Rebel RoundUp: Ole Miss ready for tough test against the Vols in Knoxville
KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — Last week, Ole Miss won the home contest against Arkansas 52-51. Was it a pretty win? No, but it was a necessary win. The heroics of Matt Corral and Snoop Conner got the Rebels the bounce-back win that fans will talk about for a long time. The defense gave up 676 yards and six total touchdowns to Mississippi native KJ Jefferson. However, when the defense was pressed with its back against the wall, the unit delivered. Pressure on Arkansas’s two-point conversion at the end of regulation sealed the Ole Miss win.
Another Week, Another Tough SEC game
This week Ole Miss fans will be making the trip along I-40 as they head over to Neyland Stadium to join a sell-out crowd of 102,455 fans for the contest. The Rebs will be playing a Vols team that has found new life under transfer QB Hendon Hooker.
The storylines for this game are there. One could easily talk about Rebels’ head coach Lane Kiffin’s return to Tennessee after his one season as the head guy in Knoxville in 2009. One could also bring up Peyton and Eli Manning as fans are still clamoring for a “Manningcast.” There is also the connection between UCF Head Coach Josh Heupel and Ole Miss OC Jeff Lebby, as Lebby was Heupel’s assistant at UCF.
Instead of all that, let’s treat this game for what it is, a trap game that Ole Miss fans can’t take lightly. Tennessee enters the contest 4-2 (2-1 SEC) with two consecutive wins over SEC opponents. The Vols have averaged 41.5 points per game this season. In the last two weeks, they put up 62 against Missouri on the road and 45 at home against South Carolina.
Ole Miss enters the contest 4-1 (1-1 SEC) with one of the most high-octane offenses in all of college football. Matt Corral is the Heisman favorite regardless of what the media says. The rushing attack has also been good enough to be fifth nationally. The Ole Miss defense has struggled the past couple of weeks after impressive performances to start the season.
- Kickoff: Saturday, Oct. 16th, 6:30 PM CT
- TV: SEC Network
- Memphis: WHBQ-AM 560
- Oxford: WOXF-FM 105.1
- Jackson: WFMN-FM 97.3
- Betting Lines:
- Ole Miss: -2.5
- O/U: 82
- Ole Miss Moneyline: -140
- Tennessee Moneyline: +120
Points of Emphasis
Getting in the Backfield:
One way or another, the Ole Miss front seven needs to improve. Tennessee has the best offensive line stuff-rate in the country. Essentially what that means is that very rarely do the Vols get stopped behind the line of scrimmage on run plays.
Tennessee also surrenders a lot of sacks and QB Hendon Hooker struggles to escape them. If the Rebel defense can cause Hooker to be put in a few uncomfortable situations, that may be a swinging factor for this game.
The Volunteers offense has looked really good and quite similar to the Ole Miss offense. The defense has also been helping them out as well. In the past three games, the Vols have forced nine turnovers. Switching the momentum and gaining a good field position can translate to more points.
The opposite is that Ole Miss doesn’t turn the ball over. They are one of two teams without an interception on the season and have only three fumbles in 2021. If Ole Miss can continue to keep track of the ball, it can keep the advantage.
Lane’s return to Knoxville and a Lebby/Heupel reunion are a couple of the abovementioned storylines, but the reality is none of that matters. Neyland Stadium is sold out and the crowd of 102,455 will be checkerboarded.
It’s going to be a hostile environment and the Rebels have already seen one this year against Alabama. It will be interesting to see how Ole Miss responds to an opposing crowd in a game that could be pretty close.
The Run Game
With Jerrion Ealy missing last week, the Rebels turned to Snoop Conner and man did he deliver. Snoop rushed for 110 yards and three touchdowns and was one of the most important players in the game.
This week Ealy is probable to return, but the bottom line is Snoop needs to be featured more heavily in the Ole Miss offense. Henry Parrish has been outstanding this year and will also be featured. Tennessee defensive linemen Matthew Butler will eat up blocks. The Vols will also be sending Theo Jackson in from the outside as well as Jeremy Banks from the linebacker spot.
Fourth and Field Goal Range?
