The Rebel RoundUp: Ole Miss Ready to Roll Against Louisville
OXFORD, Miss. — The Rebels are ready to roll against Louisville this Monday night in Atlanta! Year one brought the Ole Miss faithful an absolutely riveting show full of highlight plays and deep passes. The season was capped off with an exciting win in the Outback Bowl against No. 7 Indiana.
In the offseason, head coach Lane Kiffin added a top-20 recruiting class loaded with talent on both sides of the ball, including a couple of key transfers who will help fill some areas of need.
Ole Miss offense ready to pick up where they left off
In the past week, the Lane Train has picked up plenty of hype as former Baylor QB and Heisman Trophy winner Robert Griffin III publicly stated he believes Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral will win the Heisman Trophy this year. ESPN analyst Lee Corso concurs with RG III.
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) September 4, 2021
Corral is a consensus dark horse candidate with +2200 odds, placing him right in the Top 10. As our own David Walker likes to point out, however, Corral finished 2020 No. 3 in ESPN’s Total QBR and is the top returning QB in that metric as Justin Fields and Mac Jones are now in the NFL.
ESPN analyst, Kirk Herbstreit said that college football’s best-kept secret is running back Jerrion Ealy. He is joined by Henry Parrish, Kentrel Bullock, and Snoop Conner for a dynamic quartet in the backfield.
The wide receivers and tight ends have a lot of options to find a replacement for the production Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah. Returning veteran wide receivers Braylon Sanders, Dontario Drummond and Jonathan Mingo are looking to help fill the shoes in Moore’s absence. Dannis Jackson and Jadon Jackson also had a very big fall camp and should see plenty of action.
With tight end Casey Kelly not yet at full speed after suffering a torn ACL last winter, the Rebs will look to junior Chase Rogers, freshman Hudson Wolfe, and sophomore Damarcus Thomas to handle the TE duties.
New names to watch in the receiver room are Jahcour Pearson, Qua Davis, quarterback turned receiver John Rhys Plumlee, Bralon Brown, and many more.
The offensive line returns four of its five starters from last year, and Coach Kiffin and company added a big impact transfer in Utah center Orlando Umana.
Rebels’ defense enters season with chip on its shoulder
On the opposite side of the ball, the defense looks to improve from last year’s unit with added experience and some impact newcomers.
The defensive line features an impressive edge duo of Sam Williams and Cedric Johnson as well as Tariqious Tisdale. Prized recruit Tywone Malone will add depth also. The interior will feature Isaiah Iton and fellow JUCO recruit Jamond Gordon at the defensive tackle spot. Nose tackle will be manned by Quentin Bivens and K.D. Hill.
Maryland transfer linebacker Chance Campbell adds a playmaker who averaged over 10 tackles per game last year for the Terrapins. The Rebels also return Lakia Henry and MoMo Sanogo in the linebacker room, with Mark Robinson, Ashanti Cistrunk, and Austin Keys expected to also get plenty of playing time.
The defensive backs return a lot of experience from last year but also added a plethora of depth on the roster. Look for Otis Reese to be one of the leaders of this unit. Joining him is Tylan Knight, who is never at a loss for making big plays at much-needed times.
— Brad Logan (@BradLoganCOTE) August 20, 2021
At the corner position, Jaylon Jones, Miles Battle, Deane Leonard and Deantre Prince will handle the duties. Navy transfer Jake Springer and 2021 Chucky Mullins Courage Award Winner Keidron Smith will be the Rebels’ strong safeties, while AJ Finley will handle the free safety spot.
All the added talent and depth may allow the Rebels to go into Dime packages more confidently.
Kiffin won’t be on sidelines Monday
Thousands of fans will make the trip to Mercedes Benz Stadium to watch the Rebels take on Louisville Monday, but as we learned Saturday, an important piece of the Ole Miss program will not be making the trip. Head coach Lane Kiffin announced he has been diagnosed with COVID-19.
While this is definitely an unwanted occurrence so close to game time, the good news is that since the Ole Miss team is 100% vaccinated, no players will be forced to miss the game due to the virus or close-contact tracing.
It is widely expected offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby will stay up in the box, and co-defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin will run with the head coach duties. We will let you know more about that as it happens.
