Two of the most prolific offenses in college football's still-young season resorted to trading defensive punches Saturday night in Oxford. Not until Jaylen Walton dashed 23 yards for a touchdown midway through the fourth quarter did the 10th-ranked Ole Miss Rebels take control of a game long anticipated by two fan bases. Tiger quarterback Paxton Lynch fumbled as he was sacked on the previous play from scrimmage, the most costly of two Memphis turnovers on the night.
When Rebel quarterback Bo Wallace connected with LaQuon Treadwell for a 63-yard touchdown pass three minutes after the opening kickoff, the game appeared headed in the direction typical of recent Tiger clashes with members of the SEC. But the only other points scored before the fourth quarter would be on a 40-yard field goal by Memphis kicker Jake Elliott with 2:51 left in the first period.
Ole Miss turned the ball over four times (Memphis cornerback Bobby McCain grabbed the 9th and 10th interceptions of his college career), had a 71-yard touchdown run nullified by a holding penalty, and saw two field-goal attempts by Andrew Fletcher miss the mark. But the Rebels' stellar defense held the Tigers to 103 yards of offense and forced 10 punts to secure the program's first 4-0 start since 1970. The victory is the sixth straight for Ole Miss over Memphis, though the programs hadn't faced each other since 2009. The Rebels had 27 first downs compared with only 13 for Memphis.
The individual numbers for Memphis were the ugliest they've been this season. Lynch completed only 13 of 31 passes for 81 yards and an interception (on a ball juggled by Tiger receiver Joe Craig). Freshman Jarvis Cooper led the Tiger ground attack with merely 29 yards on seven carries. Wallace connected on 22 of 37 passes (250 yards) for the Rebels, including a pair of touchdown tosses (another 17-yarder to Treadwell late in the fourth quarter after the game had been decided). Walton rushed for 78 yards on 10 carries.
The loss is the 26th in 28 games against SEC competition since the Tigers upset Tennessee in November 1996.
Memphis falls to 2-2 and will open American Athletic Conference play next Saturday at Cincinnati.