Ole Miss football is 2-0 having survived both a hyped, nationally-televised opening game against Louisville and a trap-type game to open the home slate against Austin Peay.
Each win was decided relatively early and came without any true pressure points for the offense or defense. Matt Corral has been brilliant with the ball in his hands, even with the new-ish group of targets to throw to, with plenty of production and not one turnover to his name thus far.
The quarterback has also kept defenses at bay with his rushing ability, accounting for 90 yards and a score through a pair of contests, though it's not sustainable the deeper Ole Miss travels into their SEC schedule. Even with Tulane on deck, the rushing load from others will prove paramount in creating true balance for head coach Lane Kiffin.
Saturday against Austin Peay provided glimpses on a variety of ball carriers beyond the signal-caller. Henry Parrish Jr. led the effort with eight carries for 72 yards, converted quarterback John Rhys Plumlee ran for 64 yards, Kentrel Bullock saw his first bulk action and tallied 52 yards while lead-backs Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner combined for just nine carries for 71 yards.
The head-turning 336 yards rushing the Rebels put up was somewhat expected against an inferior opponent at the line of scrimmage, something that will play increasingly harder going forward. But the extended reps did provide a glimpse of the potential of the rushing attack and perhaps most importantly, its non-reliance on a single ball carrier.
Through a pair of contests, not a single Rebel back has more than 16 carries to his name. Each of the aforementioned is averaging better than 5.3 yards per carry and each is building a style for Ole Miss fans to expect when their number is called.
Ealy is the all-around back with bell-cow potential as well as breakaway speed and quickness, all in one package. Conner is the one-cut, downhill power player who will be called upon in short-yardage and near the goal line, where few can push against his momentum. Parrish is a slasher with great instincts and balance. Plumlee and Bullock don't figure to tote the rock as consistently, but offer a uniqueness in their own right, given the former QB's versatility and Bullock's availability behind the starting trio.
So how will it work moving forward?
Most expect Ole Miss to light up the scoreboard, which it has in two games (48.5 points per game) all while taking its collective foot off the gas in each second half. Corral is healthy and capable as both a passer and a runner, but the true rushing attempts -- not improvisational ones -- figure to be minimized given the lack of experience behind him at the game's most important position.
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It could, and probably should mean more work for the fresh group of backs. Some may not worry until the Alabama game in two weeks, but Tulane comes to town with a commanding offense and a turnover-inducing defense to its own name. The Green Wave is also stout against the run.
Oklahoma, which was fortunate to beat the program at all, ran for just 116 yards in the opener, and on Saturday Tulane blew out Morgan State while holding the Bears to just 1.3 yards per carry. This, and not Alabama, will serve as the first marked test for the Rebels in 2021.
Ole Miss is now ranked inside the top 20, will remain favored (-14.5 via the SI Sportsbook) and suddenly has -- expectation. It would be safe to assume Corral may be able to keep up his consistency, especially with a WR1 developing in Dontario Drummond, so the combination of the offensive line and tailback trio will have to deliver to provide the balance SEC contenders must in the gauntlet of a schedule in the SEC West -- which is all of a sudden somehow better.
Fresh off of its flag-planting win over Texas, Arkansas is now a fellow top 20 program, and the October 9 matchup will be another marker. LSU and Auburn to cap the month and then the trip to Texas A&M in November, not to mention the Egg Bowl, will each present Ole Miss with rush defenses that can make the offense one-sided and eventually more vulnerable, one of the main issues in 2020 as Corral racked up bulk yardage and turnovers simultaneously.
Expect the trio of Ealy, Parrish and Conner to ramp up the work load in the coming weeks with a lot left to be decided on the pecking order when the scoreboard reads a little bit closer than it has to this point. We know Conner will be featured when the chains or end zone nears, but what of Ealy and Parrish beforehand?
Ride the hot hand or try to split the carries?
What about as receivers out of the backfield?
The early-season sample has been just that, a small sample, but true tests await and main course loads will be revealed soon enough if the Ole Miss rise is to continue.
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