Nick’s Notes: Ole Miss looking toward Louisville game
Coach Kiffin, Jerrion Ealy, Otis Reese meet with media after Tuesday’s practice
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss is less than a week away from its season opener September 6th against Louisville in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.
The game against the Cardinals will be nationally televised on ESPN at 7:00 pm CT. If you recall, the last time the Ole Miss opened the season in Atlanta (2014), the Rebs defeated Boise State, 35-14, and went on to win the next six games before finishing 9-4 with a loss to TCU in the Peach Bowl.
Fast forward to 2021 — there’s a different head coach, a different quarterback and a different attitude. This team has all the tools to do great things, with some analysts predicting the Rebels will win anywhere from eight to possibly ten games this year. Could Ole Miss get another shot at a Peach Bowl? It would not surprise me one bit.
But first things first.
Ole Miss and Louisville will face each other for the first time ever. The Rebels have won nineteen of their last twenty-four season openers and are hoping to pick up the twentieth. The Cardinals finished last season 4-7, but don’t let that record fool you. The Rebels will have their hands full with Louisville’s dual-threat quarterback Malik Cunningham.
Malik Cunningham does his best Lamar Jackson impression… 🧐🧐 pic.twitter.com/ikZ9NQnSst
— Bally Sports South (@BallySportsSO) September 16, 2018
Cunningham, who reached career highs last season in both passing and rushing yards, is entering his third season as the
starter. He threw for 2,617 yards and 20 touchdowns, while rushing for a personal-best 609 yards and seven
scores in 2020. The redshirt-junior averaged 293.3 yards of total offense per game, ranking 20th in the country
During Tuesday’s press conference, head coach Lane Kiffin made clear his respect for Cunningham and the Louisville offense.
“They present a lot of big challenges, with a very good quarterback that can make a lot of plays with his arm and feet and a very veteran offensive line.”
Head coach Lane Kiffin on Louisville offense
He went on to speak more to Cunningham’s abilities and what kind of pressure he puts on a defense. “A lot, he can throw the ball really well, but then he takes off and runs, you know, it’ll be very challenging to contain him.”
The Louisville defense is lead by linebacker C.J. Avery who is from Grenada, Mississippi. Avery has led the team in tackles the past two seasons, recording four double-digit tackling performances last year.
“On the other side, they are very multiple in what they do, they give protection issues,” Kiffin said of the Cardinals’ defense.
Kiffin was asked about the mock game the team held last Sunday. “Well, we won, 69-0,” he said, noting the defense only gave up one first down.
He was also queried about his defense’s development.
“I think we are going to better on defense, it feels like that. I’m kind of excited to finally get through a real game to see where we are at, because you never really know. Some years you think you’re better on one side than you end up being, or better as a team or worse as a team. We are excited to go play a quality opponent with really good players and a good coaching scheme to see where we are at.”
Coach Kiffin on the Ole Miss defense
Kiffin offered one specific reason he expects the defense to be better. “I think we look better physically, even the same guys, after a whole year in our weight program.”
On Tuesday, the media also got to hear from Ole Miss running back Jerrion “Sylvester” Ealy. (The jovial Ealy is quite a character. Since the beginning of fall camp, every time he steps to the podium, Ealy announces the name he would like to be called. Today, it was “Sylvester.” Last time it was “Carlos.”)
Ealy is also quite the football player.
Just a season ago, the Walnut Grove, Miss. native was the leading rusher on an Ole Miss offense that led the SEC in rushing yards per game. He was quizzed on the expectations he has for himself this season. “Higher than what everyone else expects, the unbelievable,” he replied.
“I feel like I’m moving more efficiently, it’s taking me less steps to get places and that’s the name of the game, chew up grass.”
There is no doubt Coach Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby will give him the chance to do that this year.
Media also heard from Otis Reese, a key returnee on the defensive side of the ball. He only played in three games last season as he waited for the NCAA to declare him eligible after his transfer from Georgia.
Although he didn’t play in many games, Otis made a huge impact on the defense. Tuesday, he spoke about the importance of fundamentals when facing a quarterback like Malik Cunningham.
“In a big-time game, the fundamentals are everything. Me personally, I believe that in big-time games the focus has got to be there. The little things are going to take care of the big things.”
Ole Miss DB Otis Reese
In addition to his talent, Reese brings an attitude of confidence to the defense. He is a big-time player who is ready for a big-time game Monday night in his home state of Georgia.
(Feature images: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss; Feature graphic: Nick Filipich, Rebel Walk)