Tennessee and Ole Miss have a fairly substantial game of football to play this weekend. The 4-1 Rebels will meet the emerging 4-2 Volunteers in a night game at Neyland, already announced as a sellout.
Lane Kiffin will return to Knoxville for the first time as an opposing head coach, hoping to keep pace in the SEC West race. The Rebels have transformed over the last two seasons, and now sit as one of the top offenses in America.
For more on them, we turned to “One Man to Beat” from Red Cup Rebellion.
1) Ole Miss is 4-1, and it’s scored 40-plus in each of its four wins. But the defense has given up 93 points combined points in the two SEC games thus far. Does the team go so far as the offense carries it? Could things be that simple? Or is that a lazy narrative?
I think the defense played its best game of the year in the first game of the season against Louisville. Yes, the Cardinals are not as dynamic offensively as Tennessee, Alabama or Arkansas, but the defense shut them out for the entire first half of the game. I think the defense can potentially show up and make crucial stops, but in the end, they’re a bend don’t break style defense that most likely aren’t going to win any games for you.
So yes, the offense having a bad night likely means Ole Miss has a bad night 90 to 95 percent of the time.
2) Talk to me about the emergence of Matt Corral. He’s gone from a 60-ish percent passer fighting former QB, current WR John Rhys Plumlee for the starting gig to a Heisman Trophy front-runner. Vol fans saw Kiffin work his QB magic in his lone season coaching here — is that what’s going on here?
Well, I think Rich Rodriguez as an offensive coordinator and Jeff Lebby as an offensive coordinator has more to do with that transformation. RichRod in my opinion saw JRP as a dynamic playmaking QB who could keep Ole Miss in some games like some of his previous offensive successes at West Virginia for example. Corral battled injuries that season as well, so there’s another wrinkle to the story. I think those coaches rode with the hot hand, and now there was a full buy-in from Corral to learn the Lebby/Kiffin offense better than anyone else on the team and execute it better than anyone else as well.
3) Corral threw 14 interceptions last season, and he’s thrown zero this year. He’s also already doubled his rushing TD figure from last season, from four to eight. It seemed like Alabama bottled up Corral pretty neatly in the run game — do you think Tennessee should try and emulate that game plan? Is that the blueprint?
Personally, I would be against Tennessee’s defense playing well on Saturday. However, if you have a spy on Corral and limit his mobility, it goes a long way to helping slow down the offense. I would say more important is assignment football on defense and accounting for the running backs and wide receivers on every play. If the plan is to drop eight, it could end up being another 50-point night for the Rebels.
4) DJ Durkin’s defense and the 3-2-6 scheme seem to be a bit of a hot-button issue with Ole Miss fans. During his Monday media session, Kiffin pointed to some high snap-count numbers and guys being tired as part of the problem. What say you?
Absolutely, the Rebels had two or three guys over 90 snaps, and last time I checked that is a lot of workload for anyone who isn’t a triathlete and football player simultaneously. It will wear on players over time for sure, especially in the trenches. Our defensive line doesn’t have enough talented depth to give much of a rotation, so to me, Ole Miss has to get out to a lead or at the very least not get more than two scores down to have a chance in any game from here on out.
5) I’m searching for some susceptibility outside of the defense: Ole Miss ranks near the bottom of the NCAA in penalties and penalty yards per-game. Is that a concern in what’s likely to be a hostile environment?
I think if this was the first true road game the team had played, then it would be a bigger issue or concern. Having a road trip to Tuscaloosa is certainly valuable, and as we all know, Bama gets +8 penalties at home every damn game period end of story. I think this again goes back to some of the high snap counts we have seen this year on defense and offense and fatigue settling in for some players. It’s tough to do your job well when you’re tired.
6) Vegas has stayed around a 3.5 - 4.0 number for the spread. Ole Miss is 2-2 against the spread this year — what’s your bet here?
Yikes. I was going to probably stay away from this game from a financial investment standpoint. I think there’s just a lot of emotional variables going on here for both teams. Tennessee needs this game to really announce to the rest of the conference they are a player in the Eastern Division and Neyland is still a dangerous place to come play a game. For Ole Miss, this game could derail any chances of staying in the race for a Western Division title, and it would probably be humbling for Kiffin personally. I think it will either be Ole Miss by 10-12 points or a very close 3-point game going either way. I would bet no more than 25 American dollars on Ole Miss to cover.