OXFORD, Miss. – The return of Hugh Freeze to Mississippi was met with little fanfare and a matter-of-fact victory by the Rebels.
Matt Corral threw for 324 yards and a touchdown to lead No. 15 Mississippi past Liberty and the former Rebels coach 27-14 on Saturday.
Corral continued to build a Heisman Trophy resume, completing 20 of 27 passes, including six completions of 20-plus yards.
“Matt (Corral) is gritty and tough and it was obvious today we didn’t try to move him very much,” Mississippi coach Lane Kiffin said.
The Rebels (7-2) raced to a 24-0 halftime lead, highlighted by a 70-yard touchdown run by Jerrion Ealy on the game’s second play.
Freeze coached the Rebels from 2012-2016 to considerable success, including two victories against Alabama, before being forced to resign amid scandal. It was discovered during a lawsuit against the related to an NCAA investigation that Freeze made phone calls to a female escort service while on work-related travel.
Ole Miss was also hit with NCAA sanctions for recruiting and academic violations that happened under Freeze.
Freeze downplayed his return leading up to the game and the less-than-capacity crowd didn’t have much reaction to his return to Oxford.
“I loved playing here today. It was fun,” Freeze said. “Wish we’d have gotten one more and made it interesting at the end.
Kiffin avoided controversy throughout the week, too, maintaining his admiration and personal friendship with Freeze.
Dannis Jackson had six receptions for a game-high 126 yards, including a 40-yard touchdown catch. John Rhys Plumlee added seven receptions for 110 yards for an Ole Miss receiver corp that has been banged up.
“We needed Dannis and Plumlee to step today and they were huge,” Kiffin said.
Ealy rushed for 115 yards in 10 carries and added another 4-yard touchdown run as the Rebels built the insurmountable first half advantage.
Liberty (7-3) was led by Malik Willis, who ran for a 3-yard touchdown and finished 16 of 25 for 173 yards, but threw three interceptions.
The Flames had 457 total yards, primarily in the second half, including seven rushes for 101 yards, with a 28-yard touchdown run by Shedro Louis.
“We allowed them to have too many big plays that created scoring opportunities and that was probably the difference in the first half,” Freeze said. “The second half we were better at that. If we had done that in the first half, it might have been a different game. But, if, if, if.”
Liberty: Any upset hopes were erased by halftime. Willis threw two interceptions and was sacked seven times in the first half.
The Flames also missed a field goal and had a penalty that eliminated a scoring opportunity. The Flames played better in the second half, but it was too late to really challenge their SEC opponent.
Ole Miss: The Rebels rebounded well from a disappointing road loss at Auburn. Ole Miss provided adequate depth answers to an expanded injury list of top personnel. Jackson had a breakout performance at wide receiver with several players down. The Rebels finished with nine sacks as defensive end Sam Williams and linebacker Chance Campbell recorded 2 1/2 apiece.
“The sacks are good, but we won and that’s all that matters,” Williams said. “It’s `So what? Now what?’ around here and now it’s a lot of work to do before Texas A&M.”
NFL IN ATTENDANCE
Corral and Willis are drawing plenty of NFL interest. There were 21 credentials, representing 17 teams for Saturday’s game. Both junior quarterbacks could declare for the next draft and are potential first-round picks.
Six teams with two losses apiece are ranked between No. 12 and No. 25. Ole Miss is the third team in that logjam at No. 15 and don’t figure to make a major move in either direction in the upcoming poll.
Liberty: The Flames have an open date before hosting No. 24 Louisiana-Lafayette on Nov. 20.
Ole Miss: The Rebels host No. 13 Texas A&M next week.