OXFORD, Miss. — For the second straight game, the Ragin’ Cajuns couldn’t hang on to the ball. And for the second straight game, their defense wasn’t up to the task of cleaning up after the offense’s mistakes.
Louisiana-Lafayette (1-2) was handled easily by an Ole Miss team playing in its home opener, losing 56-15. The Rebels (3-0) scored 28 points off four Cajuns turnovers, racking up 554 yards in the process. The Cajuns have turned the ball over nine times in their first three games.
“We’ve got to do much better at (turnovers),” coach Mark Hudspeth said. “That’s been our Achilles’ heel thus far this season. Until we figure that out, it’s going to be tough.”
Ole Miss’ Bo Wallace had his way with the Cajuns, who continually gave the Rebels quarterback a comfortable pocket and clear passing lanes to work with. Cajuns senior defensive lineman Justin Hamilton said Wallace was fooling the Cajuns with play action.
Wallace passed for 290 yards in the first half, including touchdowns of 40, 14 and 24 yards. He completed his first 14 pass attempts, throwing his first incompletion with 10:47 left in the first half. Nine Rebels receivers caught a pass Saturday.
“Our system is designed to get it to a lot of different people,” Ole Miss coach Hugh Freeze said. “The more people you get it to, the more difficult you are to defend. Teams continue to roll players to (receiver Laquon Treadwell’s) side. It’s really benefitting a lot of other kids when that happens.”
Wallace left the game midway through the third quarter, finishing with 316 yards and four touchdowns.
The Cajuns couldn’t dial up much of a pass rush, though Wallace might not have even needed the amount of time he had to work with. More often than not, he had an easy pitch and catch while the Rebels built a 28-0 first-half lead.
“Their guys did a good job getting open and making plays,” Hudspeth said. “Their receivers made some really nice catches in tough situations. We’ve got to get a little more pressure on the quarterback, too. You can’t run around and cover those guys all night long in the back end.”
That’s not to say the Cajuns didn’t have chances early in the game.
I’Tavius Mathers started the scoring with a 56-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter, but the Cajuns didn’t look like they were left reeling by the quick score. Keyed by a 39-yard run from sophomore running back Elijah McGuire, the Cajuns marched 78 yards in six plays inside the Rebels 15-yard line.
It looked like they were going to punch it in for a game-tying score, but senior running back Alonzo Harris fumbled at the Rebels 6-yard line.
“It was bad ball security on my part,” Harris said. “I went to run the guy over, trying to gain extra yards and forgetting about ball security.”
What happened next would serve as the theme of the day.
The Rebels drove 94 yards on just seven plays, capping the drive with a 40-yard touchdown pass from Wallace to running back Jaylen Walton. He leaked out of the backfield uncovered, and Wallace hit him in stride on the wheel route for an easy touchdown.
The Cajuns forced one turnover, the first they’ve managed this season, when Wallace overthrew a route down the deep middle of the field late in the first half. Free safety Sean Thomas intercepted it, and the Cajuns had the ball at the Rebels 24-yard line after a personal foul penalty on Ole Miss. But the Cajuns were only able to turn it into a field goal to trail 28-6 at halftime.
The troubles continued in the second half, as Broadway threw two third-quarter interceptions, one of which was returned by Senquez Golson for a 59-yard touchdown. The Rebels scored three touchdowns in the first 7:12 of the second half to put the game out of reach.
Broadway completed half of his 30 passing attempts for 129 yards and three interceptions. He also carried the ball 10 times for 59 yards.
The Cajuns’ lone touchdown came with a minute left in the third quarter when Harris’ 8-yard plunge capped a 15-play, 75-yard drive.