The Rebels have the best quarterback and play caller in the SEC. But with their defensive woes does that matter?
The Ole Miss Rebels are, if nothing else, entertaining.
College football is turning more and more into a game of who can outscore whom and the Rebs have both the play caller and the man running the show to be the wildest of wild cards. Will their brand of football be good enough to make the College Football Playoff as presently constituted? Probably not. But will they be a bitch to play for as long as Lane Kiffin’s around? Absolutely.
Ole Miss Rebels
2020: 5-5 (4-5 SEC)
2021 S&P+ Projections: 24th
2021 Recruiting Class: 17th
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Lebey
Defensive Coordinator: DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge
So yeah as I said above I don’t think the Lane Train will ever pull into Atlanta and represent the West in the SEC Championship game, but the Kiffin-led Rebs will be as wild a wild card team can get. No team is safe from Ole Miss, themselves included.
That’s perfectly embodied by their quarterback Matt Corral. The preseason First-Team All-SEC quarterback threw for 3,300 yards and completed 70 percent of his passes with 29 touchdowns and all those numbers are great. There’s just that small little bugaboo where he can be a turnover machine like in the LSU game where he threw five interceptions and lost a fumble. He threw a whopping 14 interceptions in 10 games last season. If you extrapolate that out to a full 13-game schedule, Corral would have thrown about 18 interceptions last year. Those are Jarrett Lee numbers.
It’s easy to look back at Corral’s six-turnover day against LSU and laugh but remember Ole Miss scored 48 points in awful weather while being bogged down by said turnovers. This offense is legit y’all and they ain’t slowing down anytime soon.
That’s aided by a solid group of returning playmakers in the backfield. Jerrion Ealy—who was named First-Team All-SEC return specialist and all purpose— Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish Jr. are all back as is John Rhys Plumlee, aka Diet Taysom Hill.
What’s tricky is the Rebels lost both Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah, a pair of studs at wide receiver and tight end respectively. It’ll be up to Jonathan Mingo (27 catches, 379 yards, 3 touchdowns) and Dontario Drummond (25 catches, 417 yards, 7 touchdowns) to become Ole Miss’s latest iteration of awesome receivers. Be on the lookout too for incoming freshman wide out Bralon Brown, a four-star receiver out of Fort Lauderdale. And Plumlee’s combination of speed—dare I say deceptive speed?— and athleticism might put him in the mix to take some reps as a slot receiver. He caught five passes in the Outback Bowl against Indiana after all.
The Rebs have four starters coming back from a unit that put up some impressive numbers though, as Poseur wrote, might be owed more to Corral’s ability as a runner. Case in point while Ole Miss has four returning starters only one*, Nick Broeker, made the preseason All-SEC team and was a third teamer.
*Edit: This is technically not the case as center Ben Brown was voted to the third team but tied with Missouri’s Michael Maietti. So Broeker was the only one to outright make a team.
Defensively? Man oh man is this group a mess.
The Rebels might have been one of the few units worse than Bo Pelini’s with Ole Miss checking in at 126th in total defense (519 yards per game) and 117th in points allowed (38.3). Those numbers might be easier to stomach if DJ Durkin wasn’t still on staff but here we are.
Like LSU, the only place for Ole Miss to go defensively is up and the Rebs made a concerted effort to improve. It starts with bringing in prized four-star recruit Tywone Malone, the No. 62 overall player in last year’s cycle and Ole Miss’s highest rated signee. Malone is also a legit baseball prospect and will play at Swayze Field in the spring where he’ll either man first base or be Mike Bianco’s DH. I mean just look at this physically imposing young man murder some baseballs.
Ole Miss also went the JUCO route to beef up its front four by bringing in Isaiah Iton and Jamond Gordon the top two defensive linemen at the junior college level.
The Rebs bring back all three of their linebackers from last year which should lead to improvements as a whole and Ole Miss went out and signed five defensive backs to reinforce a leaky secondary.
Three of those five incoming freshmen are four-star prospects headlined by Tysheem Johnson, a safety from Philadelphia. But the biggest reason for optimism will be having Georgia transfer Otis Reese able to play for the entirety of the 2021 season. Reese wasn’t cleared until the final three games of last season but excelled at safety once given the green light.
Kiffin and company have an interesting schedule this year. The Rebs get the prestigious Labor Day night primetime game against Louisville in Mercedez Benz Stadium, after that it’s a pair of home layups against Austin Peay and the Greenies of Tulane to close out September.
The problem is Ole Miss has a really early bye, coming in week four, meaning the Rebs will have to grind out nine straight games, eight of which against SEC competition.
After giving Alabama a pretty good fight last season in Oxford, the Rebels make the return trip to Tuscaloosa the first weekend of October. Two weeks later they’re back on the road again, this time heading to Knoxville which will be a homecoming of sorts for Kiffin.
The LSU game is interesting because while the game is in Oxford we know how Ed Orgeron gets his guys ready to play Ole Miss specifically. O hasn’t gotten over getting fired and he’ll be damned if the Rebels beat him.
November is a bit of a reprieve as Ole Miss gets home games against Liberty and Vanderbilt but sandwiched between those is a home date with the Aggies. The wear and tear of nine straight weeks might finally catch up with the Rebels as they have a quick, five-day turnaround between Vandy and the Egg Bowl to close out the regular season.
Ole Miss Schedule
September 6 (Monday) vs. Louisville (In Atlanta)
September 11 vs. Austin Peay
September 18 vs. Tulane
September 25 BYE
October 2 @ Alabama
October 9 vs. Arkansas
October 16 @ Tennessee
October 23 vs. LSU
October 30 @ Auburn
November 6 vs. Liberty
November 13 vs. Texas A&M
November 20 vs. Vanderbilt
November 25 (Thursday) @ Mississippi State