MEMPHIS – The tumble from the elite continues for Ole Miss.
Since winning 43-37 at then-No. 2 Alabama, the Rebels struggled in a home win against Vanderbilt, and were blown out at Florida. Now a 37-24 loss to Memphis has them looking for answers on defense and questioning their drive.
“Memphis came out to play. They out-physicaled us. They played harder than us. They wanted to win more than us. We just got to check ourselves. A lot of people on our team, we don’t have our heart into it,” senior safety Trae Elston said.
The Rebels also lost All-American defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche to a concussion when he carried the ball on third-and-1 in the red zone.
For Ole Miss, a day that ended so badly started out with everything going right.
Laquon Treadwell and Quincy Adeboyejo connected on a 68-yard touchdown off a double pass, and soon thereafter Chad Kelly passed 23 yards to Damore’ea Stringfellow for another score.
Ole Miss was up 14-0 in the first quarter, but Memphis scored 31 unanswered points, a string finally broken when Kelly passed 6 yards to Treadwell with 6 minutes, 59 seconds left in the third quarter.
That left the Rebels a touchdown back. They had a chance to drive for a tying touchdown but went three-and-out. Memphis responded with a 42-yard field goal to regain a 10-point advantage with under 10 minutes to play.
Once momentum began slipping away Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze used two aggressive play calls to try and get it back.
The Rebels twice failed on fourth-and-1 conversion attempts in the second quarter, once trying to add to their lead, another trying to stem the growing Memphis momentum.
Neither were successful.
The second came from the Ole Miss 34 with the Rebels trailing 17-14 in the final minutes of the first half.
Freeze attempted a fourth down from his own 34 but couldn’t gain less than a yard with Kelly sneaking from under center on a quick count.
The Tigers scored 34 seconds before halftime, with Lynch passing 6 yards to Anthony Miller.
Freeze accepted a third-down holding against Memphis during the drive when the Tigers appeared to be short.
The first failed fourth down came earlier in the second quarter after Ole Miss couldn’t gain a yard on third down from the 10 with Nkemdiche. Then on fourth down, Memphis nickel back Jackson Dillon was scarcely touched by Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram before dropping Jordan Wilkins in the backfield.
“That wasn’t a good decision. You got about half a foot (to go), and I was thinking we really needed to change this momentum and get some points,” Freeze said. “The one going in, I felt good about the call. They made a great play.”
Memphis opened the third quarter by driving 82 yards in 10 plays to score on Lynch’s 31-yard pass to Mose Frazier to go up 17 points at 31-14.
Freeze is struggling to come up with answers as to why the Rebels haven’t capitalized on momentum from the Alabama game.
“I don’t know. Injuries have hurt us, but that’s not the reason we didn’t play. I’ve got to coach them better, and we’ve got to have leadership in the locker room,” he said. “And we’ve got to do something to convert (third downs) and get off the field on third downs.”