MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Mississippi won the 34th annual Liberty Bowl Thursday night the old-fashioned way--with defense.
"For our defense to shut out Air Force proves that we are one of the best teams in the nation," Ole Miss Coach Billy Brewer said. "This shutout was a great thing for us as a team given little or no chance at the beginning of the season. We've never had a defense at Ole Miss to play like this defense played today."
Ole Miss (9-3), limited run-oriented Air Force to 104 yards rushing in a 13-0 victory. The No. 20 Rebels yielded 185 total yards in their second-best performance of the season. They gave up 161 yards against Arkansas.
Mississippi had been picked to finish last in the Southeastern Conference.
More than 15,000 people who bought tickets stayed home because of cold weather and a forecast of sleet. The temperature was in the 30s during the game, with gusts producing a wind chill in the teens.
"It was tougher than I expected," Falcon defensive back Mike Rodgers said. "They were saying 60 all week. This is definitely 60 divided by two and subtract 10."
It was the first shutout for Air Force (7-5) in 150 games since a loss on Nov. 1, 1980, to Boston College.
It also was the Liberty Bowl's first shutout since 1975 when USC beat Texas A&M, 20-0.
Cassius Ware recovered a fumble and had two sacks to lead the Ole Miss defense.
Said Brewer: "What can I say about this guy as a big play man. When we need a big play at a crucial point in the game, we can count on him for a sack or a big tackle."
Dou Innocent, scoring only his third career touchdown, gave the Rebels the only points they would need with a five-yard run near the end of the first quarter, and Brian Lee kicked field goals of 24 and 29 yards.
The Falcons, ranked seventh nationally in rushing with a 242-yard average, were unable to move against a defense that ranked third in the country against the run (81.4 yards per game). Air Force rushed for 103 yards through three quarters, by which time the Rebels were in control.
Steve Russ blocked Lee's 46-yard field-goal attempt with 7:53 to play in the first quarter, and Mike Rodgers returned it 31 yards to the Ole Miss 47. But Air Force stalled at the 30, and Chris MacInnis's 47-yard field-goal attempt into a gusting wind fell short.
The Rebels moved 70 yards in seven plays to score, with the key play Russ Shows' 49-yard pass to Eddie Small, who made the catch despite double coverage. Shows completed 9 of 19 passes for 163 yards.