Ole Miss football was a tale of two units a season ago, and that’s a trend the Rebels hope to reverse in 2021.
The Ole Miss offense was among the most prolific in the country in 2020 in Lane Kiffin’s first campaign at the helm, averaging 39.2 PPG and 555.5 YPG. This season, Matt Corral returns as the bell cow quarterback for the Rebels after passing for nearly 4,000 yards and 29 touchdowns in his COVID-sophomore season. He was also the second-leading rusher on a team that led the SEC in rushing yards.
As far as the offense is concerned, most of the question marks seem to be splitting hairs as of now, although that side of the ball has to replace its leading receiver in Elijah Moore, who was drafted by the New York Jets in April. The bulk of the Rebels’ offensive production is returning this season, and with offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and Kiffin’s prowess for finding mismatches on that side of the ball, most don’t expect the offense in Oxford to take much of a step back if any.
Running backs Jerrion Ealy and Henry Parrish Jr. could also help alleviate some of the transition in the passing game left vacant by the departure of Moore, lining up in the slot or hauling in passes out of the backfield. Former quarterback John Rhys Plumlee has also made the transition to receiver and could see a large number of snaps in 2021.
The flip side of the coin for Ole Miss is the defense. The Rebels surrendered 519 YPG a season ago, among the worst in the FBS. The defense was a focus of recruiting for the Rebels in this last cycle, but that side of the ball remains the biggest question heading into the 2021 campaign. If Ole Miss can be even middle-of-the-pack on defense and its offense keep the same pace it had in the COVID-riddled 2020 season, the win-loss column could have a lot more Ws than Ls this fall. If, however, the defense doesn’t take a step forward, the outlook is murkier. Not dire, necessarily, but murky.
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Ole Miss showed last year that it could be competitive in the SEC with an elite offense and an abysmal defense. Still, if Lane Kiffin & Co. want to make a push for the SEC West in the next couple of seasons, the defense has to improve, leaving at least some margin for error for the offense, of which there was little a season ago.
There is some reason for optimism, however, if you’re a Rebel fan. In last year’s Outback Bowl, the Rebels held nationally-ranked Indiana to 20 points. Granted, the Hoosiers were without starting quarterback Michael Penix Jr... Still, the Rebels managed to win in Tampa that day, a day that featured many notable absences on the offensive side of the ball.
There seems to be a lot of potential for the 2021 Ole Miss Rebels, but plenty of question marks remain, and how those questions are answered will go a long way in determining how this season fares as a whole.
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