Ole Miss football: Grading the Rebels' win over South Carolina
Ole Miss’ blueprint for a 59-42 win over South Carolina on Saturday evening was a familiar one.
The Rebels offense put up gaudy numbers and did whatever it wanted to, and Matt Corral was excellent once again. The defense struggled as badly as it has all season — which is saying a lot — but the offense took advantage of the handful of stops the defense was able to string together and created enough separation to win the game.
Ole Miss is 3-4 and, if nothing else, is an incredibly fun to team to watch. Most of their overarching issues aren’t getting solved this year with the personnel the program currently has. For lack of a better cliche: This team is what it is. But, to Lane Kiffin and his staff’s credit, the Rebels are finding ways to be the best version of what they are and win a couple of games in the process. Let’s take a look at some grades from Saturday evening.
What more could you ask of Corral in the Rebels’ past 2 games? He has thrown for 925 yards with 10 touchdowns and 7 incompletions. He is averaging less than 1 incompletion per quarter in his past 2 games. On Saturday, he threw for a school-record 513 yards with 4 touchdowns on 28-of-32 passing. He has bounced back from that dreadful 7-turnover game at Arkansas and an inconsistent showing the next week against Arkansas and appears to have growing into a top-tier passer in the Southeastern Conference.
Even if you do not trust the numbers against 2 of the SEC’s worst defenses, that is fair. What’s most encouraging about Corral’s development is how he explains what he sees on the field. Take this quote, for example, from what he was thinking on the 91-yard touchdown strike to Elijah Moore that sent Kiffin’s clipboard into the stars and all but sealed the win.
“We got isolation and we called a double move for him,” Corral said. “I saw the rotation to the left. They rolled to the field and I didn’t want that boundary safety to get to Elijah, because I knew Elijah was going to beat him 1-on-1. I wasn’t even worried about that guy, so I pumped to the backside and I didn’t want to overthrow Elijah because he was running naked.”
That is the sound of a quarterback confident and comfortable in the system he is running and who is clearly seeing the field better than he ever has in his young career. Corral will enter this offseason with the same head coach and coordinators for the first time in his career. There is no replacement for stability, something that has not been afforded to him until now, and his continued improvement will underscore that.
Running backs: B
Ole Miss ran the ball when they needed to — mostly when South Carolina dropped 8 in coverage to try to induce a turnover from a red-hot Corral. But the Rebels did not have a 100-yard rusher despite running for 195 as a team on 48 carries. Jerrion Ealy carried the ball 17 times for 84 yards and 2 scores, and the team averaged 4.1 yards per rush. That is more than serviceable, but Kiffin has talked about wanting to run with a little more consistency. There was so much to be had in the passing game against a woeful South Carolina secondary that the pedestrian rushing numbers can be explained away as simply not needing to heavily rely on the running game. But there is room to improve here. South Carolina’s defensive line disrupted the Rebels’ backfield enough to make them think twice about running in short-yardage situations.
Wide receivers: A
Moore notched another 200-yard game with 13 grabs for 225 and 2 scores. He is nearly impossible to defend. This much we already knew. The reason this group gets a high grade is because 7 different Rebels caught a pass. Braylon Sanders had his first 100-yard game since Sept. 8, 2018. Sanders showed great promise as a deep threat over the middle of the field early in his career and cracked an uber-talented rotation that included D.K. Metcalf, DaMarkus Lodge and A.J. Brown. But injuries have plagued him the last 2 years of his career, meaning Saturday evening had to be incredibly satisfying for the senior. Ole Miss has a much better offense with Sanders on the field, and his presence has been missed.
Dontario Drummond caught 4 passes and a touchdown. Corral dispersed the ball better than he has all season and had enough weapons to do so. This was an encouraging sign for the Rebels’ receiving corps.
Offensive line: B
The run blocking was not always great. South Carolina’s defensive line got penetration and disrupted what the Rebels wanted to do running the football, particularly early in the game. The Gamecocks totaled 7 tackles for loss. But Corral was sacked only once and hurried once. The pass blocking was really good and gave Corral time to hit his 2nd and 3rd reads. The running game left much to be desired, but the offensive line played pretty well other than that and a few penalties.
Defensive line: D-
If you’re familiar with this column, or simply have watched the Ole Miss defense this season, you know this is where the grades begin to slip. South Carolina pummeled the Rebels up front and did whatever they wanted on the ground. Kevin Harris recorded the first 200-yard game of his career with relative ease. He ran for 243 and 5 scores on 25 carries. That was good for a staggering 9.7 yards per rush. The defensive line was atrocious in its run fits and seemingly cannot set the edge with any consistency.
The one thing it did well was pressure quarterback Collin Hill. Ole Miss sacked him twice and hurried him 5 times, but the Gamecocks were not forced to throw often with the way they ran the football.
Again, Ole Miss will solve their defensive issues on the recruiting trail. The talent deficiency is what it is, but the Rebels are a poor tackling team and have undoubtedly regressed in that fundamental regard from 2019. This group can and must be better than it was on Saturday.
Same story — bad against run fits and a brutal number of missed tackles. Lakia Henry played well, but MoMo Sanogo has not been the same player since returning from an injury he suffered in September of last year that ended his 2019 season. This linebacking group was thought to be the strength of this team coming into this season. Truth be told, they have not been the difference makers this undermanned defense needs. Ole Miss needs more from Jacquez Jones and Sanogo and needs this group to help a hapless defensive line in stopping the run.
This young group is getting better. A.J. Finley is developing into a nice player, and younger guys like Jakorey Hawkins and Jalen Jordan (who did not play in this game) are getting more comfortable. Finley snagged a pick for the 2nd straight game, and Keidron Smith broke up 4 passes. As bad as the collective performance was from the defense, the secondary’s performance stood out. Ole Miss faces a lengthy rebuild on defense, but they have some pieces to work with on the back end to expedite the process.
Overall, this was a good win for Kiffin and the Rebels. Their game against A&M next week is in doubt because of the Aggies’ COVID-19 issues. But Ole Miss has a chance to win 2 of its last 3 and finish the season 5-5. That is undisputed success in Year 1 of the Kiffin era.