OXFORD (Ole Miss Athletics) – Gosh almighty, that defense is good.
As it has done all season, the No. 3 Ole Miss football team displayed an impressive performance en route to a victory, and as has been the case throughout the year, it was the Rebels’ famed “Landshark” defense that shined brightest. Holding the visiting Tennessee Volunteers to zero yards rushing, Ole Miss cruised to a 34-3 victory and improved to 7-0 on the year and 4-0 in the Southeastern Conference.
“I’m really proud of a lot of things tonight. There are also a lot of things that will most certainly keep us grounded,” Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze said. “We need to work on some things to be more efficient and get better. We’re a team that plays to our strengths until we get the right opening. We’re playing so well right now. We held them to zero rushing yards. Our punt and coverage unit is playing so solid.
“The entire first half felt like we were constantly backed up. We certainly didn’t want to do anything that would give them any momentum. Part of the credit goes to them, for sure. They have three guys who could go in the first round of the NFL Draft on the defensive side. They kept us in third and long. They were tough for us to handle in some one-on-one situations. We found some things right before the half and were able to get more efficient rushing the ball. Offensively, we didn’t turn the ball over. That’s huge in league games. Hopefully that trend will continue.”
Playing in front of the third-largest crowd in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium’s history (62,081), Ole Miss forced four turnovers and a turnover on downs. As a unit, the Rebels now have 15 interceptions on the year, which leads the country, and the Ole Miss defense has forced a turnover in 30 straight games, which is the second longest active streak among FBS schools.
Individually, cornerback Senquez Golson continued his fantastic senior campaign by picking off two passes, giving him seven on the year, which is tied for the fourth most in a season in program history. Similarly, defensive end Marquis Haynes continued his fantastic freshman campaign with 2.5 sacks and a fumble recovery.
With the defense playing as well as it is, Freeze said it has allowed them to be a bit more conservative with their offensive play calling so as to not give the opposition a shorter field with a turnover.
“You can tell from our play calling that we’re comfortable as long as the defense is playing like they are,” Freeze said. “We’re very cautious at times. You have to figure if we can score 17-20 points then we have a chance to win a lot of games with the way we’re playing.”
Senior quarterback Bo Wallace threw for 199 yards, two touchdowns and no turnovers. Wallace still has yet to turn the ball over in conference play, while throwing seven touchdowns and running in another two.
Junior running back Jaylen Walton led Ole Miss on the ground with 60 yards and one touchdown, while senior wide receiver Vince Sanders paced the Rebels through the air with 108 yards receiving and one touchdown. It was the second 100-yard performance for Sanders this season.
The Ole Miss defense came out firing on all cylinders, and as it has now done six times in the opening seven games of the year, the Rebels shut out the opposing offense in the first quarter.
Tennessee would get on the board first, kicking a 27-yard field goal with 12:40 remaining in the second quarter, but would only cross midfield on two other possessions for the remainder of the game as Ole Miss scored 34 unanswered points.
Sanders opened the scoring for the Rebels with a 39-yard reception down the sideline after he slipped behind the Volunteer cornerback. Walton then scampered in from 7 yards out with 1:51 remaining in the half, and Ole Miss led 14-3 at the break.
After a battle of field position to open the third quarter, freshman kicker Gary Wunderlich hit a 34-yard field goal. Ole Miss then broke the game open on the ensuing kickoff when freshman linebacker DeMarquis Gates forced a fumble and Haynes recovered it. One play later, Wallace found sophomore tight end Evan Engram for a 28-yard touchdown, his first score of the year.
Ole Miss would go on to score 10 more points in the fourth quarter for the 34-3 victory. The Rebels outgained Tennessee 383-191, and held the Vols to a season-low three points, despite Tennessee entering Saturday’s game averaging 28.0 points per game.
The Rebels will now hit the road for a rivalry game at LSU on Oct. 25. The game will kick off at 6:15 p.m. CT.