The Ole Miss offense probably didn’t anticipate having to match Southern Illinois score-for-score for the entire first half of Saturday’s 76-41 win, but that was the case and the unit was up to the task.
Jordan Ta’amu threw for 448 yards — the third best single game total in school history — and five touchdowns in what was a close game in the first half, but eventually turned into a rout due to the dynamic play of the offense.
The Rebels scored fast and often. After a game-opening three-and-out, Ole Miss scored touchdowns on five straight possessions. Four of the drives were 75 yards or longer and none of them took more than three minutes and a couple seconds off the clock.
“I thought we produced,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “The best thing about today is that we had to battle every single play on every single drive for four quarters. We had to have good continuity. Jordan Ta’amu had to make good decisions for four quarters and he did that.”
There aren’t many teams that can lineup with Ole Miss on the perimeter and defend the Rebels in the passing game. Southern Illinois certainly was no match. Ta’amu threw over the top of the Saluki defense at will.
“It is part of the game plan,” Longo said. “We are looking for match up advantages.”
A.J. Brown had eight catches for 158 yards and two touchdowns. Braylon Sanders had four catches for 133 yards and a score. D.K. Metcalf caught a touchdown, too.
Sanders earned the start when it was announced Damarkus Lodge had not progressed through concussion protocol and would not play. Sanders made the most of the opportunity and showed just how deep the Rebels are at receiver.
“You are seeing the emergence of Braylon Sanders’ in Lodge’s absence,” Longo said. “He did really good job.”
Ta’amu has targeted Sanders more frequently in the team’s two games this season.
“Braylon is awesome,” Ta’amu said. “All of them in the room have talent. I am ready to give the ball to anyone who steps in. It doesn’t matter who is on the field, I know they are going to catch it and do work.”
Scottie Phillips went over 100 yards on the ground again and totaled 110 yards on 15 carries. He scored twice. Isaiah Woullard also recorded his first career first touchdown. The success of the running game hinged on the play of the offensive line as well as Ta’amu’s decision making in the run-pass option plays.
“He was extremely patient and didn’t get greedy,” Longo said. “He took the four, five or six yard run when it would be easier to take a shot.”
Ole Miss did what it needed to do on offense. It overwhelmed and overmatched opponent and made amends for the Rebels’ defensive inefficiencies in the process. In a way, this game was a script of a typical Ole Miss game. The offense was dynamic and scored enough points to overcome the team’s defensive flaws. The defensive struggles were just more glaring given the opponent.
“We played efficient on offense,” Matt Luke said. “We needed every bit of it.”