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Rebels' success will hinge on improved defense in Kiffin's second year

July 8, 2021
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The “Lane Train” rambled on like a high-speed railway in 2020.

The only problem was that there were so few stops along the way.

Ole Miss’ first year under coach Lane Kiffin was interesting, no doubt. The Rebels rolled up at least 35 points in six games. Unfortunately, they lost three of them.

In fact, Kentucky, Alabama and LSU all posted season-high point totals against Ole Miss, which allowed more points (38.3) than any team in the Southeastern Conference.

The Rebels’ offense again projects to be combustible in 2021. Quarterback Matt Corral is perhaps the SEC’s premier passer, running back Jerrion Ealy has big-play ability, the offensive line is experienced, and they always seem to find capable receivers.

Their overall success, though, is dependent on getting more stops from the generous defense.

Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports
Matt Corral will be one of the most experienced quarterbacks in the SEC in 2021.

The Rebels won’t find much comfort in the return of 10 starters. However, they’re hopeful an influx of talent via recruiting and transfers will provide a much-needed boost.

“I think we're more comfortable with our players," Kiffin said following spring drills. "You know, we had no spring ball a year ago and so knew very little about them. Wasn't allowed to work with them very much, so this was great to have 15 practices with them, and we had 14 mid-year scholarship players, you know, almost all on defense, which was really good to help us there."

The Rebels brought in Navy transfer Jake Springer, who posted 8.0 sacks in 2019 as a hybrid linebacker/safety.

Ole Miss also brought in junior college defensive linemen Jamond Gordon and Isaiah Iton as well as four-star freshman prospect Tywone Malone.

Further, they will have full use of defensive back Otis Reese, a transfer from Georgia, who was only eligible to play in three games for Ole Miss last season.

If that’s not enough to heal Ole Miss’ ailing defense, then “Lane Train” may be barreling toward another break-even season.

Ole Miss Rebels

  • Coach: Lane Kiffin
  • 2020 record: 5-5
  • Postseason results: Defeated Indiana, 26-20, in Outback Bowl

Returning starters: Offense 8, Defense 10

Area of strength: Quarterback Matt Corral is arguably the best in the Southeastern Conference at his position. Last season, his first as a full-time starter, Corral passed for 3,337 yards and 29 touchdowns. The downside is he led the SEC with 14 interceptions. However, 11 of those came in two games — losses to Arkansas and LSU. Despite the plague of picks, the Rebels had the ball with a chance to win on the last drive in each of those games.

Area of concern: The Rebels must upgrade the SEC’s worst run defense. That starts with bolstering a flimsy defensive line. Ole Miss tried to address that issue with junior college transfers and Malone. However, counting on them to sufficiently plug the soft defensive front might be wishful thinking.

Top players

  • Kim Klement-USA TODAY Sports
    Otis Reese intercepted a pass in the Rebels’ Outback Bowl win over Indiana.
    Matt Corral, QB: As a sophomore starter, Corral averaged 333.7 passing yards a game to ranked fifth in the nation in 2020. He threw multiple touchdown passes in nine games and exceeded 300 passing yards in seven. He also rushed for 506 yards.
  • Jerrion Ealy, RB: Speedy running back rushed for 745 yards and nine touchdowns in nine games. He had 120 yards and ran for two touchdowns against Alabama.
  • Otis Reese, S: A transfer from Georgia, Reese was hamstrung by NCAA paperwork and only appeared in three games in 2020. In those games vs. Mississippi State, LSU and Indiana, he accumulated 23 tackles, an interception and a pass break up. Projected over a 12-game season, he’d be on pace for 92 tackles and four interceptions. Those would be all-conference numbers.

Significant losses: Elijah Moore (NFL second-round draft pick), OT Royce Newman (NFL fourth-round draft pick), TE Kenny Yeboah (NFL free agent)

Key additions: DT Tywone Malone (Nation’s sixth-ranked recruit at his position), Hybrid LB/S Jake Springer (transfer from Navy)

2021 schedule

  • Sept. 6 vs. Louisville in Atlanta
  • Sept. 11 vs. Austin Peay
  • Sept. 18 vs. Tulane
  • Oct. 2 at Alabama
  • Oct. 9 vs. Arkansas
  • Oct. 16 at Tennessee
  • Oct. 23 vs. LSU
  • Oct. 30 at Auburn
  • Nov. 6 vs. Liberty
  • Nov 13 vs. Texas A&M
  • Nov. 20 vs. Vanderbilt
  • Nov. 27 at Mississippi State

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Discussion from...

