Ole Miss overcame a lackluster performance against a lackluster opponent on Saturday afternoon to secure a 40-29 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
The Rebel win served as a coming-out party for freshman Rebel running back Jerrion Ealy who accumulated 273 all-purpose yards, which marks a single-game freshman record, and a touchdown. Ealy’s touchdown came on a 94-yard kick return, and, mentally, he was pushing himself to make sure he got to the end zone.
“I was like, ‘You better score,’” Ealy said. “I was tired.”
Although the Rebels never trailed, they struggled to put the FCS Lions away on the day, letting them stay in the contest into the fourth quarter. Despite a shaky showing on both sides of the ball in the first half, Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke was happy to come away with a win in a week preceding an important home matchup with Cal.
“I’m happy to get the win,” Luke said. “We’ve got a lot of young guys in that locker room, and I think they learned a valuable lesson that nothing in life is ever easy. I knew [SELA] would provide some challenges with their speed offensively and defensively, and they did.”
Luke emphasized building on the future of the program and continuing to improve in the coming weeks, putting a product on the field that passes the eye test.
“We need to try to continue to build on the vision of this program,” he said. “You have this vision of what you want it to look like, and [this game] wasn’t what we want.”
The Cal Golden Bears are 3-0 coming into Oxford next week and knocked off nationally-ranked Washington two weeks ago on the road. If the Rebels hope to earn a bowl berth at season’s end, winning a game against Cal would prove valuable before entering SEC play.
The Rebels hope to continue to improve offensively and find a rhythm against a stout Golden Bear defense which gave up just 20 points to Washington on September 7. Cal is coming off a 23-17 win over North Texas on Saturday.
Offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez emphasized that improvement is needed among his young offense but believes all of the problems seen in the game against SELA are fixable.
“There were some things we did pretty well and a lot of things we didn’t do well at all,” Rodriguez said. “It didn’t look like there was anything that’s not correctable.”
Matt Corral had an efficient day going 21-30 through the air for 239 yards and two touchdowns, but he was sacked three times and fumbled twice, one of which was recovered by SELA. The young Rebel offensive line seemed to struggle for much of the game as evidenced by Corral’s two sacks and 11 tackles for loss by the Lion defense. Corral believes his and the team’s problem was not sticking to their style of play.
“I think we were just playing their game and not ours,” Corral said. “It’s not about who we play; it’s about how we play.”
Defensively, the Rebels didn’t look as sharp as they did against Memphis and Arkansas, something defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre credits largely to the speed of the Lion offense. The Lions accumulated 375 yards of offense, 309 of which came through the air.
“I knew they would attack us differently,” MacIntyre said. “Their quarterback on film was very accurate, they had some quick guys, and they made some nice catches.”