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Ole Miss vs. Memphis: Lessons from the Liberty Bowl

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Ole Miss returns to the Liberty Bowl for the first time since 2009. Now that we're not as familiar with Memphis, what can we recall from previous trips to prepare us for Saturday?

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

This week, Ole Miss has a chance to restore some of its pre-Florida smell good, as the Rebs are playing a Memphis team that is a much more talented and dangerous opponent than the Las Cruces version of the Aggies. In fact, since Ole Miss played Memphis last year, the Tigers have lost only once, brawled with BYU, and are currently on a 12-game winning streak.

All of that means that if the Rebels properly dispose of Memphis, we can get back to being obnoxiously excited here and everywhere else that ends in dot com. However, because Memphis has some punching power, Saturday's game won't be as easy as a David Cutcliffe Ole Miss team rolling into the Liberty Bowl and walking out wi... wait, terrible example.

(brief timeout to shake fist at the sky and scream, "CUUUUTTTCLIFFFFFFE")

Anyway, as mentioned above, this is Ole Miss' first trip to the Liberty Bowl in six years, so the familiarity with the place isn't what it once was. In the 2000s, the Rebels made four trips to the stadium near Central BBQ, with three of those trips taking place from 2005 to 2009 (no idea if the team ate at Central after those games, but they should have; FACT: I will eat, and may have eaten, Central BBQ off the floor).

To prepare ourselves for what to expect when Ole Miss takes the Liberty Bowl field at the not-football hour of 11 a.m., we need to review those previous experiences from the recent past. That's why were gonna take a look at the 2005, 2007, and 2009 games in this space because the last thing you want to do is walk blindly into a sea of turnovers, defensive mistakes, and occupied seats that are normally empty.

(Note: We won't be looking at the 2003 game because I used up my allotment of REAL MAD for the month of October during the Florida game.)

Before we get to the game reviews, let's remember that there are two certainties when Ole Miss and Memphis play in the Liberty Bowl. One, it will be soul-searing hot. Like no-amount-of-hydration-can-prevent-your-dehydration hot. The kind of hot that you don't care what you do after the game, as long as it involves sitting somewhere with maximum A/C.

I attended the 1999 game (a 3-0 THRILLER), which is the hottest game I've ever been to, and it actually got hotter once the sun went down. Granted, that may have had something to do with the crushing weight of the rising humidity and the realization that perhaps Ole Miss made a poor coaching hire in David Cutcliffe, but still, VERY, VERY HOT.

The second certainty is that Memphis understands a money-making opportunity, and a ticket to the Ole Miss game will cost at least 30 percent as much as a season ticket to Memphis football. Take a look at the 2015 ticket prices.


(via gotigersgo.com)

If you run the maths on those numbers, you see that a single game Ole Miss ticket costs as much as the following percentages of a Memphis season ticket:

  • Box Seats: 33.3%
  • Lower Sideline: 37.5%
  • End zone/Upper Sideline: 56.1%
  • Family Fun Zone ($74.75/ticket): 33.4%

End zone/Upper Sideline people, for just $39 more, you can still see Tulane, Navy, and SMU this year!

Alright, now that we've covered the certainties, let's move on to the 2005, 2007, and 2009 games to give us an idea of things that might happen.

2005

Ed Orgeron's first game at Ole Miss! I don't know about you, but I remember where I was when I watched this bit of magic take place. I was watching I HAVE NO IDEA WHERE I WAS, I JUST THANK THE GOOD LORD ABOVE FOR MAKING ME #BLESSED AND NOT AT THE GAME.

