Ole Miss football: 5 most important returning players in 2020
With several playmakers, Ole Miss has the tools to make a splash in the SEC West, and new coach Lane Kiffin believes the Rebels can get back to the 2015 level of winning the Sugar Bowl.
But Kiffin is trying to resurrect a program that hasn’t had a winning season since then, and the Rebels were 4-8 in 2019.
Ole Miss, especially on offense, is a wait-in-see in terms of how it will use its skill position playmakers. Even though they are known commodities, the scheme has changed, so it’s difficult to tell exactly how the players will be used. And most interesting is Kiffin has called offenses with varying styles of quarterbacks, for example.
Kiffin has a unique perspective on the Ole Miss program, because he was on the other side when the Rebels beat Alabama twice during a span of 2014-16.
“You can win there because I saw it,” Kiffin said at his first press conference. “No one else was beating us. I always kind of said that’s a premier job that at times has performed like that and at times hasn’t. That’s partly why we’re here today. It’s our job to bring it back to where it’s been before and sustain (success).”
The Rebels return 7 starters on offense, and and 5 starters on defense.
Here are the 5 most important returning players in 2020:
QB John Rhys Plumlee
Plumlee and Matt Corral are likely to continue their battle, but it’s difficult to overlook Plumlee’s dynamic rushing ability, which could at the very least put defenses on their heels. However, Corral rallied the Rebels in the Egg Bowl. In that game, for example, Plumlee was 9-for-14 passing for 121 yards, while Corral was 6-for-12 passing for 124 yards with a TD and an interception. Plumlee added 34 rushing yards, and Corral lost 8 yards.
Plumlee could draw comparisons to Jalen Hurts when Kiffin called the offense at Alabama in 2016. After all, Plumlee had 1,023 rushing yards and 12 rushing touchdowns in 2019, and didn’t play in the first 3 games. However, Corral being the more traditional passer offers his own potential.
DL Tariqious Tisdale
One of the most experienced players on the defensive line, Tisdale, a JUCO transfer, had 2 sacks and 3.5 tackles for a loss in 2019, has the type of frame, 6-foot-5 and 290 pounds, to be a 3-4 defensive end, or inside in a 4-3 alignment. The rest of the players inside on the DL are sophomores or younger, but Tisdale has appeared in 23 games the last 2 seasons.
WR Elijah Moore
Moore has a chance to be among the best wide receivers in the SEC, especially if the quarterback situation develops any kind of consistency and rhythm. It’s difficult for some to get past the Egg Bowl pee incident, but his production doesn’t lie. He led all Ole Miss wide receivers with 67 catches, in 2019, while 7 other teammates combined for 55. Moore’s 6 receiving TDs eclipsed the combined total from all other Ole Miss receivers combined (5).
Last season, Moore (67 catches, 850 receiving yards) accounted for 36 percent of the team’s catches and 36.5 percent of the Rebels’ receiving yards.
RB Jerrion Ealy
Like the QB situation, Ealy is paired with Snoop Conner in a philosophy or game situation dynamic. Ealy, a 5-foot-9, 180-pound star in the making, averaged 6.9 yards a carry, is especially dangerous on the outside. Paired with Plumlee causes major problems for a defense from a matchup standpoint.
Ealy, a member of the freshman All-SEC team, was among the best in the SEC in kick return average (24.4 yards per return). He was second in the SEC and No. 5 nationally in all-purpose yardage per game amongst freshmen (100.9 yards per game). He added 722 rushing yards, the second-most by an Ole Miss freshman in school history.
LB MoMo Sanogo
Sanogo’s return from injury will be like getting a top-shelf recruit with experience. He started all 12 games at linebacker in 2018 season and led the Rebels with 112 total tackles before he sustained a season-ending injury early in the 2019 season. He was the first Ole Miss player to make 100 tackles since Patrick Willis, but an ankle injury against Arkansas on Sept. 7 ended his season.
Sanogo suffered a broken right fibula and torn ligament against Arkansas, the same injury suffered in 2014 by former Ole Miss WR Laquon Treadwell. Sanogo in 2018 was one of just 3 players to start every game on defense for the Rebels. He was third in the SEC with 9.3 tackles per game, and fifth in the SEC in total tackles.
Former defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre said Sanogo is an excellent leader, and called him, “The quarterback for the defense–truly what he was able to do.”