Ole Miss rides defense, uses 20-point fourth quarter to seal comeback victory over Tulane

Mississippi tight end Michael Trigg (0) celebrates his touchdown reception in the second half...
Mississippi tight end Michael Trigg (0) celebrates his touchdown reception in the second half of an NCAA college football game against Tulane in New Orleans, Saturday, Sept. 9, 2023. Mississippi won 37-20. (AP Photo/Gerald Herbert)(Gerald Herbert | AP)
Published: Sep. 9, 2023 at 6:46 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, Miss. (WLBT) - An old SEC rivalry was reignited Saturday afternoon in New Orleans between Ole Miss and Tulane, and the disdain was evident from both sides from the moment the Rebels and head coach Lane Kiffin entered Yulman Stadium.

The Ole Miss defense was the shining light for the Rebels - something you don’t say often when referring to an Ole Miss game.

The Rebels won 37-20 against a Top 25 opponent on the road after trailing at halftime, giving Kiffin his first away victory against a ranked opponent since he was appointed as head coach at Ole Miss.

Here’s how it happened.

Ole Miss grit?

In the first half, the Green Wave looked like the SEC team, specifically, the defensive line. Tulane’s D-line won the battle against the Ole Miss offensive line for the majority of the game, holding the Rebels and preseason All-American running back Quinshon Judkins to just 30 rushing yards at halftime.

“I think we struggled to run the ball, period,” Kiffin said when asked why the offense line struggled. “[Tulane] were doing a lot of movement, a lot of different stuff up front. They’ve got some good players up there and they played really hard. I kinda feel like this was their Super Bowl... they showed up like it.”

Gaps were being filled by the Green Wave and the Rebels’ O-line was being pushed back seemingly every play in an overall disappointing outing for the unit. For the game, the Tulane defense recorded four sacks and seven tackles for loss.

On top of that, the Rebels converted just one third down in 13 tries.

But, Ole Miss didn’t let their heads drop after trailing 17-10 at halftime. The Rebels were 2-2 when trailing at halftime last season and when they got hit in the mouth, Ole Miss lacked a response - hence their poor record of losing four of their last five games to end the 2023 season.

Saturday afternoon was different.

The Rebels came out of the locker room in the second half and put together a much better performance offensively, scoring 20 fourth-quarter points, something Lane Kiffin-led teams have struggled to do during his tenure.

The offensive line established the line of scrimmage just enough to let Judkins see daylight a few times and score a game-tying touchdown with 6:11 left in the third quarter.

And when it seemed Tulane was able to grab momentum again after a Dart interception, Ole Miss cornerback Dandre Prince picked off Tulane quarterback Kai Horton on the ensuing drive, which resulted in an Ole Miss field goal to take a 20-17 lead and ultimately win the game despite a quiet game from Judkins.

Pete Golding’s Landshark defense

As referred to above, it is a rare occasion to witness Ole Miss win a game because of the play of the “Landshark” defense and certainly in the Lane Kiffin era.

But it happened Saturday led by first-year Ole Miss defensive coordinator Pete Golding, although Tulane’s staring QB Michael Pratt did not play.

It was an overall string performance from Ole Miss in all four quarters, keeping the Rebels in the game in the first half with the offense sputtering.

The Rebels were able to stop the run and force Horton to release the ball early due to constant pressure from the Ole Miss defensive line, and an interception. They held quarterback Horton to a 38% completion percentage and forced an interception.

“I thought the corners played well,” Kiffin said. “You mentioned [Deantre] Prince. Key[nodo Houston]... they have had him before, and he’s done a good job with these guys.”

More impressively, the defense held Tulane scoreless until the three-minute mark in the fourth quarter and was able to contain the Tulane offense tremendously.

The defense also got on the score sheet with a strip sack from linebacker Khari Coleman and a scoop-and-score from defensive lineman Jared Ivey with 1:25 left to play to seal the victory for Ole Miss in their first double-digit comeback against a ranked team since 2016.

Lane Kiffin opts for a field goal, and it paid off

The Rebels were only leading by one score (27-20) late in the fourth quarter with the ball in the hand of the Ole Miss offense.

It was fourth down near the Tulane 40-yard line and the Rebels needed a score to put the icing on the cake. Lane Kiffin initially did what he typically does, go for it on fourth down.

Luckily, the play was blown dead due to a false start penalty by the Rebels. It was a five-yard penalty and enough to save Kiffin from himself and go for the field goal.

Kicker Caden Davis trotted onto the field to attempt a 56-yarder. It barely squeaked by the right-hand post but had plenty of leg, converting the field goal and completely swinging momentum in the favor of Ole Miss with the Rebels leading 30-20.

“He’s done that in practices and scrimmages,” Kiffin said when asked why he decided to kick the field goal. “Sometimes, you luck out on some things too. I think we got a false start on the QB sneak and it didn’t look like we were going to make it. That put us in that spot. But again, we could have punted and pinned them deep, but you gotta have confidence in your players... we put him out there and he came through.”

It ended up being the right decision. It allowed the defense to enter the game with a two-possession lead and ultimately capping off their stellar performance with a defensive touchdown to increase the score to 37-20 and walk out of Yulman Stadium with the win.

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