Nick’s Notes: Corral and talented receiving corps, defensive depth are keys in game vs. Louisville
OXFORD, Miss. — The Ole Miss football team is steadfast in its preparation for Monday’s upcoming matchup with the Louisville Cardinals. The Rebels will square off against their ACC opponent in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia, in the first ever meeting between the two schools.
Last season the Ole Miss offense averaged 555.5 total yards per game, led by 2021 pre-season All-American quarterback Matt Corral. The Ventura, California native racked up 3,337 yards passing and 506 yards rushing to go along with 33 total touchdowns in just eleven games in the COVID-shortened season.
Corral and the Gang
This season, Corral will have the opportunity to shatter those numbers. Although he will be without Elijah Moore, his leading receiver from a season ago, three very familiar faces are returning to the Rebels recovering corps: Braylon Sanders, Jonathan Mingo and Dontario Drummond.
Matt Corral slings an 81 yard TD to Braylon Sanders to extend the Ole Miss (-9.5) lead to 21-7
— Bet The Pigskin (@betthepigskin) November 28, 2020
Each of these receivers is slated to be a starter this upcoming season, and in 2020 the trio combined for 67 receptions and 1,172 yards with 14 touchdowns. They will have the task of filling the shoes of Moore who accounted for more than a third (36%) of the Rebels’ reception total last season.
— TJOxley1 (@TJOxley1) October 3, 2020
Matt Corral will lean heavily on Sanders, Mingo and Drummond, as they have had a full spring, a summer, and all of fall camp to build chemistry with one another. There is no doubt in my mind the Rebel offense will come out Monday guns blazing, ready to torch the Cardinals’ defense.
— CFB Pylon (@TheCFBPylon) September 26, 2020
Corral is ready for whatever comes his way in Atlanta. “I’m expecting drop 8 but nothing is going to surprise me. I’m expecting the unexpected,” he said.
The redshirt junior also discussed his leadership style and how it has changed. “This off-season was all about growing mentally and that includes leadership and just being able to be transparent with my team,” Corral explained.
Corral’s maturity is noteworthy, and his leadership is one area in which he’s worked diligently. That should go a long way helping this team deal with the adversity that comes with life in the SEC.
Everyone knows Corral’s got a great arm — and that his feet make him a running threat, as well. He was asked Thursday about his competitiveness and what he has learned on when to fight for the extra yard and when to play it safe and get out of harm’s way.
”It’s all about situation. Leb (Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby) knows I’m going to be smart; he trusts me. If he sees me be too aggressive and take unnecessary hits, he’s going to say something.
— TJOxley1 (@TJOxley1) September 26, 2020
Corral is a veteran QB who understands when to fight for extra yards — and when not to risk taking a big hit.
Defense looking forward to the Cunningham challenge
Flipping to the other side of the ball, the Rebels’ defense is primed for improvements after last year’s struggles. This season the unit will rely heavily on more consistent play across the board and added depth. That depth on the defense, coming from the addition of talented freshmen and JUCO transfers, will help players get a break when needed and give them a physical advantage against opposing offenses.
One of the players who will be looked at to play a crucial role is defensive lineman Quinten Bivens. The junior from Waynesboro, Mississippi played in 10 regular season games last year, starting in one.
“I expect to go out with the first group and then rotate. I think we have a lot more experienced guys and guys who can play multiple positions,” Bivens said Thursday when asked what he envisions his role being on the defense.
On the back end of the Ole Miss defense, veteran Jaylon Jones will play an important role as a defensive back. After spending last season at safety, Jones has moved back to his original position of cornerback.
Jones was asked in Thursday’s press conference what he sees his role being this year.
“I’ll be lining up at corner on Monday. We are blessed this year to have a lot of depth. We’ve got a lot of depth in the safety room and the corner room. We’ve got a lot of guys who can play, a lot of the young guys are coming along.”
Jones knows Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham will present a challenge to the Ole Miss defense, one the Rebels are looking forward to facing.
“(He’s a ) dual-threat, not exactly like Lamar (Jackson) — but he’s close to it. Have to respect his feet. Have to respect his arm. The dude can throw. He’s a good QB. As long as we can contain him, we’ll have a good day.”
Jaylon Jones on Malik Cunningham
If the Rebels’ defense can do just that — and the offense performs the way we all know they are capable of — Ole Miss will be 1-0 with Austin Peay coming to town for the 2021 home-opener.
(Feature images credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss; graphic: Nick Filipich, Rebel Walk)