MEMPHIS- It does not take a rocket scientist to see that the trends of the past few seasons to expect a shootout between Ole Miss and Memphis. With two defenses ranked worse than 90th in the FBS last season and two offenses that rivaled the best in the SEC and American, respectively, a defensive struggle seemed almost unfathomable, especially in week one. However, that is exactly what took place on a scorching day at the Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium as the Tigers outlasted a late comeback attempt from the Rebels to prevail 15-10.
After a back-and-forth first ten minutes, Memphis proceeded to strike first as quarterback Brady White snuck in from the one-yard line to give the Tigers a 7-0 lead. However, the drive was controversial, as newcomer Sam Williams was called for a questionable roughing the passer was called on a failed third-down conversion attempt to give Memphis a fresh set of downs.
With the offense giving a seemingly improved Ole Miss defense no support, the Tigers extended the first half lead right before the first half ended on a Patrick Taylor Jr. run from one yard out to make the halftime lead 13-0 after a missed PAT. Ole Miss could only manage forty offensive yards in the opening half, including a rushing total of negative one yard.
The third quarter began with Memphis once again driving on a gassed Ole Miss defense, which came up with the momentum-sparking play needed with an interception by lineman Benito Jones. After a couple more drives, the Rebels finally got on the scoreboard for the first time with a 35-yard field goal by Luke Logan to cut the Tigers’ lead to 13-3.
At the beginning of the fourth quarter, Ole Miss finished off a ten-play, 55-yard drive with a one yard touchdown run by Scottie Phillips to make the score 13-10. With the defense getting a huge stop on the next drive, the offense would have a chance to tie or take the lead for the first time all game.
However, on the first play from their own two-yard line, Matt Corral would be sacked in the end zone for a safety to make the Memphis lead 15-10. With the game on the line, an overused Rebel defense seemed too tired to get a needed stop and Memphis defended home field with an enormous 15-10 win over their hated rival.
For Memphis, the defense and offense did exactly what was necessary. The defensive unit held the Rebels to one-for-ten on third-down conversions and allowed only 52 plays. The offense was not flashy by any means, but they ran 82 plays and held the ball for almost two-thirds of the game, tiring out a defense that could get no support.
Ole Miss seems to have a vastly improved defense under Mike MacIntyre as defensive coordinator. While they did allow 364 yards, they constantly did not break despite bending while also only allowing the Tigers to convert six of seventeen third-downs. Rich Rodriguez will need a much better performance in week two to inspire confidence, with only 2.4 yards per carry and poor play calling with Corral only passing the ball nineteen times for 93 yards and an interception.
Memphis starts 1-0 on the 2019 season with a home bout against Southern next Saturday.
Ole Miss moves straight into conference play 0-1 with Arkansas coming to Oxford in the first home game of the season.