We are about 24 hours from the kickoff of the 2021 Ole Miss football season, and we've reached the portion of pregame preparations where predictions for the game are called for.
Ole Miss will be without head coach Lane Kiffin on the sideline on Monday night due to him testing positive with a breakthrough case of COVID-19 despite the team and staff being 100 percent vaccinated.
Even so, there is a game to be played, and we'll soon see how much Kiffin's absence affects the Rebels in their season-opener.
Let's dive into the picks for Monday night.
As we reach the eve of game day, there have been some twists and turns leading up to the 2021 season opener between Ole Miss and Louisville. Of course, the biggest will be the absence of Lane Kiffin for the Rebels, immediately taking away one of the biggest advantages in the matchup. Kiffin's reputation for offense, aggression and some fun along the way is multiplied within his own team, almost a personality rub-off and natural confidence booster that should be even easier to see for Kiffin's squad heading into year two at the helm.
Without Kiffin present, I expect almost a more conventional approach from the Rebels, meaning closer to a straight-lined game plan without some of the high-risk, high-reward bullet points coming to life. But don't mistake it for the expectation of a boring game by any means, as Jeff Lebby has already proven what type of game-planner and play-caller he can be. Also, if there had to be a game in which the head coach could potentially sit out without the plan altering much, it would be Week 1 against the opponent long prepared for like Louisville in an opener.
The Cardinals have an experienced quarterback who can make plays as a runner in Malik Cunningham, but the skill positions otherwise may look completely new. Outside of the quarterback, UofL's run production from 2020 is all but depleted, and the pass catchers will appear without a proven deep threat to keep the Rebels honest on defense to all three levels. Expect a more methodical Louisville offense, something that will allow Ole Miss to play aggressively on defense more times than not.
On the flip side, Ole Miss is also replacing plenty, but the balance of scheme and ball distribution could be better in 2021 under Matt Corral, not to mention the actual rushing attack with the return of Jerrion Ealy, Henry Parrish, Snoop Conner and others, who will gash the talented Cardinal front as the game wears on. If a pass catcher, perhaps Jonathan Mingo, can begin to mold into the go-to wideout for Corral, the game could be in hand before its final moments. Throw in a controlled, mostly indoor setting and perhaps we eventually forget Kiffin isn't calling the shots in person after all.
Prediction: Ole Miss 38, Louisville 24
Having Lane Kiffin miss this game for COVID definitely hurts. Anything can happen in the first game of the year and making those adjustments is key, which is why the Rebels need to come out of the gates strong. Luckily for them, Matt Corral might be the best player on the field Monday night and he'll be slinging it in the first game of his Heisman campaign. He's got a lot to prove and he might prove too much for the Louisville defense.
Prediction: Ole Miss 42, Louisville 27
Ole Miss and Louisville have never met on the field of play, and neither team has home field advantage since it is being played in Atlanta. Ole Miss went 5-5 a season ago while Louisville went 4-7, and I think Ole Miss holds the advantage on Monday night.
Recommended for You
Ole Miss has some momentum with Lee Corso picking Matt Coral as his Heisman Trophy winner, and Corral and the Ole Miss offense are known for being a force behind the play calling of offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. With that being said, for Louisville to win, they would need to keep the ball in their hands as much as possible with no turnovers.
I believe that Ole Miss will keep the ball with one or fewer turnovers, and since Malik Cunningham threw 12 interceptions in the 2020 football season, I believe that proves to be the difference on Monday night.
Prediction: Ole Miss 36, Louisville 14
Ole Miss enters the season with perhaps the most dangerous offensive attack in the entire country, led by a Heisman contender in quarterback Matt Corral. Corral will be surrounded by playmakers at every skill position, and an experienced offensive line with NFL talent.
While the defense is suspect to say the least, Corral and the offense should be able to carry the load and then some -- even without Lane Kiffin calling the plays.
Prediction: Ole Miss 49, Louisville 31
John Macon Gillespie
We've finally reached the point of the year where we start to get some answers for the questions we've been asking all off-season. How well can Ole Miss replace the production of Elijah Moore on offense? Perhaps more importantly, how much better (if any) will the Rebel defense be in 2021?
Lane Kiffin won't be on the sideline on Monday night, which isn't ideal if you're an Ole Miss fan, but I believe that issue will be negated by the fact that A. Jeff Lebby is an experienced play-caller, and defensive coordinator D.J. Durkin is an experienced game manager, and B. Matt Corral is finally entering a season in an offensive system that he's used to. For the first time in his Ole Miss career, Corral isn't entering a season with a new offensive coordinator. That should pay dividends.
I also believe the Ole Miss defense will be improved from a season ago. I have some questions about the front-seven, but the secondary seems to be in a good spot, at least in theory. I don't think they'll be great this season (and probably not even great on Monday night), but I do expect them to be more serviceable than they were in 2020. If the defense can get stops on occasion (something that was largely lacking last season) and the offense can continue its high-velocity run, I think this team can take a step forward. Obviously, we haven't seen a game yet, but we'll start to have an idea about these question marks tomorrow night.
I think Ole Miss overcomes the loss of Lane Kiffin, covers the spread, and comes back home with a win to prepare for Austin Peay next week.
Prediction: Ole Miss 45, Louisville 28
Want the latest in breaking news and insider information on the Rebels? Click Here