By Kedrick Storey/Southern Sentinel
The old football saying is that college football teams make their most improvement between Game 1 and Game 2. The Ole Miss Rebel defense can head to the front of the line with that claim.
Although a few questions remain about the Rebels’ pass defense – they allowed 274 yards in their 28-10 win over UTEP – their overall play, and in particular their run defense, was much better against UTEP than the first half of their season opener against Central Arkansas.
“We knew we came out flat last week,” said defensive tackle Gilbert Pena. “We knew had to come out and jump on top of this team and make some things happen.
The Rebels set the tone from the beginning, stuffing UTEP’s first two runs of the game. They allowed 46 net rushing yards in the first half. They improved in the second, as the Miners finished with just 37 yards on 30 attempts.
Leading 7-0 after the first quarter, the Rebels had two key goal line stands to spark two more scoring drives.
Late in the first quarter, the Miners started at the Rebel 42-yard line and drove to the Ole Miss 7-yard line.
From there, the Rebels stopped three consecutive runs, then on fourth-and-goal from the 1-yard line, UTEP QB Nick Lamaison faked a handoff and ran right where he was met by Ralph Williams first and Pena second for a 2-yard loss.
“We were saying we’re not going to let them score and we got to be strong in here,” said Pena. “I think as a defense that fourth-and-goal showed a lot of our character because we executed the way we were supposed to.”
The Ole Miss offense marched 97 yards for a score and a 14-0 lead.
On their next possession, the Miners drove to the Rebels’ 12 before another big stop by the defense. Cody Prewitt, who had seven tackles and a sack in the first half, stepped in front of a Carson Meger pass in the end zone and returned it to the Ole Miss 16.
The Rebels went 84 yards for their final score of the half.
“We just played as a defense and played as a team,” said cornerback Charles Sawyer. “We gang-tackled and used our eyes like coach told us, too.”
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