If you recall, though you probably shouldn't, Ole Miss took a 10-6 lead on a third-quarter touchdown scramble by Micheal Spurlock on a fourth down. After Spurlock scored with 5:45 to play in the third, here are the game's remaining possessions by both teams:

  • Memphis: 6 plays, 24 yards, punt
  • Ole Miss: 6 plays, 18 yards, punt
  • Memphis: 3 plays, 2 yards, punt
  • Ole Miss: 3 plays, -1 yard, punt
  • Memphis: 8 plays, 24 yards, punt
  • Ole Miss: 6 plays, 22 yards, punt
  • Memphis: 6 plays, 35 yards, fumble
  • Ole Miss: 3 plays, -10 yards, punt
  • Memphis: 11 plays, 44 yards, interception

That's seven punts, two turnovers, and zero points in just over 20 minutes of exciting football action. You would not be surprised to remember that Ole Miss went 3-8 that year, but you would be surprised to learn that Memphis went 7-5 that year.

In review, the 2005 game gave us almost no offense, many punts, five total turnovers, and one damaged truck that pulled the live tiger mascot around.

2007

Say what you will about Ed Orgeron, and there are MANY things for you to say, but the man knew how to beat Memphis. In his three years at Ole Miss, Orgeron was a perfect 3-0 against the Tigers, which accounted for 30% of his career wins as the Rebels' head coach.

In 2007, once again, Orgeron relied not on his offense (GOOD CALL), but on Memphis' ability to screw up just when Ole Miss really needed it. Memphis turned it over five times, allowed an interception return for a touchdown, had a punt blocked that was recovered for a touchdown, and threw an interception on a two-point attempt to tie at the end of the game.

It was such a disaster for Memphis that Ole Miss scored one offensive touchdown, gained 275 yards, missed an extra point, missed a field goal, lost three fumbles, and still won. Again, you would not be surprised to remember that Ole Miss went 3-9, but reasonably assume turnovers are a good reason why Memphis went 7-6 that year.

In review, the 2007 game gave us almost no offense from Ole Miss, eight total turnovers, two missed field goals, the realization that Brent Schaeffer and Coach O's USC offense were definitely not a match, and wide receiver Greg Hardy could be a thing.

2009

Finally, the Houston Nutt-Tommy West battle to the death that college football had wanted for years. It went according to script too, with both steams staggering around for three quarters before Ole Miss, the much more talented team, blew open the game in the fourth and went on to win 45-14.

Let's look at some video of that day's pre-game action!

It was TURNT before we even knew TURNT was a thing. More importantly, a white-haired, ponytail-wearing man showed up in a Jeff Hostetler Raiders jersey to drink beer, sweat, and watch mediocre-at-best football.

Easily the MVP of that day.

Getting back on track, based on the way Ole Miss finished the 2008 season, many fans believed we had a good shot at making a run at the 2009 SEC West title (I WAS FOOLISHLY ONE OF THEM). We all knew such a run depended on what we did a few weeks after the Memphis game on a Thursday night in Columbia, South Carolina.

If we won that one, maybe it's the springboard to a really good season. Lose it, and we could still have a nice season, but one that was well below expectations.

So while watching the 2009 Memphis game, alarms started to sound. Jevan Snead wasn't very sharp (12-22), looked terribly rushed or confused, and threw two interceptions against what would be a 2-10 Memphis team.

But, hey, first game of the year! Gotta knock some of that rust off, you know. Surely these tiny, tiny alarms wouldn't be a sign of much larger, more horrible things to come, right?

BUT OF COURSE. NEVER HAVE EXPECTATIONS.

In review, the 2009 game gave us three quarters of incompetence, six total turnovers, alarms we (I) chose to ignore, and the one and only successful all-Enricky drive:

So now that we've reviewed and gathered information from these last three visits to the Liberty Bowl, we have a reasonable idea of what to expect. These can't be guaranteed because the competency of both head coaches has increased, to put it mildly, exponentially to the exponential power of exponential infinity, but we should all probably be on the lookout for:

  • Turnovers
  • Periods of offensive failure
  • Periods of wailing and gnashing of teeth
  • Special teams disasters (including fights)
  • Random players accomplishing good things
  • General unrest until the game is over
  • A wish that we would never play this game again

Combined with the two constants we covered earlier, this is shaping up to be a game tha-

THINGS FALL APART; THE CENTRE CANNOT HOLD;
MERE ANARCHY IS LOOSED UPON THE WORLD