- Kickoff: 8 PM ET / 7 PM CT
- TV: ESPN
- Stream: WATCH ESPN (on ESPN app)
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
- Betting Lines:
- Ole Miss: -10
- O/U: 76
- Moneyline: Ole Miss -395
Series History and Side Notes
• This game will kick off the 127th season of football at Ole Miss and the second under head coach Lane Kiffin.
• The Rebels are 92-29-5 (.750 winning percentage) in season openers and have taken 19 of the last 24 on the field.
• Ole Miss is making their second appearance in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff. The Rebels defeated Boise State 35-21 to open the 2014 season.
• Lane Kiffin begins his second season at Ole Miss and 10th overall as a head coach. Kiffin is 5-4 in season openers.
• This will mark the first all-time meeting between Ole Miss and Louisville.
• The Rebels have opened the season on the road in three of the last four years.
• Ole Miss is 154-92-7 (.623 winning pct.) all-time during the month of September after vacated wins.
• The Rebels ranked top-20 in the FBS in nine different offensive categories last season
• Ole Miss broke the SEC record for total offense in conference games (562.4 ypg), besting LSU’s mark of 550.0.
• Fifteen Rebels have earned their degrees and are eligible for the 2021 season.
• Matt Corral, a preseason All-America selection, is the returning SEC leader in eight separate categories.
• Every running back letterwinner returns from last season’s SEC-leading rushing attack, including Jerrion Ealy.
• Ealy rushed for 745 yards and tallied nine touchdowns on the ground last year. He ranked No. 25 in the FBS in all-purpose yardage (132.1 ypg).
• LBs Lakia Henry and MoMo Sanogo headline a deep and talented linebackers group. The duo have combined for 37 career starts over the last several seasons.
Now, let’s get to know the Louisville Cardinals.
It’s year three for Cardinals’ head coach Scott Satterfield, and after an impressive 2019 campaign that resulted in an 8-5 record, he saw a fall from grace in 2020. Last year’s Louisville team was plagued by offensive turnovers as they finished 119th nationally in that category with 24. Former offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford left to assume the offensive line coaching duties for the Atlanta Falcons, and Satterfield made the decision to act as the Cardinals’ offensive coordinator this season.
Louisville lost star running back Javion Hawkins along with two receivers who went to the NFL in Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick. Satterfield is 12-12 since taking over, but now has himself in a situation where he may have to win back some fans with a bounce-back year.
A lot will fall on the defensive line’s growth. Defensive coordinator and Corinth, Miss. native Bryan Brown (yes, that’s the former Ole Miss defensive back from 2003-2006) has a rather interesting defensive strategy. For more in-depth football fans, Louisville runs a 3-4 that doesn’t focus on two gaps. Their goal is to play angles and get in the backfield with anyone. Inside linebackers, outside linebackers, the line, they look to move around and play the gaps to keep constant pressure on the opposing backfield. Last season, they struggled to force turnovers so the defense is looking for more playmakers to step up.
Malik Cunningham will be the starter at quarterback for Louisville. He has been the starter for the past two seasons under Satterfield. During his Louisville career, he has amassed over 5,000 passing yards and 1,600 rushing yards. In 2019 he looked like the next incredible Louisville QB, following the likes of Teddy Bridgewater and Lamar Jackson, as he had an impressive 22 TDs to 5 INTs.
I just got finished watching Malik Cunningham and I am a fan. Here are some of my favorite throws from Cunningham from the 2020 season. He's a super talented player, I'm excited to see him continue to improve. pic.twitter.com/kMUd0owMeS
— Kyle (@GimRari) December 22, 2020
In 2020, however, the turnovers really became a problem for Cunningham. He threw 12 INTs and lost three fumbles last season, accounting for over half of Louisville’s 24 turnovers. Cunningham is more than capable of making plays with his legs. At times in the last two years, he would immediately go running after one read and that has been a point of emphasis for him during the offseason.
Satterfield runs a spread system but will also focus on the running game with some NFL concepts. What Cunningham will look to do is go through his progressions better and try to stay in the pocket longer. A big thing Ole Miss will need to do is try to close the pocket on him. His footwork has been an area in which he needed improvement, so pressuring Cunningham could do the Rebels big favors.
