Ole Miss surges past surprising Salukis in shootout showdown

Ole Miss surges past surprising Salukis in shootout showdown
Southern Illinois receiver Raphael Leonard caught six passes for 117 yards and two touchdowns against Ole Miss. (photo courtesy of siusalukis.com)

For a half Southern Illinois not only shocked the fans at Vaught Hemmingway Stadium in Oxford, Miss. but throughout college football at large. The Salukis' halftime lead on Ole Miss exploded across social media as well as traditional TV and radio outlets.

While SIU remained in the game through three quarters, the home-standing Rebels blitzed the Salukis with a fourth quarter barrage to post a 76-41 victory by a score more befitting a basketball game.

"I thought the entire week, the way (the players) approached traveling (to Ole Miss) they weren't wowed by the situation," SIU head coach Nick Hill said in the postgame press conference. "They came down here to win a football game. We knew it would take 60 minutes, unfortunately we kind of ran out of gas."

No Missouri Valley Football Conference team has ever beaten an SEC opponent, but on the strength of their offense the Salukis built a 38-35 halftime time.

Southern Illinois scored five touchdowns on its first six possessions of the game, with the sixth drive ending in a field goal. SIU did not punt until their first drive of the second half.

Southern outrushed the Rebels, 241-167. SIU running back D.J. Davis ran for 121 yards, his second-straight 100-yard effort.

"D.J Davis continued to show that he's an elite back," Hill said. "He had some runs that he's breaking tackles on linebackers."

Potential score thwarted

The Salukis (1-1) were marching for a potential game-tying score at the beginning of the fourth quarter when Ole Miss linebacker Vernen Dasher picked off a Sam Straub pass and returned it 88 yards for a touchdown. The pick-six made the score 55-41 and was the first of four unanswered TDs for the Rebels (2-0).

Nearly flawless first half

SIU scored on all six of its first-half possessions. The Salukis had the ball (and the lead) for 25 of the first 30 minutes. Straub threw for four first-half TDs and ran for another, finishing the game with 382 yards passing.

"We turned on the film (of Ole Miss) from last week and felt really good about what they were giving us defensively," Straub said. "There's nothing too big for us as a team. It was kind of a preview of how good we think we can be offensively. We're still just touching the surface."

The teams combined for 73 first-half points. 

Quick striking Rebels

The Ole Miss Rebels needed just five or fewer plays to score five of their  offensive touchdowns.

"They're explosive, they spread the field out, there's running lanes," Hill said. "If you don't every once in a while put two safeties back there, then it's going to be bombs away."

Ole Miss’ senior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu had a career day, torching SIU for 446 passing yards and five touchdown passes while completing 70 percent of his attempts.

“I just felt like we needed to go back out there and keep scoring,” Ta’amu said afterward. “Our defense is going to come in and help us out a little bit, but that’s what (offensive coorindator Phil) Longo kept telling us what just to keep scoring, stay calm, stay collected and just do our job.”

Longo is a former SIU assistant and offensive coordinator.

Ole Miss’ 76 points were the fifth-most in school history and the Rebels' 629 yards were the sixth-most in program history. 

Injury concern

Straub left the game midway through the fourth quarter after he was sacked, fumbled and Ole Miss scored on a 56-yard scoop and score. According to siusalukis.com, the senior quarterback had an ice bag on his left shoulder after the game but said he'd be fine. 

5 Key Stats that Stood Out

3 – SIU turnovers while Ole Miss had none

3 –  Receivers in the game who topped the 100-yard mark (Ole Miss--A.J. Brown, 158 & Braylon Sanders, 133; SIU--Raphael Leonard, 117)

92 – Percentage of red zone conversions the two teams combined for (11-of-12)

93 – Plays that the Salukis ran in the game (Ole Miss had 67)

629 – Yards of total offense in the game, the sixth most in SIU history

What's next?

After consecutive games on the road, SIU returns to Carbondale for its Saturday home opener with rival Southeast Missouri.

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