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The Final Whistle: Ole Miss offense flounders in 15-10 loss to Memphis


NCAA Football: Mississippi at Memphis Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

With “little brother syndrome” in the air, a steamy 87-degree day at the ever-enchanting Liberty Bowl set the scene for the 63rd Mid-South Rivalry between Ole Miss and Memphis.

From the get-go, it was ugly.

On the opening kick, highly touted newcomer Jerrion Ealy took an ill-advised return out of the end zone. He scurried his way to the 25-yard-line, and the Rebel offense took the reigns. Unfortunately, that would be the extent of Ealy’s production on the day.

As new offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez called plays from the booth, the Ole Miss offense laid an egg in the first half.

Anchored by Scottie Phillips, a near-thousand yard rusher in 2018, the run game didn’t gain a yard. In fact, it lost one. Matt Corral, the emotional gunslinger from Southern California, completed just five passes for 43 yards. On third down, the Rebels went 0-for-6.

It was ugly.

At the heart of the offensive woes, was the line. The most inexperienced position group on the field for the Rebels struggled with picking up stunts, getting off of the ball, and traditional pass sets. The backs had no space and Corral had no time.

Wouldn’t it be funny if a former offensive line coach is now the head coach? Oh.

It was ugly.

However, even with the offensive struggles, the Rebels went to the half down just 13-0. While certainly not perfect, the defense did its job.

Memphis opened the scoring late in the first quarter, on the heels of two questionable penalties. Rebel linebacker Sam Williams, making his first college start, appeared to wrap up Memphis receiver Damonte Coxie for a loss of three on third down, but was called for a facemask. On the replay, Williams never makes contact with the head.

Moments later, on third-and-17, Williams pressured Memphis quarterback Brady White and laid a hit as White released the throw. It was inexplicably called roughing the passer, and Memphis would score later in the drive.

Just before halftime, Memphis would string together a seven-play, 37-yard scoring drive.

Outside of the two blemishes, Mike MacIntyre’s defense was consistently tasked with a short field and stepped up. Among those who answered the call was inside linebacker Lakia Henry, who transferred from Dodge City Community College, and seemed to be all-over the field. He recorded five solo tackles in the first half and finished with seven.

The tune began to change out of halftime, and the momentum seemed to shift.

On Memphis’ opening drive, White felt pressure and threw an interception to Benito Jones, the first of his career. Ole Miss could not capitalize on the turnover, but it may have been the boost the Rebels needed.

The offense moved the ball, and finished with 110 yards in the 3rd quarter, resulting in a field goal. The fourth quarter opened with a 55-yard drive, capped off by a Phillips touchdown. With the score 13-10, it appeared as though the Rebels had life.

The proceeding drive saw MacIntyre’s defense step up once again, and Memphis placed a perfect 41-yard punt on the 1-yard-line. Ole Miss needed to go 99-yards to take its first lead of the game.

It did not.

Inconceivably running out of the shotgun against the goal line, Corral took the snap and was immediately swallowed up by the Memphis defensive front. The safety would give the Tigers a 15-10 lead and the ball.

It was ugly.

With three minutes remaining, Memphis gambled on a fourth-and-2, completed a shuffle pass for the first down, and ran out the clock.

Despite a hard-fought defensive performance, Ole Miss would lose 15-10 and fall to 0-1.

It was ugly.