By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
OXFORD – A year ago, the Ole Miss defense collapsed in the second half of its season opener and an embarrassing loss to FCS foe Jacksonville State followed.
Saturday against an opponent with a national profile, the defense put Ole Miss in position to win – but never got a chance to close the deal – in a 14-13 season opening loss to Brigham Young.
On third-and-28 from its own 20, BYU linebacker Kyle Van Noy beat Rebels tight end Ferbia Allen, hit and forced a fumble from quarterback Zack Stoudt, then recovered and ran 3 yards for the winning touchdown.
A Vaught-Hemingway Stadium crowd of 55,127 saw an improved Ole Miss product defensively but a result far too similar to 2010.
Offensively, the Rebels never got their run game going, and each of their top three running backs left the game with injury. Brandon Bolden and Enrique Davis did not return, and Bolden could have a fractured ankle, Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt said.
The defense pitched a shutout for three quarters, and Ole Miss led by 13 with less than 10 minutes left, but Noy’s trip to the backfield changed things.
“We were in max protection, and the tight end got beat one-on-one,” Nutt said. “That can’t happen.”
The Rebels (0-1) were trying to answer after BYU quarterback Jake Heaps got the Cougars (1-0) on the board with a 19-yard touchdown pass to Ross Apo with 9 minutes, 52 seconds to play.
Ole Miss had reached the 38 but was driven back by holding and block in the back penalties.
After the fumble return put BYU in the lead, the Rebels turned the ball over on downs near mid-field.
The Rebels’ defense followed suit, but time was running out. Ole Miss got the ball back with 39.6 seconds left, but got no where near field goal range.
Heaps’ touchdown pass was the only offensive touchdown of the game.
The Rebels managed just 208 yards of offense, just 64 on the ground on 29 attempts.
Bryson Rose kicked field goals of 20 and 29 yards, and the Rebels’ only touchdown came courtesy of the defense.
Heaps had BYU on the move, but the Rebels gave him a different look in coverage, and safety Charles Sawyer drifted to the middle of the field for the interception and returned it 96 yards for a touchdown. Rose’s PAT put Ole Miss up 10-0 with 8:34 left in the third.
“I didn’t know the interception was going to happen, but I knew a good play was going to happen, because we disguised it so well,” Sawyer said.
Heaps, a sophomore, passed for 2,316 yards and 15 touchdowns as a true freshman starter last year, a difficult assignment for an Ole Miss secondary that was 12th and last in the SEC – and 109th in the nation – in pass defense efficiency.
Heaps finished 24 for 38 for 225 yards, largely throwing underneath. He was 11-for-22 for 74 yards at halftime.
Heaps’ longest completion was for 26 yards.
“We came out with a chip on our shoulder. Last year it was all about, it was the secondary’s fault. Not the team, not the offense, not the D line and linebackers, it was the secondary’s fault,” said Wesley Pendleton, a junior college transfer and new starter.
BYU finished with 91 rushing yards, 316 yards total.
Ole Miss defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix called the secondary the most improved part of the defense.
“We were much better, but we didn’t get the job done,” he said. “The bottom line is we have to hold opponents to fewer points, and we did not do that today.”
Photo Slide Show – Ole Miss loses to BYU