Five things the Rebels may have focused on during the bye week
Six games into the season and the Rebels finally enjoyed an open date this weekend. Let’s take a look at what Ole Miss might have been working on during the bye week before heading into the final four games of the season.
Raise your hand if you like bye weeks (*pauses to gauge the room*). Anyone? Anyone? BUELLER??
Typically, bye weeks are no fun for fans because we are without our Ole Miss football fix for the week, but the break is essential for a football team. This allows the players to get much-needed rest and the opportunity to get as healthy as possible, as well as make adjustments before closing out the season.
Coming off a big 54-21 win over Vanderbilt, Ole Miss likely headed into the off weekend feeling pretty good, but no doubt head coach Lane Kiffin and company looked at a few areas in which the team can improve.
Here are five areas the Rebels’ might have made a priority during the off weekend.
In this #COVIDSEASON, you not only have to deal with the injury bug, but also the COVID bug which makes things even more difficult for any team — especially a team that is as thin in some places as Ole Miss finds itself.
One of the keys during the off week was probably to let players rest and get the banged up guys healthy, but also to keep the COVID outbreaks at bay. Ole Miss has done a solid job, for the most part, with the exceptions of a couple of hiccups along the way.
Coach Kiffin told us this past Wednesday that his team had only one new case for the week, and fortunately that person did not come in close contact with any others. If the Rebels want to run the table to close out the year, the team needs to get healthy and stay healthy.
Continue gaining confidence on defense
Ole Miss is razor thin on the defensive side of the ball, as seen by former offensive players Tylan Knight and Miles Battle flipping to defense to fill the gaps due to injuries and COVID cases. (Those two are playing lights out, by the way!)
Though the Landshark D struggled early in the year, the unit has made positive strides and that has been evident the last few weeks. Even though they suffered losses against Arkansas and Auburn, the Rebels showed flashes of being able to get stops and give the offense a chance to make the plays necessary to win. I’ve been saying all year that with our potent offense, all the defense needs to be is serviceable and this team could win a lot of football games.
Past the “x’s and o’s” of the defensive scheme, much of whether or not the unit is successful comes down to confidence. When a defense finds itself gashed by opposing offenses, it has a difficult time finding the swagger and confidence needed to make big stops and play physical and fast. But once you start making some plays, confidence starts to grow and it’s easier to build on that.
The game against Arkansas was a big turning point for the Ole Miss defense. Yes, the offense turned it over seven times, but the game still came down to the final minute and the Rebs had a chance to win it — and that was because the defense made stop after stop.
And since then, the defense has risen to the occasion more and more. In the interviews with defensive players the last few weeks, it has been clear that while they know they’ve got more work to do, they feel much more confident about their game.
If I’m co-defensive coordinators D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge, I worked hard this past week to maintain the confidence the defense has picked up over the last couple weeks and build on it. The Rebels held Vandy to 102 yards on the ground a week ago, and that should help the Landshark mentality.
If the defense can turn it on for these last couple of weeks, Ole Miss could have a great run to end Kiffin’s maiden voyage in Oxford.
Senior kicker Luke Logan has only attempted four field goals this season and has made two of them. He is 26-28 on PATs in 2020. He was a bit inconsistent in the Rebels’ last game vs. Vandy, but we saw him perform in 2018 as one of the best kickers in the SEC, making 82% of his kicks, so we know he’s got the skills.
If he found his mojo during the off week, Logan can go a long way to helping Ole Miss win what could be some close games down the stretch.
Build on Corral’s historic day
Sophomore quarterback Matt Corral walked into Nashville last Saturday and had one of the best days ever for an SEC quarterback, breaking not one, but two records against the ‘Dores.
Corral went 31-of-34 for 412 yards and six touchdown passes with no interceptions.
He passed Eli Manning for the most consecutive completed passes in Ole Miss history, 19 in a row en route to being named SEC Player of the Week, Walter Camp Offensive Player of the Week, and Davey O’Brien National Quarterback of the Week.
(Ok, it’s time for me to own up. Last time you heard from me a few weeks ago, I wrote Corral could be a Hesiman Trophy candidate — but not three days after that article went up, Ole Miss played Arkansas and the rest is history. Suffice it to say, that one is on me. I jinxed it. It was my fault for creating something akin to the Sports Illustrated jinx, and I want to formally apologize to Matt and Lane and all of Rebel Nation for that. I am going to build on this and get better.)
Seriously, though, Matt remains in the top six in the nation in ESPN Total QBR rating, a definite benchmark for how well he is performing. Simply put, Corral can be one of the best players in the country; he has shown us that. He gained a lot of mojo back on Saturday, and there’s no reason to think he will not continue to play lights out — and if he does, Ole Miss has a chance to do very well in these final four games of the season.
Continue to get the ball to playmakers
I may not be the sharpest knife in the place where they keep knives, but I do know when the best players touch the ball, a team will do better. (IT’S MATH!!!) Offensively, the Rebs’ best showings have come against Florida, Alabama and Vandy, with Ole Miss notching 613, 647, and 641 yards of total offense, respectively. For those counting at home, that’s a lot of yards.
So how did we get that many yards? Well, it’s because our best players touched the football. Let’s look at the stat board for this one:
Elijah Moore had 10 catches against Florida, 11 against Bama and 14 at Vandy.** He had over 200 receiving yards in two of those games and we racked up on yards
**Something to note here: Elijah is well on-pace to absolutely obliterate the Ole Miss single-season receptions record currently held by Tennessee Titan (TitanUp, by the way) star A.J. Brown.
Kenny Yeboah had 5 catches versus Florida, then 7 against Bama, and then 3 in Nashville (he scored on 2 of those 3 catches against Vandy, so that’s quite efficient). He scored more than one touchdown in 2 of those 3 games.
In the above mentioned games, Jerrion Ealy notched 16 carries for 79 yards, 19 carries for 120 yards and then 15 for 95 — and Ole Miss leads the SEC in rushing yards…Coincidence? I think not.
As you can see from the stats of the Rebels’ playmakers, Coach Lebby’s offense is at its best when our best players have frequent touches.
The Rebels host South Carolina at 6:30 p.m. this coming Saturday and have opened as a seven-point favorite over the Gamecocks.
If during the bye week Ole Miss has recovered from injuries and remained COVID-free, as well as worked on maintaining defensive confidence, continuing offensive explosiveness, and working out the kinks in the kicking game, look for the Rebels to Roll in the final games of 2020!