MALIK CUNNINGHAM BREAKS FREE FOR A 75-YARD TOUCHDOWN RUN 🤐pic.twitter.com/HWgK83uXBi
— LFL (@LiveFeedLville) November 25, 2018
The Cardinals are known for their spread scheme, but the emphasis is still on the run game. They do a lot of outside zone runs and stretches. They averaged over 200 yards per ground on the game last year — and that was with Javian Hawkins opting out midway through the season. Louisville needs backs who can be explosive hitting holes, but also have really good vision. Now that Hawkins is gone, whether they run a feature back or use the committee approach is yet to be seen.
The listed starter at RB is Jalen Mitchell. He played in five games last season, averaging 6.7 yards per carry. At 5-foot-10 inches and 220 pounds, he may be the most sturdy back Louisville has — but don’t think he doesn’t have breakaway speed. Similar to Cunningham, Mitchell also had some ball-protection issues that Louisville is trying to address.
Louisville HC Scott Satterfield on running back battle: “I think the leader is (Jalen) Mitchell. He runs hard between the tackle and protects well. (Trevion) Cooley looked really good today. We’re pretty deep there. Hassan Hall ran hard today.” @CardSportZone
— Dalton Pence (@dpence_) August 14, 2021
Hasaan Hall is the main backup who is the true speedster and could be used in different spots to keep defenses honest. The third is true freshman Trevion Cooley who was a four-star recruit and was said to have had a stellar camp.
Wide Receiver/Tight End
Similar to the way Ole Miss lost a lot of production following the departures of Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah, Louisville finds itself in the same boat as they lost the dynamic duo of Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick. Those two accounted for 60% of the Cardinals passing game last season.
The starting WR1 is Jordan Watkins. He is 5-foot-11, 175 lbs. Last season as a true freshman, he caught eight passes for 57 total yards and scored one touchdown on the ground. Watkins learned from both Atwell and Fitzpatrick and has been praised for his versatility as a receiver. Behind him is true freshman Amari Huggins-Bruce.
Jordan Watkins taking a stroll down the sidelines to seal the game for Louisville. pic.twitter.com/CwB79i1WXi
— Stadium (@Stadium) December 12, 2020
The main guy here is Braden Smith. A 5-foot-10 inch slot guy, he is the most productive returner in the wide receiver room for the Cardinals. He caught 27 passes for 370 yards last year. One thing Smith didn’t do, however, is find the endzone last season.
Smith is set to split it with Josh Johnson. He is a senior who caught four passes for 40 yards last year. Behind them may be the most intriguing guy on the Cardinals’ entire roster. That is Shai Werts. A former all-conference QB at Georgia Southern, Werts has some undeniable athleticism. He isn’t a natural receiver but seeing how many runs he gets in-game will be something to monitor.
On the outside, we have Justin Marshall. A big-bodied receiver at 6-foot-3, 215 lbs., he is hoping to have an improved route tree that goes beyond deep routes. Tied with him on the depth chart is a literal blur in Tyler Harrel. The rumor is that he has low 4.2 speed and maybe the most improved receiver on the roster. Look for Satterfield to be creative using him.
Marshon Ford is the main name to know. Louisville has some depth and experience at the position, but Ford is a big red zone threat for the Cardinals catching six TDs last year. The other tight end used in two TE sets will be Dez Melton who, according to Louisville media, had a good fall camp.
— Satterdays (@Satterdays) November 17, 2019
This is one of the strong points for this Louisville team, as they have experience and depth. The one drawback could be that they have a new line coach working with the group. Former offensive coordinator Dwayne Ledford worked heavily with the offensive line before leaving for the NFL, and now it will be up to a familiar name to lead the group.
Jack Bicknell is Louisville’s new line coach, and he has tremendous experience working with lines in both the NFL and collegiate level — including a stint at Ole Miss from 2017-2019. The Cardinals return all five starters from last year’s line and have brought in some new talent.
The group is headlined by Cole Bentley who has made more than 30 starts in his collegiate career. He will be starting at center for the Cardinals. Next to Bentley on each side are two solidified starers in Caleb Chandler (left guard) and Adonis Boone (right guard).
