Ole Miss special teams shine in win over Central Arkansas
OXFORD, Miss. – In Saturday’s 59-3 win over Central Arkansas, the Ole Miss special teams were, well, special.
That is something Rebels’ head coach Lane Kiffin had wanted heading into the second game of the season.
“It was great to see; I didn’t think we played well in week one, didn’t think we played with the energy and effort that we wanted to,” Kiffin said after the game.
“They really responded, and it was great to see. When you have new quarterbacks, when you lose a great quarterback like we have, everybody has got to play well all around. That’s not just offensive players, that’s defense and special teams. It’s going to be harder as we go on the road. We need to be able to run the ball, play defense, and play special teams.”
Head coach Lane Kiffin
Kicker Jonathan Cruz was perfect with six conversions, and he hit his only field goal attempt, a 41-yarder as time expired in the first half.
But it was the punt return team that turned in two of the biggest plays early in the game.
After Central Arkansas was stopped on its initial drive, the Bears were forced to punt. With rain falling at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium during the first quarter, the snap went through the punter’s hands and before he could retrieve the ball, a host of Rebels were on the scene. One of them, Ladarius Tennison, scooped up the football and raced 25 yards for a touchdown.
Some players would have just fallen on the football, but that thought never entered Tennison’s mind.
“Naw, I knew I had green grass (ahead of me). I waited for the guy to try to push the kicker out of the way so I just knew to scoop and score.”
Ladarius Tennison on his special teams TD
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) September 10, 2022
The next punt attempt did not go much better for Central Arkansas. This time Bobo Miller broke through the left side of the Bears’ line, and he blocked the kick which squirted out of bounds at the UCA four.
Ole Miss did not block a punt last year. In fact, Miller’s block was the first in the Lane Kiffin era for the Rebs. The last time Ole Miss blocked a punt was in 2019.
The Rebels also played well in the return games. Ole Miss averaged 14.5 yards on punt returns and 19 yards on two kickoff returns. Dayton Wade led the way with a 30-yard kickoff return.
Tennison believes Ole Miss has the plan to keep up the special teams’ success.
“Just basically having energy on the sidelines,” Tennison said. “And just everybody being locked in on special teams.”
Ole Miss looks to keep the special teams a part of its gameplan when it travels to Georgia Tech Saturday. Kickoff is at 2:30 p.m. The game can be seen on ABC.
(Feature image credit: Kiana Dale, Ole Miss Athletics)
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.