By Parrish Alford/NEMS Daily Journal
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NEW ORLEANS – Neither a negative vibe from a 35-point loss or an emotional lift from a fallen teammate was evident at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on Saturday morning.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t issues for Ole Miss.
Everything in the Big Easy was easy early on as the Rebels put up 183 yards and 26 points in the first quarter en route to a 39-0 win before a mostly-Ole Miss crowd of 28,913.
It was the Rebels’ first shutout since winning 45-0 against Mississippi State in 2008. After losing 66-31 at home to Texas last week, Ole Miss responded with a fast, focused, dominant start.
Tulane, with an open date last week, was playing its first home game since a spine injury to senior safety Devon Walker, who the Green Wave honored by wearing white T-shirts with Walker’s No. 18.
Green Wave first-year coach Curtis Johnson took a cue from Texas and challenged the Ole Miss secondary with a deep ball on the first play after the opening kick.
It went for 32 yards, one of few positive plays for Tulane.
“Any time you shut out someone at the Division I level – because everybody’s got playmakers – you’ve had a good afternoon,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said.
On the not-so-good side fumbles were again a problem, the Rebels losing the handle six times and losing possession three times.
Those problems took a while to show up.
After the Green Wave (0-3) punted from the Ole Miss end of the field, the Rebels (3-1) went on to score on a 13-yard run by Jeff Scott, a 14-yard reverse by receiver Ja-Mes Logan, a 28-yard run by Randall Mackey and a 23-yard pass from Bo Wallace to Donte Moncrief.
The Rebels’ dominance waned in the second quarter as Tulane held the ball for 10 minutes, 20 seconds. Tulane moved from the Ole Miss 23 to the 2 then but was stopped on fourth-and-goal when freshman quarterback Devin Powell passed incomplete under pressure.
Though the Rebels finished with 450 yards and played a lot of reserves late, they had just 60 yards of offense in the second quarter when the game was still in question, albeit loosely.
Ole Miss finished on the plus side of turnover margin by picking off Powell three times. One of those came by backup safety Chief Brown in the end zone in the final minute to preserve the shutout. Tulane also lost one fumble, giving it four turnovers to the Rebels’ three.
Ole Miss quarterback Bo Wallace didn’t throw an interception – after throwing three against Texas – but fumbled twice. Randall Mackey joined the fumble parade, his second of the year.
Wallace finished 7 for 16 passing, his first game to complete less than 50 percent. He injured his throwing shoulder early in the game and had it wrapped afterward. Freeze said he did not feel the injury was significant.
Wallace’s struggles led to playing time for Barry Brunetti, who led drives that resulted in 10 points in the second half. Brunetti also had a fumble.
“I wouldn’t say it’s a mental thing. We’ve just got to hold it tight. A couple of times they ripped it out, and a couple of times it fell out on our own. That’s on us,” Brunetti said. “We’ve got to hold it tight and protect the football more.”
On the other side of the ball there was relief from defensive coordinator Dave Wommack seven days after the Rebels gave up 66 points and almost 700 yards to the Longhorns.
Tulane had 159 total yards, 14 on the ground. Dehendret Collins and Denzel Nkemdiche also had interceptions, Collins laying out for his with an impressive diving catch. The Rebels sacked Powell three times.
“The twos had a few issues out there, some penalties, but we needed to bounce back,” Wommack said. “I was proud of our kids for what they did today.”