— Louisville Football (@UofLFootball) July 23, 2021
Chandler is as steady as they come while Boone started all last season at left tackle. Speaking of left tackle, the Cardinals have Trevor Reid who was a former JUCO standout and is labeled as an absolute freak athletically. Whether the play reflects that is yet to be seen. For right tackle the job goes to Renato Brown. He may be the weak spot along the line, but look out for guys like Cam DeGeorge and Virginia Tech transfer Bryan Hudson to help rotate in and out.
Overall this battle between their offensive line and the Ole Miss defensive line could be one of the most important in the game. Knowing that Louisville should focus on the run, the Ole Miss line will have to have some of the new faces be ready for a challenge. If names like Iton, Malone, Johnson, Tisdale, Bivens, Gordon, and Hill play, well it would mean very good things for the rest of the season.
— Louisville Football (@UofLFootball) July 10, 2020
To summarize the defensive line for Louisville, it has depth but it also needs some guys to step up. There are two guys who Ole Miss fans should watch. The first is the end, Yaya Diaby. Rumor has it that he had a very good offseason/camp while being injured for some of last season. The other is Ramon Puryear who holds the other end spot.
On the inside, Malik Clark won the nose tackle job during camp. True Freshman Ashton Gillotte has been rumored to provide an impact as a depth piece. Lower down on the depth chart a name to keep an eye on is Jacquez Turner who was a First Team All-CUSA player at Southern Miss in 2018.
The line was not a strong suit for the Cardinals last year, as the group gave up an average of 179 rushing yards per contest in 2020 on 38 carries. The line also only got 18 tackles for loss last year from a group that totaled 83. The Ole Miss offense should look to take advantage here on a line that is looking to prove itself.
The big-name to know is C.J. Avery — and most Rebels will know of Avery. The Grenada, Miss. native played for Grenada High School and was the No. 1 defensive back on the “Dandy Dozen” list of the state’s best players. Coming back for a fifth year, Avery led the team in tackles the past two seasons and is the leader of this defense from the Will linebacker position.
CJ Avery is one of the key members of a very strong line backing core for Louisville. pic.twitter.com/8zfgeVKuDk
— ACC Content (@ACContent__) July 5, 2020
The middle linebacker position goes to Monty Montgomery who led the team in sacks in both 2019 and 2020. He is now a full-time starter who is looking to make more of an impact. Safety Jack Fagot moves into the CARD position after switching over, giving Louisville some more pass coverage.
If there’s one thing the Cardinals have struggled with it has been forcing turnovers, only creating 12 all last year (five of which were interceptions). Yassir Abdullah rounds out the linebacker group and has proven to be a solid piece for Louisville.
Tre Clark may be the best player on this Louisville defense along with Avery. He will be starting one of the corner spots and will give the Ole Miss receivers fits. Across from him is Chandler Jones who has the versatility to play safety. Don’t be surprised for him to slip back and for Greedy Vance to get a lot of reps. Trey Franklin is the next guy up at corner.
● CB Spotlight ●
Kei'Trel Clark – Louisville
• Clark transferred in from Liberty last season & made an immediate impact for the Cards. Last season he had 36 Tackles, 2.5 Tackles for Loss, 1 INT, 11 Pass Breakups and 1 Fumble Recovery 🔒 pic.twitter.com/oz6qDRGSrI
— NCAAF Nation (@NCAAFNation247) August 31, 2021
The safeties are headlined by a couple of newcomers as Qwynnterrio Cole mans the free safety position and Kenderick Dunn is a strong safety. Josh Minkins is the only holdover from the 2020 safety room and is looking to be a veteran rotation piece. He is still recovering from an injury, however.
This will be a big matchup for Ole Miss. Our talented wideouts vs. their potential shutdown secondary. Last season the Cardinals held teams to 189 yards per game through the air — which was good for the top 20 nationally last year.
James Turner returns as the kicker for Louisville. Last year he was perfect on 40 extra-point attempts while hitting almost 87% of his field goals. The Cardinals have a new punter in Mark Vassett who is a late addition to the roster. The return men will be Hasaan Hall who will look to use his breakaway speed on kickoffs while Braden Smith will return punts.
(Feature images courtesy Ole Miss Athletics and Louisville. Graphic: Nick Filipich, Rebel Walk)
TJ Oxley is a current MBA student at Ole Miss after having earned his undergraduate degree at the University of Toledo. He currently covers college hoops and the NBA Draft for the Basketball Society as well as all things Ole Miss for The Rebel Walk.