Landshark (redacted by Ken Williamson's officiating crew) defense suffocated Tennessee en route to a 34-3 win Saturday night in Oxford. The third-largest crowd in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium history saw the Rebel defense hold Tennessee to zero rushing yards. Tennessee also threw three interceptions, fumbled a kickoff return and suffered seven sacks.
The first half was mostly a defensive struggle, with Ole Miss claiming a 14-3 halftime lead. The Ole Miss defense allowed a 27-yard Aaron Medley field goal, but in the opening half the Rebels intercepted a pair of Justin Worley passes, sacked Worley five times and forced six Tennessee punts
For its part, Tennessee's defense, led by senior linebacker A.J. Johnson and freshman defensive end Derek Barnett, held its own in the first half. It gave Ole Miss' offensive front fits and largely held the Rebels offense in check. On Ole Miss' first 26 plays, the Tennessee defense limited the Rebels to 37 yards. One key to Tennessee's defensive success was limiting Ole Miss' yardage on the first play of drives. For the first seven series of the game, Tennessee limited Ole Miss to gains of five yards or fewer on each opening play of the series.
Ole Miss punted on each of those first seven possessions before the Rebels went on a four-play, 73-yard touchdown drive to take the lead (for good) at 7-3. Senior receiver Vince Sanders got free for a 28-yard reception after a Bo Wallace scramble on third-and-four. The next play, Wallace connected with Sanders for a 39-yard touchdown.
Wallace was held under 200 passing yards for the second consecutive week, and to a completion percentage under 50 percent for the first time since 2012, but again finished with no turnovers. On the season, Wallace has accounted for nine touchdowns in SEC play with zero interceptions.
The second half started with the Volunteers gaining five first downs on their first two possessions, but again, the Ole Miss defense stepped up to limit the damage and ended those drives with a punt and interception. The last interception was Senquez Golson's second of the evening and seventh of the year to give him the FBS lead in interceptions. Ole Miss added another field goal and an Evan Engram touchdown reception immediately following Tennessee's final turnover to take a 24-3 lead through three quarters.
Both teams now face rivalry weeks following different trajectories. Ole Miss travels to Baton Rouge to face LSU in the Magnolia Bowl as the hunted rather than the hunter. After LSU's dominating win over Kentucky, the Bayou Bengals would love nothing more than to spoil Ole Miss' path towards a potential SEC West title, and to move above .500 in SEC play.
Tennessee hosts Alabama next weekend coming off Alabama's blowout win over Texas A&M. The win keeps Alabama alive in the SEC West race, and Tennessee's building process will need to take a major step forward to get the upset. With Worley hurting his shoulder late in the fourth quarter, Tennessee could be doing so even more short handed on offense than they have been so far this season, and that is the last thing the Volunteers need.