The line is set at Ole Miss -2.5 and that means a field goal could be the difference. At what point does Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin decide on kicking it? Freshman kicker Caden Costa hit a 50-yarder against Arkansas that ultimately was the difference in the game.
This game will feature a lot of offense so a couple of missed fourth-down attempts could be huge on either side. On the Vols’ side, McGrath is a pretty accurate kicker but his power isn’t elite. It will be interesting to see how the two Kickers perform if they get the chance.
Ole Miss Impact Players/Coaches
The Ole Miss QB has been lights out. He’s scored 20 total touchdowns with an incredible mix of passing and rushing. Corral simply hasn’t missed much this year. He needs to continue that dominance and silence the crowd of 102,000.
The Vols’ linebackers are going to be rushing in this defense so Corral could have single coverage advantages and he needs to exploit and force the defense to adjust. The Vols have a veteran secondary with both returning safeties and Alontae Taylor is a good corner. Corral has manipulated safeties the past two seasons but getting both off course can help the offense.
Having been hurt for a couple of weeks, Springer hasn’t been able to see the field. If he is back for the Tennessee game, as we are hearing may be the case, then we may see a defense that is more coherent as we know that Ole Miss has moved pieces around after his injury.
Last season Springer made a huge impact, batting passes and forcing three fumbles on the season. The Ole Miss defense needs some help and if Springer is full-go he could be that help.
We quietly have one of those the-teacher-become-the-master situations on our hands. As many know, Jeff Lebby was Josh Heupel’s offensive coordinator at UCF. They are familiar with each other, and if Lebby can best the Vols’ defense with his play-calling, we could see a true mastermind at work.
The Entire Offensive Line
Tennessee will send corners and linebackers and get creative with their rush. Ole Miss’ offensive line has been good at protecting Corral so far. Being able to identify different blitzes and adjusting so the offense can stick to its designed play call, will be important. Corral can extend plays with his legs, but the offense looks even better when it can run more designed runs.
The Ole Miss defense has been fascinating, to say the least. Early in the year, the 3-2-6 seemed to be paying dividends. Then as soon as conference play started, things took a 180. Ole Miss’ defense slipped up. They fell back into the 100s in many of the national rankings, and many are calling for a scheme change. Given the Rebs’ thinness on the defensive line, we may see more of a traditional 3-4 or some nickel packages. The time is now for Durkin to get innovative.
Tennessee Impact Players
Tennessee’s offense has soared to new levels since Hooker replaced Joe Milton at quarterback. A dual-threat playmaker, Hooker has impressed with his 13 touchdowns and only 1 interception. His 185.89 passer efficiency rating sets him fifth nationally and one spot ahead of Matt Corral (182.43). On the other hand, Corral’s Total QBR places him No. 2 in the nation (89.5), while Hooker sits at No. 12 at 80.5.
As a passer, Hooker does most of his work with short throws from 1-10 yards out. He has been least effective throwing deep passes to the right. On the year, he is 1-for-5 on throws past 20 yards to the right side of the field. On the left side, he is 4-for-9 on throws past 20 yards. Like Ole Miss, Tennessee will call some designed runs for Hooker
The senior defensive lineman could be a problem against the Ole Miss defensive front. With the way, both teams run the ball, both front sevens will be huge. Bryant is the leader of that line, and with Snoop Conner looking for more carries and Jerrion Ealy back stuffing the run will be important for Tennessee.
Javonta Payton / Velus Jones Jr.
The duo above has accounted for seven total touchdowns for Tennessee. Velus Jones has seen big success after moving into the slot from the outside. Payton only has nine catches on the season, but four of those nine have been touchdowns and he has a whopping 24.1 yards per catch.
Similar to Ole Miss with Springer, Tennessee has also had a star safety miss time with injury. Theo Jackson is Tennessee’s leading tackler and is second on the Vols in tackles for loss. He is returning from a leg injury suffered in the Missouri game.
There have been a whirlwind of reports about whether or not Evans will play against the Rebels. Early in the week, reports came out that he would sit out this week’s contest. Later in the week, Evans went to IG live to say he will play. Whether that holds true or not remains to be seen. What we do know is the run game goes to another level when he is in the game as he has averaged 6.6 yards per carry. He has also rushed for six touchdowns.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
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.