Ole Miss offense picks up where it left off, defense opens with strong performance against Louisville
OXFORD, Miss. — The first week of college football is in the books. Some fans might not be happy with their team’s results, while others are thrilled with what they saw — but regardless of how the games turned out, there’s no doubt fans were excited about the kickoff of the season.
No doubt one of those pleased is Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin as his Rebels defeated Louisville, 43-24, Monday night in the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, Georgia.
You can’t begin any discussion of the win over the Cardinals without acknowledging the play of the Ole Miss defense.
The Rebels D went into halftime with a 26-0 lead, shutting out Louisville and its talented quarterback, Malik Cunningham. The Ole Miss defensive unit rolled out a new 3-2-6 scheme last night that proved to be very difficult to attack in the first half of the game.
The defensive line provided enough pressure on Cunningham for most of the night to keep him somewhat uncomfortable. The linebackers filled gaps and stuffed run plays. The defensive backs came up and made tackles in the open field, keeping everything in front of them to limit explosive plays.
The Rebels were led by a number of players who were ready to show the world the improvements the unit has made since last season.
Otis Reese, A.J. Finley and Tysheem Johnson tied for the lead in total tackles, with eight apiece. Transfer linebacker Chance Campbell finished the game with seven tackles and 1.5 tackles for loss while flying around and making plays for his new team. Keidron Smith also notched 7 tackles and .5 TFL.
On the Cardinals’ opening drive, Campbell would make a huge tackle of Cunningham that came on a 4th and 1 from the Ole Miss 39 yard-line.
Malik Cunningham wasn’t giving the ball up on this fourth-down play, and Chance Campbell knew it. pic.twitter.com/Y1dIZ5m2gn
— Billy Heyen (@BillyHeyen) September 7, 2021
“Yeah that was a fourth down stop,” Campbell said, “but we got them to fourth down, so we had guys doing their job on first, second, and third. Everyone did their job, so when everybody does their job, those plays are pretty easy. So it’s just guys doing their part,” he explained.
Campbell was not the only one making big defensive plays. In the second quarter, Louisville would start a drive from its own 22-yard-line, but that’s where it ended with a big-time interception by Deantre Prince.
Deantre Prince with the big INT pic.twitter.com/8zqo93pWpk
— TJOxley1 (@TJOxley1) September 7, 2021
The takeaway would lead to seven points for the Ole Miss offense.
The next Cardinals’ drive would start on their own 23-yard line and progress all the way down to the Ole Miss 19-yard line. But on 4th and 2, the Louisville running back mishandled the handoff and Austin Keys jumped on the loose ball, coming up with the takeaway that led to three points.
In the second half, the Rebels would surrender 24 points to Louisville but the game was never in doubt. The sky is the limit for this Ole Miss defense.
A look at the offense
The Rebels’ offense was just as fun to watch as always, racking up a total of 569 yards of offense, with 381 coming through the air and 188 on the ground.
Matt Corral noticed the Double Move wasn’t there so he quickly reacts and finds another target for a good gain. NFL move right here pic.twitter.com/ByGhGzDCYV
— The Transfer Portal CFB (@TPortalCFB) September 7, 2021
Quarterback Matt Corral and the offensive unit jumped out to an early 26-0 lead by halftime. After the game, Corral was asked if the big lead at intermission changed the way they approached the second half. “No. Absolutely not,” he said.
“Every time we get the ball, our goal is to score.”
QB Matt Corral
The Ole Miss offense committed no turnovers, which in a week one game is encouraging to see. Corral completed 22 of 32 pass attempts for 381 yards and a touchdown — with no interceptions. He did this without the presence of his head coach and “quarterback whisperer,” head coach Lane Kiffin. The Rebels’ coach tested positive for COVID and stayed at home in Oxford while his team played.
Corral, who continues to make it clear he’s not afraid of taking a hit, rushed for 55 yards and one touchdown on 12 carries and scored one touchdown.
Snoop Conner finished as Ole Miss’ leading rusher with 60 yards on 12 carries and found the end zone twice.
Snoop Conner with a VENGEANCE!
Ole Miss 36 – 10 Louisville pic.twitter.com/zqs9NMCR7z
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) September 7, 2021
At the beginning of last week when the Rebels’ depth chart was released, Conner was listed as the fourth string RB. He didn’t let that bother him and continued to work hard for the time his number would be called.
“I think this guy is setting a great example for our team,” Corral said.
“When those depth charts came out, he was fourth on the depth chart. He’s fourth on the depth chart right now, and not a word came out of him. That guy was doing extra. He was in the film room. He was getting his footwork right. Getting the protection right. That guy was doing everything right and that’s the definition of a winner. We need more of him on our team.”
Matt Corral on Snoop Conner
Conner was asked about his fourth-string status. “I have to control what I can control and put my head down and keep going. I know the work I put in, it will come out in the back end, and I’ll have a good end to it,” he said. He definitely had a good end to it, making his presence felt all night and punishing anyone who got in his way.
Wide receiver Dontario Drummond had a spectacular night and led all Ole Miss receivers with 9 catches, 177 yards and a touchdown.
Corral to Drummond for 34 yards. Also DONTARIO Hurdle pic.twitter.com/UYRQPWzBg2
— TJOxley1 (@TJOxley1) September 7, 2021
“He’s smart. He’s working the tight end spot. He’s working in the slot and that does a lot for us. We can use him and go in fast tempo and get him wherever we want him because he can go out there and execute.”
Matt Corral on Dontario Drummond
One thing that will need to be cleaned up this week in practice is penalties. The Rebs committed 14 penalties that accounted for 125 yards.
There’s no place like home
Both Corral and Conner were asked what it means to them to play their first home game of the season this coming Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.
“Definitely looking forward to the Walk of Champions,” Corral said. Haven’t done that, feel like in forever. Being back in that environment, our home, wouldn’t want anything more,” he added.
“The night game, that’s one of the best atmospheres ever at Ole Miss,” Conner said. “And it’s going to be 100-percent capacity. I know our fans are going to show up and show out, so I’m ready.”
Now that week one is over, we switch our focus to Austin Peay who will be coming to town this Saturday. See you in the Grove!
(Feature images: Josh McCoy, graphic: Nick Filipich, Rebel Walk)