OXFORD, Miss. -- Jordan Ta'amu threw for 448 yards and five touchdowns, Scottie Phillips ran for 107 yards and two more scores, and Mississippi survived an upset scare by beating Southern Illinois 76-41 on Saturday.
SIU led 38-35 at halftime in a game that was much more competitive than originally anticipated. In fact, this one was downright bizarre.
The Salukis (1-1) had never beaten a team from the Southeastern Conference and were 3-30 coming into the game against Football Bowl Subdivision opponents. But they pushed the Rebels (2-0) to the brink for three quarters on Saturday, flinging the ball all over the field against a completely unprepared Ole Miss defense.
The Rebels finally broke the game open early in the fourth quarter when Vernon Dasher snagged an interception and ran it back 88 yards for a touchdown and a 55-41 lead. The play seemed to break the Salukis' spirit and the Rebels piled up the points in the waning minutes for the win.
In the end, second-year Ole Miss coach Matt Luke was just pleased to get a win.
"That's the most important stat," Luke said. "There were a lot of stats that I'm not happy with, but that's the one I am happy with -- the fact we're 2-0."
"It still hurts," Straub said. "We didn't come in here to play well, we came in to win. We were still playing with that effort, even when the game got away from us in the second half. I'm proud of my guys."
Ole Miss defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said earlier in week that he expected Southern Illinois to rely heavily on the running game. Instead, the Salukis threw five straight pass plays on the first drive, including a 9-yard TD from Straub to Nigel Kilby.
Kilby was one of many SIU receivers who were running coverage-free in the first half. Straub had little problem connecting against the oft-confused Ole Miss defense, completing 19 of 25 passes for 299 yards and four touchdowns before halftime.
The problem for SIU was Ole Miss scored nearly as fast. Ta'amu threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in the first half while Phillips ran for two more scores. The dizzying first half ended with Southern Illinois holding a three-point lead.
The lead wouldn't last, but it was certainly entertaining. The two teams combined for nearly 1,300 total yards.
The Ole Miss offense was very, very good. The Ole Miss defense was very, very bad. It's probably slightly more complicated than that, but not really. The Rebels have an offense that's among the best in the nation, but it isn't going to matter if they can't figure out how to tackle anyone.
It was a terrific effort from Southern Illinois, which had a 4-7 record last season, but played toe-to-toe with a SEC opponent. The Salukis ran out of gas in the fourth quarter, but shouldn't be ashamed by anything that happened on Saturday.
NASTY WIDE OUTS
The Ole Miss receivers -- also known by the nickname Nasty Wide Outs (NWO) -- had another huge game. A.J. Brown caught eight passes for 158 yards and two touchdowns. D.K. Metcalf caught seven passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Braylon Sanders -- filling in for the injured DaMarkus Lodge -- caught four passes for 133 yards and a touchdown.
Ole Miss hosts No. 1 Alabama next Saturday.
Southern Illinois hosts Southeast Missouri next Saturday.