The defense looked much improved, but it was more about bend-don’t-break than domination.
Coverage was better in the secondary. Tackling was better, and the Rebels kept the ball in front of them without giving up the big plays as they did so often in 2010. BYU’s longest gain was 26 yards.
Junior college transfers Uriah Grant, Aaron Garbutt and Jamal Mosely had productive debuts, and they to play like veterans quickly.
Quarterback Zack Stoudt got some things done in the passing game and responded well to a role that was no doubt larger than he expected.
Punter Tyler Campbell averaged 56.8 yards on four attempts with a career-long 73-yarder.
Stoudt also had the fumble that BYU’s Kyle Van Noy – who also had the sack – returned 3 yards for the game-winning touchdown.
The Rebels also fumbled inside the BYU 30 in the first quarter and finished minus-1 in turnover margin.
The offensive line was billed as one of the best in the nation, yet the Rebels managed just 64 rushing yards on 29 attempts.
Freshman Nick Brassell dropped Stoudt’s perfectly thrown ball in the end zone after beating the BYU secondary with room to spare. The drive ended with a field goal, but the four extra points a TD would have provided loomed large in a one-point loss.
Keys To Victory
Evaluating the keys to victory in Thursday’s GameDay section.
Put the hurt on Heaps: There was not enough pressure on BYU quarterback Jake Heaps. The Cougars coaching staff negated a lot of that with three-step drops, and Heaps’ poise at the position made it harder to get to him as well.
The Rebels were able to pressure him at times with different blitz packages, but not enough rush came from the front four.
Heaps was sacked once, by Marcus Temple on a corner blitz, and pressures were credited to Aaron Garbutt, the Spur, and cornerback Wesley Pendleton.
Take care of the football: Again, the Rebels come up on the bad end of turnover margin statistic, giving it up twice and taking it away just once.
Start quickly: Didn’t happen. The Rebels’ first four drives ended in a fumble and three punts. Ole Miss also didn’t start quickly in the second half when it went three-and-out with the opening kick.
Stoudt’s entry created a little momentum, and the Rebels’ best drives came with their pocket passer at quarterback, but those drives ended with field goals, not touchdowns.
Safety Charles Sawyer had seven tackles and returned an interception 96 yards for the Rebels’ only touchdown.
The defense played well enough to win the game, but the offense wasn’t there. There were times last year the offense could say the same thing.
When the Rebels get more consistent on both sides they’ll win games like they did in 2008 and 2009.