Rebel Offense Explodes In 57-35 Win Over Vanderbilt
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
"It was a totally different feeling on the sideline this week," head coach Matt Luke said. "It was just good to see our kids smiling and playing football and see our defense flying around."
The Rebel offense showed its best self in the first half, compiling 35 points behind Shea Patterson's four first-half touchdowns and Jordan Wilkin's 82 yards and a score. The first score of a game was a familiar site as Patterson found A.J. Brown over the middle for a 58 yard touchdown pass.
Two Ralph Webb touchdown runs followed, putting Vanderbilt ahead 14-7 and pushing Ole Miss' back against a proverbial wall yet again. The Rebels responded with 28 unanswered points that plopped them squarely in control of the game. Patterson hit wide open Damarkus Lodge for a 35-yard score on a busted coverage to tie the game at 14. The sophomore quarterback then rushed for a four-yard score to give the Rebels a lead at 21-14. Patterson finished the game 22-35 for 351 yards and four passing touchdowns and five total scores.
"That helps when you have that balance," offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. "I think a back like Jordan, the more you feed him the ball, the better he gets."
The element that carried the heaviest weight in Ole Miss' change of fortunes was undoubtedly the defense. The unit flew towards the football, forced three turnovers and sacked Vanderbilt quarterback seven times, including five in the first half. The team had a total of four sacks on the season coming into the game.
"It was really good to see us get turnovers and give our offense a short field," defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. "I thought it was complementary football today."
Senior defensive end Marquis Gates was near the football on nearly every play. He forced two Shurmer fumbles. One in the first half that resulted in seven points surely after, and another on the opening drive of the second half that resulted in a safety and a quick pop in the mouth to a Vanderbilt team that was barely hanging around in the game.
This was without a doubt Ole Miss' most complete game of the season. For most of the week, players and coaches alike repeatedly pointed to the second half at Auburn being a turning point in the season. If nothing else, it was something positive to build off of and the Rebels parlayed that into Matt Luke's first SEC win as a head coach.
"We talked about building off of the momentum from last week and I don't think it was just words," Luke said. "I think it was tangible, the energy on the sideline was tangible. It carried over to practice and into the sideline this week."
The offense finished drives going 5-5 in the red zone with three touchdowns and two field goals. Patterson made a number of precise throws deep down the field and did not turn the ball over for a second consecutive game.
"We knew we could move the ball early," Patterson said. "Our receivers and offensive linemen were doing a great job and we were moving the ball well. Our emphasis was on finishing drives. Last week we did not do that. We knew we would have to finish drives to put up points and that 14 or 21 points would not be enough to win the game."
"It is always great when we can run the ball," Brown said. "It opens up a lot of things down the field."
A defense that has looked outmatched and overwhelmed at times this year forced turnovers, tackled better and brought a consistently heavy pass rush for the first time all season. A team that needed something to go its way at this point in the season received that and a lot more.
Luke mentioned the team could've folded when things looked dire in the halftime locker room at Auburn, and he challenged them to fight. Ole Miss did just that and it translated to its best six quarters of football of the season and Luke's first SEC win as a head coach.
"They had a chance to quit at halftime last week," Luke said. "They didn't. They got up off of the mat and fought back. I think they liked that feeling. We have built on that and moved forward."
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