Even without Lane Kiffin and the loss of Elijah Moore to the NFL a season ago, the Ole Miss offense looks more than capable to keep up its momentum in 2021.
On Monday night, Matt Corral started his potential Heisman campaign with a bang in the Rebels' season opener, going 22-for-32 through the air with one touchdown in the 43-24 win over Louisville. He also had 55 rushing yards on 12 carries and found pay dirt with his legs as well. Where Matt Corral goes, this Ole Miss offense goes, and the early returns are positive, to say the least.
"I think especially in college football when you can pull the ball and be a threat, it changes how you have to play defense," Kiffin said of his quarterback. "I've said it all along: I think the guy is really special. If he plays like this, he's going to make a lot of money and be in the top 10 picks [in the NFL draft]."
Throughout the evening, the Rebels were killed by penalties, racking up 125 penalty yards on both sides of the ball. This inevitably killed some drives and called back some scores, but, in the world of analytics where Lane Kiffin resides, going for it on fourth down is typically a favorable option, and Ole Miss went a perfect 3-for-3 in that category on Monday.
Oh, and the Rebels also seem to have a field goal kicker--at least one that can be serviceable enough when called upon. Freshman Caden Costa drilled three field goals on Monday night with a long of 47 yards. The kicking game wasn't perfect (fellow-freshman kicker Cale Nation missed Ole Miss' first PAT of the night), but if Caden Costa can continue to be a legitimate option in the kicking game, this Ole Miss offense can feel a load taken off its shoulders without the absolute necessity of scoring a touchdown every drive lingering in the back of its mind.
It also helps that the Ole Miss defense looked very different on Monday than it did a season ago. The Rebels held Louisville scoreless in the first half, a feat that hadn't been achieved since Ole Miss' 2016 win over Georgia. Just like the presence of a kicking game, if the Ole Miss defense can get stops (not play perfectly, mind you, but be serviceable), then this offense should play with an added relief.
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"[The defense] played how we are supposed to," Kiffin said. "Obviously we completely changed schemes from what we did a year ago, and I had not talked about it on purpose and waited for this game."
Back to the offense itself, it was expected that the Rebels would likely try to alleviate the loss of Elijah Moore by committee, relying on multiple receivers and backs to collectively fill his shoes, and that proved to be the case on Monday night, although one receiver stood above the rest.
Dontario Drummond led the Rebels with 177 yards on nine catches and a touchdown in the win, and his presence along with names like Braylon Sanders and even running backs Jerrion Ealy and Henry Parrish who will continue to line up out wide, Corral should have plenty of options to choose from in the passing game moving forward.
"You never know when you play in these systems and they go to take away people," Kiffin said, "and we got a lot of soft coverage outside and really deep. That takes away your outside receivers a little more. [Drummond is] our slot like Elijah was a year ago, so he ended up getting a lot more catches and a lot more opportunities."
Now, Ole Miss shifts its focus to its first home game of the year against an FCS opponent in Austin Peay followed by a home date with Tulane. After a bye week on Sept. 25, the Rebels will travel to Tuscaloosa, Alabama, to open SEC play. The offense will certainly be needed in that one.
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