The Tigers defeated Ole Miss 15-10 in a defensive battle Saturday to start the season off 1-0.
The early morning game proved eventful for Tiger fans as head coach Mike Norvell earned his first victory against the SEC rival. Norvell said he was thankful to the ‘Tiger Nation’ and all of Memphis for the energy they brought to build the game’s atmosphere.
“I’m so proud of our guys,” Norvell said. “We talked all through the week about doing whatever it takes. Whatever it took, we just wanted to be one point better.”
The Tigers won their sixth-straight season opener and started the 2019 journey victoriously, but the five-point win was the smallest margin of victory of the teams last six home openers. The second was the University of Louisiana-Monroe 37-29 victory in 2017.
Memphis and Ole Miss fought through a highly contested match, and Memphis eluded the Rebels in a defensive masterpiece.
The Memphis defense locked down the end zone and kept the Rebels scoreless for the first 42 minutes of the game. Ole Miss faced a decent Tigers secondary and a solid defensive line. Mississippi managed a meek 42 yards on 26 plays in the first half. The anticipated Rebels rushing attack faltered in the first half by earning negative yardage (-1).
Later in the second half, the Rebels bounced back to form. The Ole Miss offense picked up production quickly in the third quarter and led a great drive, traveling 62 yards that resulted in a field goal. Mississippi then led another drive for 55 yards and got their first touchdown of the game. The Rebels put up 10 unanswered points and were set to receive the ball again.
The Tigers were set to stop another drive with 6:32 remaining in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss held the ball at their two-yard line after a stellar Adam Williams punt. Down three points, Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral took the first snap of the drive and was sacked by Bryce Huff for a safety. Huff ended an outstanding defensive game as he finished with five solo tackles, two for loss and one sack (safety).
The Memphis offense had the entire field to work with and drained six minutes off the clock to end the game 15-10.
The Rebels failed to convert third downs as they went 1-for-10. The Tigers did moderately better by going 6-for-17. Another critical factor in the win was the Tigers’ ability to convert fourth downs by finishing 3-for-5.
The Tigers committed the same number of penalties as Ole Miss had points, 10. Seven of the penalties were on the Tigers’ offense. Memphis offensive lineman Manual Orona-Lopez was called on four false start penalties throughout the game and was later taken off the field after an injury in the fourth quarter. Memphis defensive back La’Andre Thomas was ejected for targeting in the first quarter after hitting Ole Miss wide receiver Elijah Moore. Thomas led the team in tackles (three total, including one sack) after the first quarter despite his ejection from the game.
“We knew that there were going to be some first-game mistakes,” Norvell said. “A lot of mistakes that we have to clean up.”
The Tigers look to continue their momentum Saturday at 11 a.m. in the Liberty Bowl against HBCU opponent, Southern University. The Jaguars ended 2018 with a 7-4 record and a loss in the 2018 SWAC Championship.