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Rebels enjoy laugher

By By Will Bardwell / Staff writer
October 12, 2003
If Ole Miss was looking for a challenge In its final non-conference
game on Saturday, the Rebels did not find it against Arkansas State.
Eli Manning rolled up 306 yards and three touchdowns on 23-of-36 passing in three quarters of play as Ole Miss trounced the Indians 55-0. It was the
largest margin of victory in a Rebels shutout since 1959.
"At halftime it crossed my mind that we hadn't given up a point," said
Rebels head coach David Cutcliffe. "I think that's something the defense
took pride in. And we played a lot of people. We didn't keep the first
team out there to try to preserve a shutout."
Ole Miss, now 4-2, employed 24 defensive players and also used three
quarterbacks. Back-up Micheal Spurlock was 4-for-4 with a touchdown in
mop-up duty, and Ethan Flatt also saw action.
The Rebels got off to a fast start, using only three plays to score on
their first possession. Starting at the Indians' 41-yard line, Manning
found Chris Collins on a slant over the middle on the drive's first play.
Collins was brought down a yard short of the goal line, and two plays
later, Vashon Pearson leaped over the pile to give Ole Miss a 7-0 lead.
The fast start by the Rebels, who were up 17-0 in the first quarter,
doomed the out-manned Indians.
"Field position hurt us in the first quarter, as did our inability to
protect (quarterback) Elliot Jacobs," said Arkansas State head coach Steve
Roberts, whose team fell to 3-4. "I thought in the second quarter we
played really well. We played hard and we moved the ball, but we are not a
good enough team to take the first quarter off."
Though Arkansas State seemingly provided little challenge for the Rebels,
the Ole Miss defense continued to vindicate itself two weeks after giving
up more than 700 yards to Texas Tech. The Indians entered the game with
the nation's 16th-ranked rushing offense, averaging 198 yards on the
ground.
After two strong defensive performances in as many weeks, the Rebels
defense is hoping to build momentum entering next week's game against
Alabama.
"We knew our talent from the very beginning," said senior linebacker
Justin Wade, who had three tackles and an interception. "We have to just
play at our abilities. I think it's starting to show up."
The Rebels held ASU running backs to only 54 yards including only eight
yards on 11 carries in the first quarter. Shermar Bracey, Arkansas
State's leading rusher, came away with only nine yards on 12 carries.
"They were a team that was averaging close to 200 yards a game," said Ole
Miss defensive coordinator Chuck Driesbach. "We had not seen a two-back
offense since we'd faced our own team in fall camp. It was totally
different for us. I was glad that we were able to respond with that type
of yardage output and certainly holding them to no points."
The only success enjoyed by the Indians' offense came through the air.
Arkansas State has relied primarily on their running game this season, but
the Indians could not resist throwing the ball against the nation's worst
passing defense.
Jacobs was 4 for 5 with 74 passing yards on the Indians' first drive of
the second quarter before the march ended on a missed 21-yard field goal.
It was the only real scoring opportunity ASU enjoyed from an Ole Miss
defense that has now put together six consecutive scoreless quarters.
"We are trying to get to the ball faster than each other every time on
every play," said Rebels linebacker L.P. Spence, who had four tackles.
"Every snap is a challenge to see who is the fastest."
On Saturday, the Rebels were faster on both sides of the ball. Manning's
receivers constantly beat their defenders particularly Collins, who had
146 yards and a touchdown on eight catches.
"They (Arkansas State) do a good job of getting deep, and they have
rovers who expand wide to cover the curls," Manning said. "We thought we
had some shorts to run play action, suck up those linebackers and hit some
guys between them. We had some success doing that."
The only blemish on Manning's line was an interception that came in the
second quarter. Manning fired a pass at Collins' chest that bounced off
the receiver's hands and into the arms of Indians defensive back Johnathan
Burke.
"It went right through his hands, so I had to get on to him for that,"
Manning said of Collins' miscue. "He said he'd make a play for it, and he
made a couple of plays. On that touchdown he got (in the third quarter),
he really didn't run the route we called. He just had a feeling that he
could get wide open and ran vertical, and I saw him open."
Ole Miss holds a commanding 19-1-2 lead in their all-time series against
the Indians, but had not held Arkansas State scoreless since a 28-0 win in
1926.

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