Grier comes up big for Rebels in win
By By Joey Vaughan / special to The Star
Sept. 1, 2002
OXFORD Ole Miss' 4-2-5 defense relies on the play of safeties, and senior Matt Grier showed Saturday that he's ready for a big season.
The junior college transfer, starting at strong safety, made four tackles, three for a loss of 16 yards, had a 10-yard sack, and intercepted a pass in the Rebels' 31-3 win over Louisiana-Monroe.
Grier's interception came early in the second quarter, and was a big catalyst in the momentum shift that resulted in a 21-point quarter for the Rebs.
Ole Miss scored on that possession to take a 14-3 lead.
Grier's sack came on ULM's first possession of the game on a third down. He came off the right side on a safety blitz and delivered a big hit on Indian quarterback Daniel DaPrato, killing the drive and forcing a field goal.
A lot of new faces saw the field for the first time Saturday night. Two true freshmen played in their first game, and a host of redshirt freshmen made an impact in their first action.
True freshmen Chris Herring and Jayme Mitchell both saw time on the defensive line. Mitchell finished with three tackles, two for a loss, including half of a sack. Herring made two stops.
Redshirt freshmen receiver Mike Espy made four catches for 42 yards, second most on the team in both categories.
The first Rebel play was play-action pass from the 6-yard line deep towards Espy, who had his man beat deep. Eli Manning overthrew the ball, though, on what would have been a touchdown.
Junior college transfer Ronald McClendon made a splash in his Rebel debut. The running back, touted by some as the No. 1 juco player in the country last year, didn't play until the fourth quarter, but he ran around left end untouched on his very first carry for a 13-yard touchdown.
He finished with 40 yards on six carries, mostly in mopup duty.
Eli Manning's 17 of 31, 192-yard, one touchdown, one interception day was anything but normal for the junior signalcaller, but he did move up some Ole Miss career lists on the night.
He extended his school-record streak for games with a touchdown pass to 13 with his 26-yard toss to Bill Flowers in the second quarter.
That pass also moved him into sole possession of second place on the school's career TD pass list with 32. Romaro Miller holds the record with 43.
Manning also moved into eighth place on the career completions list and ninth on career passing yards.