contest. My beloved Sooner defense was torched for an entire game; they gave up 854 yards of total offense and were lucky to win the game, 66-59.
Yes, the Rebel defense was torched in the first half of the game against the Salukis, but the Ole Miss offense answered every jab with a counter-jab, every roundhouse with a well-placed hook. The defense struggled, while the offense bludgeoned the Salukis’ defense.
I heard people cussing the defense. Social media, I’m sure, was exploding. But why? Hear me out on this. Sure, Southern Illinois was an FBS team. Sure, it was supposed to be an easy win for the Rebels. Sure, we were predicted to run them out of the stadium. I saw it differently, however. I was concerned before the game, unable to shake a nagging feeling that it was going to be a close game. To me, It only made sense that the game wouldn’t be an early blowout in favor of the Rebs.
Why did I feel this way? Simply put—a big win on the road vs Texas Tech to start the season and the Nation’s No. 1 Crimson Tide on the horizon for week three.
To me, this was the perfect trap game.
I walked on the field at 2:35 p.m. for the 3:00 p.m. kickoff and I grew even more nervous. It didn’t “feel” right in the stadium to me; the casually late fans seemed to be even more casually late. The temperature on the floor of Vaught-Hemmingway was steaming. Everything about the atmosphere just seemed flat.
The game began with Ole Miss going three-and-out and being forced to punt. Then, the scoring barrage began. When the first-half clock ticked down to 0:00, the Rebels went to the locker room down to Southern Illinois, 38-35.
While resting and rehydrating in the photographer’s press room, my mind began to spin. I never questioned if we were going to win, but rather how we were going to do so. Truthfully, I never question the effort of a Matt Luke team. They are going to fight you for a nickel even though they have a dollar in their pocket. There wasn’t a doubt in my mind that the team would come out swinging to start the second half, but could it connect with a punch?
I was not worried about our offense. Just like the Sooners in the above-mentioned 2016 game, the Ole Miss offense can put up points—and put them up in a hurry. Jordan, Scottie, A.J., D.K., DaMarkus, Braylon and the crew will score and score in the time it takes you to blink. Their first-half scoring drives took all of 3:07, :55, 1:04, 1:32, and 2:49 off the clock. I doubted that would change in the second.
I still believed in this Rebels team, though I had a few questions swirling around my head:
Will defensive adjustments be made and will they be effective?
Can we cause a turnover—which would be our first of the season?
Can we just get two stops in a row?
A tale of two halves
As the second half progressed, it appeared my unanswered halftime questions were answered with YES, YES, and YES.
From my vantage point on the sideline, the defense came out in another gear in the second half, but, sadly, not everyone saw this defense as the stadium appeared to be half-empty for the final 30 minutes.
The defense simply made plays when it had to. The unit caused turnovers, made multiple stops and scored its own touchdowns. Where Southern Illinois had scored on all six possessions possession in the first half, the Salukis’ offense instead looked vulnerable in the second half. After intermission, the Ole Miss defense held the SIU drives to the following results: punt, punt, field goal, interception, interception, fumble, and punt.
The invincible Salukis offense of the first half now looked vulnerable. The boys in red never quit–these blue-collar Rebels figured out a way to get the job done in the second half. In fact, the Ole Miss defense outscored the SIU offense, 14-3, over the last 30 minutes of the game.
Ole Miss cruised in the fourth quarter, scoring four touchdowns, and the game ended the way it should have as the Rebels walked away with a resounding victory.
This Ole Miss offense is fun to watch. It is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see a collection of such talent in a collegiate receiving corps. The number of circus catches made by the Nasty Wide Outs is inexplicable, and watching Scottie find seams is exciting. I would never leave early as I would be afraid I would miss beauty that cannot be seen on television.
Single coverage vs AJ Brown
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) September 8, 2018
The defense, even though it has shortcomings, fights every single step of the way. The Rebels’ defense is the underdog—and I love underdogs. I see ya working, fellas, and as long as you don’t quit, I won’t quit watching you get better.
So onward to the next challenge! I look forward to seeing all three phases (offense, defense, special teams) of the Ole Miss Rebels on Saturday night in The Vaught.
Hotty Toddy! Beat Bama!