Rebels' success will hinge on improved defense in Kiffin's second year

3,870 Views | 6 Replies | Last: 2 mo ago by Iraq2xVeteran
AgOutsideAustin
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AG
Watch out they will be dangerous.
West texas fan
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But why? Cause they have Lane Kiffin as head coach? As a Power 5 Head coach he has had only one season that was 10-2. Beyond that not much. Yes he was great as OC at Alabama. But Ole Miss does have the players Alabama does.

Dangerous = Alabama & LSU ( both have earned it) . Of course any game could be a trap game. But Lane Kiffin isn't the second coming of Saban. More like a second coming of Tom Herman. He isn't even close to being in league with Saban, Fisher or Smart. He hasn't earned it no matter how much the sports media loves him.
SEC Champs
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AgOutsideAustin said:

Watch out they will be dangerous.

I agree. Ole Miss is the TT of the SEC West. Any given Saturday they'll hang 50+ on you, but also give up 50. I believe they gave Bama a run for their money last season but gassed in the 4Q. Our run offense can wear them down, but we'll need solid play from our secondary.
AgOutsideAustin
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West texas fan said:

But why? Cause they have Lane Kiffin as head coach? As a Power 5 Head coach he has had only one season that was 10-2. Beyond that not much. Yes he was great as OC at Alabama. But Ole Miss does have the players Alabama does.

Dangerous = Alabama & LSU ( both have earned it) . Of course any game could be a trap game. But Lane Kiffin isn't the second coming of Saban. More like a second coming of Tom Herman. He isn't even close to being in league with Saban, Fisher or Smart. He hasn't earned it no matter how much the sports media loves him.


Why ? Because they can score on anybody. To me that means dangerous.

Alabama and LSU have pretty much owned us so I don't characterize them as dangerous.
Iraq2xVeteran
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Ole Miss' offense will be explosive, and with an improved defense, I can see them finishing 8-4 or 9-3 (4-4 or 5-3 in SEC games). Last year, they scored 31+ points 7 times, but they allowed 33+ points 7 times. In fact, South Carolina scored a season-high 42 points at Oxford a week after we held South Carolina to 3 points in Columbia. Our rushing offense can keep Ole Miss offense off the field and our defense rested, but we will need a solid performance from our secondary to beat Ole Miss on 11/13.
Iraq2xVeteran
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SEC Champs said:

AgOutsideAustin said:

Watch out they will be dangerous.

I agree. Ole Miss is the TT of the SEC West. Any given Saturday they'll hang 50+ on you, but also give up 50. I believe they gave Bama a run for their money last season but gassed in the 4Q. Our run offense can wear them down, but we'll need solid play from our secondary.
Exactly. Since 2015, Texas Tech has lost 5 games in which they scored 52+ points in regulation, including 2 by double digits.

9/26/15: 55-52 loss to TCU
10/31/15: 70-53 loss to Oklahoma State
9/10/16: 68-55 loss at Arizona State
10/22/16: 66-59 loss to Oklahoma
9/26/20: 63-56 loss to Texas in overtime after a 56-56 tie at the end of regulation

Like Texas Tech, Ole Miss can score a ton of points but give up even more points. On 11/7/20, South Carolina was playing a home game after a bye week, but we held them to just 3 points. A week later, South Carolina scored a season-high 42 points against Ole Miss on the road.

Ole Miss' defense prevented 41 total yards of offense against Alabama. On 11 drives, they allowed 9 touchdowns, forced a punt at the 40 and a fumble at the 1. If Alabama had gained every possible yard, they would have gained 764 yards, but instead they gained 723. If not for that fumble, Alabama would have scored 10 touchdowns and 70 points against Ole Miss.

https://twitter.com/rodger/status/1315140911857373190?lang=en

I agree that our run offense can wear down Ole Miss' defense, but we will need a solid performance from our secondary.

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