By Parrish Alford
AUSTIN, Texas – Ole Miss added its name to a week of Texas drama with a strong second half and a punishing ground game to take a 44-23 win over the Longhorns before 101,474 at Memorial Stadium Saturday.
Jeff Scott rushed for a career-high 164 yards and a touchdown on 19 carries, and his 73-yard punt return in the third quarter gave the No. 25-ranked Rebels a two-touchdown advantage.
They went on to finish strong, as linebacker Mike Marry recovered a fumble by Texas quarterback Case McCoy – playing in place of injured starter David Ash – on the Ole Miss end of the field with the Longhorns (1-2) threatening to halve the lead and make it a game.
The Rebels (3-0) capitalized on the turnover by driving 59 yards to punch it in from the 8 when Jaylen Walton scored off the left side.
Ole Miss, as in the Vanderbilt game, was the stronger team after halftime.
“I think our coaches make good adjustments, and with Paul Jackson and his staff, I think we get stronger as the game goes on, and thirdly, we preach it every day in our program, just don’t blink,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “You have to play the next play. It’s something we live by.”
Bad rush defense
Texas gave up 550 rushing yards in its 40-21 loss at BYU, which sent defensive coordinator Manny Diaz to the unemployment line.
New defensive coordinator Greg Robinson pushed the right buttons after the Rebels’ fast start, and the Longhorns kept the Rebels out of the end zone until the opening drive of the third quarter.
But Ole Miss finished with 272 rushing yards.
Changes were made on defense, too, as Ole Miss did a better job of defending McCoy’s quick swing pass to his receivers.
“We just had to make adjustments at halftime,” said cornerback Mike Hilton, making his second start at the position. “We were told not to give up the big plays. They’re not a team that can drive.”
Scott’s big special teams play capped a third quarter in which Ole Miss reasserted itself. The Rebels also took the second half’s opening kick 80 yards in 12 plays with Bo Wallace scoring on a 15-yard run.
On the next possession, Wallace passed 17 yards to freshman tight end Evan Engram for a touchdown.
Texas had just 100 yards and four first downs after halftime.
McCoy was 11-for-13 in the first half with a touchdown pass and no turnovers, helping his team to a 23-17 lead.
At the whistle
He would have gone to the break with a two-possession advantage had Andrew Ritter not connected on a 52-yard field goal on the last play of the half.
The kick was made possible after a Wallace’s 19-yard pass to Jordan Holder and a 15-yard illegal hit penalty against the Longhorns.
After touchdown drives of 75 and 57 yards before the first quarter reached its mid-way point, Texas stiffened, and Ole Miss didn’t reach the red zone again.
Scott capped the first drive with a 5-yard run, Wallace the second with a 12-yard pass to Donte Moncrief.
After that 14-0 lead, however, the Rebels went three-and-out twice and turned it over with a Wallace fumble at their own 18 leading to a field goal.
The deepest penetration for Ole Miss after the fast start was the Texas 31 where the Rebels turned it over on downs.