Partway through the third quarter, Matt Corral made his exit after a performance that included 281 passing yards and five touchdowns as his team milked away the clock.
Saturday was what most expected in terms of a result--Ole Miss ran away with a game against a team it was more talented than. That's what stable SEC programs do against FCS opponents: they don't let them hang around.
That being said, there is a tendency to expect a clandestine, seamless performance against an inferior opponent, and that wasn't exactly what we saw from Ole Miss on Saturday. That expectation is foolish, however, and these types of games provide a program with an opportunity to work on some things where it deems necessary, and that was especially the case for the Rebels on Saturday night.
Ole Miss was without Lane Kiffin for its season opener in Atlanta against Louisville due to COVID-19 protocols, and it was also without a normal practice schedule due to a short week. Kiffin said as much on Saturday, that he was thankful to be back on the sideline, but his team has some things to work on heading into a home date with a hot offensive team in Tulane.
"It was really cool," Kiffin said in postgame media availability. "It was one of those games you're like done at halftime, so the second half can drag a little bit. Our guys played good, and the fans were into it. We've just got to keep winning more and fill this thing up."
The Ole Miss student section was packed for the first half against an FCS opponent on Saturday, and why wouldn't it have been? This was the first opportunity in almost two years for any fan who wished to attend an Ole Miss sporting event to do so, and even though it came against Austin Peay, students seemed excited to get into Vaught-Hemingway Stadium this week if the attendance is any indicator.
What's more important from Kiffin's perspective, however, is that Ole Miss took care of business on Saturday, but it also highlighted some areas that the Rebels need to improve on before conference play starts. As mentioned above, they also have a team that has come out of the gates strong in Tulane visiting Oxford next week, so there are some areas that the Rebels will be focusing on in practice this week, specifically penalties and offensive efficiency on third down.
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"I kind of remembered too afterwards it was coming on a short week," Kiffin said. "We really only practiced one day. If you take that into consideration, I'd say the starters played pretty good. We gave up too many yards on defense. We did okay point-wise, just gave up a lot of yards. We weren't very good on third down."
The Ole Miss offense was 5-of-14 on third downs but went 4-of-6 on fourth down to keep some of those drives alive. That's the benefit of having a head coach who invests heavily in analytics: just because you don't convert a third down doesn't mean your drive is over. Still, third-down efficiency needs to improve for the Rebels moving forward.
There's also the fact that Ole Miss surrendered 404 yards of total offense to Austin Peay on Saturday night. It was evident coming in that the Governors would go at a fast pace on offense, and that seemed to impact the Rebels' defensive play a bit. There were also all the defensive pass interference penalties called on the Ole Miss secondary (some of which were questionable, sure) that helped extend Austin Peay drives. As a team, Ole Miss was penalized 12 times for 130 yards on Saturday. That needs to be cleaned up moving forward if you're a Rebel fan.
I say all of this to get to my overall point: Ole Miss accomplished what was needed on Saturday night. It dominated an inferior opponent and seemed to escape the game without any significant injury news. Sure, there are things to work on, but pretty much every team in America is in that boat as we head into Week 3.
That being said, Ole Miss will have to come ready to play against the Green Wave next week. Tulane has a high-powered offense that will be visiting Oxford, one that gave Oklahoma a run for its money in Week 1, and if the Rebels don't come prepared, they could be on upset alert when it's all said and done.
Even so, Ole Miss is 2-0 through two games which, in the words of Lane Kiffin, is the best you can be at this point of the season. We won't know this team's ceiling for a couple more weeks, but as of now, the early returns are positive in Oxford.
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