Rebels Defense Shuts Down Indians

Eli Manning picked a good time to have an off night. Robert Williams ran for 100 yards and two touchdowns, and Mississippi didn't need a big game from its quarterback to begin the season with a 31-3 win over Louisiana-Monroe on Saturday night. Playing in front of a record-breaking crowd at newly expanded Vaught-Hemingway stadium, the Rebels won their seventh straight opener. Ole Miss has outscored its last three opening-day opponents 129-37. Manning started the game 0-for-5 with an interception and took a while to find his mark. The junior finished 17-for-31 for 192 yards, but he often missed his receivers. At one point in the third quarter he threw seven straight incompletions. ``It's not the best game, but it's a win,'' Manning said. Manning did extend his school-record streak of games with a touchdown pass to 13 by connecting with Bill Flowers on a 26-yarder in the second quarter. That put the Rebels up 7-3, though even that pass over the middle was a bit behind Flowers, who made a juggling catch before turning up field and into the end zone. ``I never felt bad. The ball was just not going where I wanted it to. It happens to all quarterbacks,'' Manning said. With their star struggling, Ole Miss relied on its running game and defense to put away the Indians, who were 31-point underdogs. Williams was making his first career start after backing up Deuce McAllister and Joe Gunn for three years. The senior had a career game, carrying 18 times and scoring on runs of 1 and 4 yards in the second quarter as the Rebels built a 21-3 halftime lead. Experience helped Williams beat out junior college transfer Ronald McClendon and redshirt freshman Vashon Pearson for the starting job in the preseason. It helped again Saturday night. Williams said he wasn't nervous about his first start but anxious ``to go out and have a little fun.'' ``It's been a while since I've been out there playing,'' he said. Manning finally found his form in the fourth quarter, completing 7 of 8 for 68 yards on the final drive he played.

Ronald McClendon capped the drive with a 13-yard touchdown that increased the lead to 31-3 with 10:42 left. The Indians, meanwhile, continued to take their lumps from the Southeastern Conference. They've lost 14 straight and are 2-16 overall against the SEC since moving to Division I-A in 1994. The last three have been particularly brutal, with the Indians getting outscored 156-12 by Tennessee, Florida and Ole Miss. Indians coach Bobby Keasler tried to put a positive spin on the loss. ``We played well early on offense and then shot ourselves in the foot,'' Keasler said. ``We had two turnovers that cost us 14 points, but I think our effort was outstanding.'' Bryant Jacobs ran 23 times for 103 yards, accounting for much of the Indians' offense against the Rebels' new 4-2-5 defense. Ole Miss ranked last in the SEC in rushing defense and near the bottom in scoring defense last season. ``We had a point to prove tonight defensively. We did that,'' said safety Matt Grier, who had a sack, an interception and three tackles for loss. ``I think people see this defense is made for us because we can utilize our speed.'' Ole Miss added to two other streaks, winning their 23rd consecutive regular-season non-conference game and 15th straight home opener. The crowd of 58,151 was about 2,000 below capacity, but still good enough to surpass the previous best of 52,476, set against LSU in 2000.