Photo courtesy Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss Athletics
OXFORD, Miss. (AP) — Mississippi receiver A.J. Brown had trouble explaining what he felt in pregame warmups, but he had no trouble translating those feelings into a record-breaking performance against South Alabama.
"I can't explain it, but it was definitely a different vibe," said Brown, whose touchdown receptions of 71 and 77 yards in the opening three minutes of the second half lifted Ole Miss to a 47-27 win over South Alabama Saturday in the season opener for both schools.
Quarterback Shea Patterson was 28 of 35 for 429 yards with four touchdowns, while Brown set a school record of 233 receiving yards on eight receptions. The Rebels rolled up 531 yards of total offense and added a decisive 97-yard kickoff return touchdown by Jaylen Jones in the third quarter.
The victory gave Matt Luke a successful head coaching debut after taking over in July from Hugh Freeze, who resigned after revelations regarding his personal conduct. The importance of the moment was not lost on Brown.
"We all knew how much this game meant to Coach Luke," said Brown, who joined his team in presenting the game ball to Luke in the postgame locker room. "I could tell before the game that we were going to play well. I could feel it. I just knew it."
DeMarkus Lodge had a pair of touchdown receptions of 5 and 14 yards in the first and third quarters, respectively. D'Vaughn Pennamon added a 2-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter while Gary Wunderlich had field goals of 19 and 29 yards as the Rebels dominated offensively.
"Shea was really solid all night and A.J. Brown made two big time plays to start the second half," Luke said. "For me, it was emotional when I came out of that tunnel on the field, but once the game kicked off, football is football."
South Alabama kept the issue in doubt until the second half, trailing 13-10 at halftime. Quarterback Cole Garvin had touchdown runs of 14 and 1 yards in the final nine minutes and a 30-yard touchdown pass to Jamarius Way in the first half. Garvin was 19 of 31 for 204 yards.
"I thought our guys fought their tails off tonight," South Alabama coach Joey Jones said. "A lot of positives. We had no turnovers and only 22 yards in penalties. I'm proud of my guys."
South Alabama: The Jaguars were bidding for successive opening game upset wins over SEC opponents after winning at Mississippi State last season.
The kicking game was solid with a pair of 20-yard field goals from Gavin Patterson. Punter Corliss Waitman had a 46.4-yard average on five punts.
Safety Jeremy Reaves had eight tackles, two for losses and a sack.
Ole Miss: The Rebels fulfilled offensive expectations and got a bonus when Jaylon Brown returned a kickoff for a 97-yard score to build an insurmountable 33-13 lead. The revamped Rebels defense, in Wesley McGriff's debut as coordinator, turned in a winning statistical performance, but didn't force any turnovers and had just one sack. The Rebels did have six tackles for loss, including a pair from lineman Josiah Coatney.
"I was pleased with our defense, especially forcing field goals instead of giving up touchdowns. We just didn't see enough of that last year," Luke said. "Our defense bowed up and made big stops when we needed it and I told them that."
South Alabama: The Jaguars of the FBS and Sun Belt Conference host No. 10 Oklahoma State on Saturday.
Ole Miss: The Rebels host a second successive FBS opponent, Ohio Valley Conference member UT Martin, on Saturday.