OXFORD, Miss. (WCBI Sports/Ole Miss Athletics) - Playing in front of a sellout crowd of 60,815 in its home opener Saturday evening, the Ole Miss football team (2-0) raced out to a 31-0 lead by halftime, and cruised to a 31-13 victory over Southeast Missouri (0-2) at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
Junior quarterback Bo Wallace passed for 188 yards and two touchdowns in the first half and rested in the second half as senior quarterback Barry Brunetti took over. In his place, Brunetti rushed for a career-high 111 yards, including a four-yard scamper up the middle with 3:06 to play in the first quarter, giving the Rebels a 10-0 lead. Brunetti’s touchdown rush was his third of the season, matching his season total from a year ago.
While Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze was pleased with his team’s victory Saturday, he also wished the Rebels had finished a bit stronger in the second half.
“We’re happy to be 2-0, come out of the game healthy, and get a lot of kids in the game,” Freeze said. “Those kids give a lot of effort practicing and preparing, and some playing time is good. At the same time, I’m disappointed in the passion we played with in the second half. With the stretch of games we have coming up, that will not get it done. We are going to need those second- and third-string players before it’s all over. We have to expect more of ourselves and finish stronger. If we want to go to the next level, we have to start playing better for the entire game. We can do special things and shock some people, but we have to learn to play better with the lead as well as when behind.”
Starting in place of injured preseason All-SEC linebacker Denzel Nkemdiche, junior linebacker Serderius Bryant had a fantastic game, recording a career- and team-high 15 tackles, including a career- and team-high eight solo tackles. Junior free safety Cody Prewitt grabbed his second interception of the season, and sophomore defensive back Chief Brown had his second career fumble recovery.
“(Serderius) seemed to be solid,” Freeze said. “His assignments were solid. Serderius is a good player, and I don’t think the linebackers had any breakdowns.”
Following a 37-yard field goal by senior kicker Andrew Ritter and Brunetti’s aforementioned touchdown run, the Rebels used the long ball to put points on the board in a hurry.
Wallace connected with freshman tight end Evan Engram down the left sideline for a 64-yard touchdown with 1:06 to play in the first quarter, and then hit junior wide receiver Donte Moncrief for a 67-yard touchdown pass with 13:03 to play in the second quarter, giving the Rebels a 24-0 lead.
Sophomore running back I’Tavius Mathers closed out the Ole Miss scoring with a nifty 10-yard rush on his second carry of the season. Mathers finished the game with 56 yards on four carries after missing the Rebels’ season opener at Vanderbilt with an ankle injury.
Ole Miss’ 31-point lead at halftime was its largest since holding a 31-0 halftime lead over Mississippi State on Nov. 28, 2008.
The Rebels will play again Saturday when they travel to Austin, Texas, to face the No. 15 Texas Longhorns.