MEMPHIS • Two new coordinators, both former Power Five Conference head coaches, got mixed results Saturday as Ole Miss opened the season with a 15-10 loss at Memphis.
The Rebels got a solid effort defensively against a Tigers team that averaged 42.9 points in 2018 and returned key playmakers at the skill positions.
Junior college transfer linebacker Lakia Henry was one of three players with a team-best seven tackles, and defensive linemen Josiah Coatney and Benito Jones had a sack and an interception respectively, but Memphis was able to take ball possession with 6 minutes, 21 seconds left and run out the clock.
The Memphis fans in a Liberty Bowl Memorial Stadium crowd of 44,107 breathed a sigh of relief when running back Kenneth Gainwell gained 4 yards with a shovel pass on fourth-and-2 from the Ole Miss 47 right after Rebels coach Matt Luke had called his last timeout.
“For the whole game we looked like a much-improved defense,” Luke said. “We’ve got to do a lot of growing up offensively.”
It’s the sixth-straight loss for the Rebels, who haven’t won since Week 7 last year at Arkansas. The Razorbacks visit Vaught-Hemingway Stadium on Saturday in the SEC opener for both teams.
Ole Miss did not score fewer than 38 points in any non-conference game last year but struggled from the get-go against a Memphis team that ranked No. 94 nationally in scoring defense a year ago.
The Rebels (0-1) went three-and-out on their first three possessions, and the run-based spread option of offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez had minus-1 yard rushing at the break. The deepest penetration for Ole Miss in the first half was the Memphis 31 on a drive that ended with a missed 50-yard field goal attempt.
Things improved in the second half with more power runs including two-tight end sets at times. Ole Miss running back Scottie Phillips finished with 62 yards on 19 carries.
Luke Logan got the Rebels on the board with a 35-yard field goal with 3:11 left in the third quarter. The Rebels’ only touchdown of the day came on a Phillips 1-yard run to cap a 10-play, 55-yard drive.
Memphis took a 7-0 lead with 5:23 left in the first when quarterback Brady White sneaked over from the 1, capping a 74-yard drive that included two 15-yard penalties against Ole Miss outside linebacker Sam Williams.
The Tigers (1-0) made it 13-0 on Patrick Taylor’s 1-yard run 40 seconds before halftime, capping a 37-yard drive.
Ole Miss redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral was sacked three times, pressured others and finished 9-for-19 passing with an interception. He had a 15-yard run but did not otherwise make a huge impact in the run game.
“We had missed blocks, I had a missed read. It was execution. It all comes together and makes the outcome look like that.”
Through the struggle the Rebels put together 10-straight points after trailing 13-0, and the defense forced a punt, giving Ole Miss the chance to drive to tie or lead. But that punt was downed at the 1, and Corral was sacked on the first play. Defensive end Bryce Huff brought pressure from the edge, and mix-up between the tight end and tackle left Corral vulnerable, Luke said.
The Rebels, down 15-10, kicked to Memphis and never saw the ball again.
Ole Miss finished with 80 rushing yards and 173 yards of total offense.
“I didn’t do a good job. I thought our guys worked really hard and prepared hard, but there were a lot of mistakes, a lot of things that we can get correct,” Rodriguez said. “Obviously there’s some inexperience, but we can play better than this. You have to give Memphis credit, but we have a lot of work to do.”