Better or worse? Previewing Ole Miss' offense in 2021
Editor’s note: SDS’ annual series previewing every SEC offense continues with Ole Miss. Coming Saturday: Texas A&M.
Ole Miss’ offense was exciting in Year 1 under Lane Kiffin. That unit helped the Rebels finish .500 and return to the postseason for the first time since the 2015 season. They capped the year with a thrilling victory over Indiana in the Outback Bowl.
What will Year 2 hold? Let’s take a look at the team’s personnel on the offensive side of the football and determine whether this unit will be better or worse this season than last.
Key losses: Elijah Moore, Kenny Yeboah, Royce Newman
Key additions: J.J. Henry, Bralon Brown
The Rebels return 4 of 5 starters on the offensive line, boast the most experienced returning quarterback in the conference and return all of their running backs and receivers outside of Elijah Moore, who of course, was the centerpiece of their offense in 2020.
It might sound foolish to say the personnel overall will be better without Moore, but there is an argument to be made that it certainly could be given what returns elsewhere. Without having seen the receiving corps in game action and not yet knowing who Newman’s replacement will be, we will hold and all the overall personnel even for now.
Passing offense: Slightly worse
This selection is not made with a ton of confidence. There’s absolutely a world in which Matt Corral and this Ole Miss passing offense are better in 2021, but I’d like to see it in action first before making that declaration given what they lost.
Ole Miss threw for 344.9 yards per game — its second-highest total in the past decade.
The caveat: Moore and Yeboah accounted for nearly half the team’s total receptions and yards. When you lose two pieces like that, particularly a tandem that terrorized the middle of the field, it’s a large hole to fill.
Ole Miss is largely still unproven at the receiver position beyond Braylon Sanders, who has had trouble remaining healthy throughout his career. This team badly needs Sanders, Jonathan Mingo or Dontario Drummond to emerge as a viable threat on the outside. Incoming freshman. J.J. Henry will have a fair crack at replacing Moore in the slot and the Rebels should feel pretty good about their options at tight end with Casey Kelly and Chase Rogers returning. If Ole Miss can identify its No. 1 guy and have him be a legitimate threat, the team has a chance to be better in this department next fall. If they do not, the passing game could take a step back.
Running offense: Better
For as much of a passing reputation that Kiffin has, the Rebels led the SEC in rushing attempts (46 per game) and rushing yards (210.6) last season. No, they weren’t the 2019 Running Rebels, but the system wasn’t built for that.
Kiffin’s Rebels largely achieved balance, which helped them score at a rate not seen since the 2015 team. How can they be better in 2021?
Ole Miss returns Jerrion Early, Snoop Conner and Henry Parrish in what should be a loaded offensive backfield next fall.
With 4 of 5 starters returning on the offensive line, this group should be even better. Ealy has a chance to lead the conference in rushing and might just be the league’s most dangerous home run hitter. Ole Miss hasn’t had a running back lead the league in rushing since 1967, when Stephen Hindman finished with 827.
Conner and Parrish offer different and versatile options behind Ealy as well as great depth at this position. These backs have a veteran offensive line in front of them that has played a lot of football together. The running game will likely be the strength of the offense in 2021 and could be even better than it was in Kiffin’s first season.
Kicking game: Better
This is answered almost by default, because it would be difficult for Ole Miss to be worse than it has been in the kicking game.
Luke Logan graduated after a brutal couple of seasons. Logan made just 1 field goal beyond 30 yards and did not make one over 40 yards. After making just 6-of-10 field goal attempts in 2020, the Rebels simply must be better next season.
Their struggles affected how drives were called. It forced Kiffin and Jeff Lebby to be hyper-aggressive, particularly in plus territory, which in turn often put a thin defense in bad spots if the offense turned the ball over on downs.
Ole Miss signed kicker Caden Costa in its 2021 class and had 2 on the roster before Costa arrived. We don’t know who will win the job, but the expectation is he will outperform Logan. Otherwise this will be another frustrating season from a field goal-kicking standpoint.
Ole Miss’ offense was really good last year.
I think this offense is more likely to be better than worse even without Moore and Yeboah.
Corral went through an offseason with the same head coach and coordinator for the first time in his career and finally has the stability around him that he needed to grow into a top-level passer in 2020. The line is a year more seasoned and the running backs have a chance to be the best running game in the SEC yet again. If Ole Miss can simply be viable from a personnel standpoint at receiver, this offense will be even more dangerous than it was in Kiffin’s first season.