OXFORD, Miss. -- Houston Nutt's reputation as an offensive coach may need some reworking.
Sure, fifth-ranked Mississippi keeps putting up big numbers when it starts with the ball. But those stats pale compared to what the Rebels are doing on defense, as they showed again Saturday night.
True freshman linebacker D.T. Shackelford scored on a 58-yard interception return and recovered two fumbles as Ole Miss forced five turnovers in a 52-6 win over Southeastern Louisiana.
An impressive performance going into the Rebels' Southeastern Conference opener Thursday night against coach Steve Spurrier and South Carolina.
"Defensively you have to prove it every day," free safety Kendrick Lewis said. "What we did tonight doesn't mean anything at South Carolina."
Turnovers led to 21 points for the Rebels (2-0). They've run back interceptions for TDs in the third straight games and have allowed just 11.2 points per game in their last five.
Like last week against Memphis, the defense bailed out a sloppy offense that again got off to a herky-jerky start. Jevan Snead, however, recovered to throw three touchdown passes.
An early interception by Cassius Vaughn ended one scoring opportunity for the Lions (2-1) and Shackelford came up with two fumble recoveries as well.
The group, playing without all-America candidate Greg Hardy because of a sprained ankle, propelled the Rebels to their eighth straight win, the longest streak since Ole Miss won 10 in a row in 1971-72. They held the Lions to 302 yards and didn't allow a third-down conversion in 14 attempts.
"Except for the opening series of the second half, I feel really good about our defense," defensive coordinator Tyrone Nix said. "Our effort was better. We're still not as consistent as we need to be, but we're getting there."
Shackelford is one of a handful of young players blending in with a veteran group, but stood out Saturday night. He always seemed to be around the ball.
"He's tough, he's physical, he absorbs the playbook, he's a winner," Nutt said. "He brings energy to our team and he looked like a running back tonight."
Shackelford's most memorable play, his touchdown with 4:50 left that closed the scoring, was maybe the easiest of the night.
"The ball fluttered right to me," he said. "I couldn't miss it. The only thing that surprised me is I got a little winded on the way, but I was still able to stick it in there."
The Rebels' offense eventually got in gear. Brandon Bolden rushed for 105 yards in the first half alone and the unit had 500 total yards and a 24-0 lead at halftime against the FCS opponent.
Snead threw two of his three touchdowns in the first half, extending his school record to eight straight games with multiple scoring passes. But he was 11 of 22 through the first two quarters, missed badly on a handful of passes and had an interception wiped out by a questionable pass interference call.
He got little help from his receivers, who dropped several passes. Markeith Summers had a touchdown pass glance off his hands in the end zone, forcing the Rebels to settle for a field goal. And Lionel Breaux dropped a wide-open pass that would have gone for significant yardage.
About a third of Mississippi's roster was sick with swine flu symptoms during its off week, explaining some of the problems.
The Rebels also struggled on special teams with Marshay Green fumbling two punt returns and Justin Sparks hitting back-to-back punts of 11 and 34 yards.
Still, Ole Miss simply had too much talent and speed for the Lions. The Rebels scored more than 40 points for the fourth straight game, a school record.
"Our timing was off, but we're playing faster," Nutt said. "We're playing harder."
Bolden was a beast in the first half. He broke tackles at the line of scrimmage and downfield and set up Ole Miss' first touchdown with an athletic run that included a whiplash-inducing stiff-arm and a burst of speed at the corner. Overall, the Rebels rushed for 258 yards and Enrique Davis and Cordera Eason both scored touchdowns.
"We didn't tackle very well," Southeastern Louisiana coach Mike Lucas said. "A lot of that missed tackling was because those running backs ran hard and are big and physical."
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