Lane Kiffin vs. Josh Heupel: First one to 60 wins
Once the dust settles on the juicy storyline of Lane Kiffin returning to Knoxville for the first time as a head coach since he was one-and-done with the Vols in 2009, it’ll be off to the races on Saturday night.
No. Like, really.
Don’t go to the bathroom, don’t schedule a late-afternoon pumpkin patch visit and whatever you do, don’t wait until game time to get yourself a snack.
Have your popcorn ready when the clock hits 7:30 p.m. ET.
Remember a week ago when Tom Brady returned to New England with Tampa Bay and it essentially could’ve been the first team to hit 20 points was gonna win? Well, in Kiffin’s return to Knoxville, it’ll be nothing like that. The first team to hit 60 might leave with a victory.
If you think that’s overselling, ask Arkansas and its 51 points if hitting half a hundred was enough to take down Ole Miss. Spoiler alert: It wasn’t. Nothing illustrated that better than when Matt Corral took the field with 1:22 to play in a tie game. Two-minute drill? Please. More like 15-second drill.
MATT CORRAL PICTURE PERFECT 📸
WHAT. A. GAME. #CFB
— PFF College (@PFF_College) October 9, 2021
Saturday is the perfect showdown for fans of high-octane, versatile offenses. And that’s not to take anything away from the defenses, both of which showed they can at least flirt with mediocrity this year.
But yeah, look at the numbers as we near the unofficial midway point of the season:
Let’s focus on that last mark. Time of possession is of little to no significance for both of these up-tempo offenses.
It’s ironic because while Kiffin’s Tennessee reunion is the obvious off-the-field storyline, the on-the-field storyline that’s more significant is the Heupel-Jeff Lebby reunion. Lebby was Heupel’s quarterbacks coach at UCF in 2018 and then he was promoted to offensive coordinator in 2019. That is, until Kiffin poached Lebby and brought him to Ole Miss.
Depending on who you talk to in Orlando, let’s just say some believe Lebby’s absence was at the root of the Knights’ 6-4 season in 2020. UCF still finished No. 8 in FBS in scoring, so take that for what it is.
What’s clear is that Ole Miss and Tennessee will have those Baylor, no-huddle principles all over their respective offenses. For Ole Miss, it’ll be similar to what it faced last weekend against Kendal Briles’ offense. That’s perhaps an ominous sign. It wasn’t as if DJ Durkin’s defense handled that particularly well. Surrendering 676 yards of offense wasn’t ideal, and neither was forcing just 2 punts all day.
Then again, when you have a balanced offensive attack like Ole Miss does, you can overcome those things. Shoot, Ole Miss overcame the absence of 3 starters, including preseason All-SEC tailback Jerrion Ealy. Kiffin hopes he’ll return from a concussion and play Saturday, but even if he doesn’t, his team is coming off a game in which Corral was 6 yards from giving Ole Miss 3 (!) 100-yard rushers.
By the way, Corral should’ve gotten there. This play, in which he bulldozed All-SEC safety Jalen Catalon, was called back because of a questionable holding call:
— SEC Network (@SECNetwork) October 9, 2021
Goodness. That’s your Heisman Trophy candidate quarterback who is sitting there at No. 6 in FBS in quarterback rating.
And who is that just ahead of him at No. 5? Why that’d be Hendon Hooker, AKA the Tennessee starter who somehow needed a Joe Milton injury to become Heupel’s QB1. That’s in the past now. What’s in the present is that for the second consecutive game, Ole Miss is tasked with defending a mobile, dynamic quarterback in an up-tempo offense.
Hooker’s emergence with Heupel allowed the offense to take off. In his 4 games as Tennessee’s starter, he averaged:
- A) 3.5 touchdowns
- B) 218 passing yards
- C) 58.3 rushing yards
- D) 9.7 yards per pass attempt
- E) All the above
It’s “E.” It’s always “E.”
By the way, Tennessee averaged 44.3 points in those games. In the past 4 games, the Vols also averaged 264 rushing yards with Tiyon Evans emerging as a breakout star. Oh, and with Hooker as the starter, the Vols might be the best first-quarter team in America with a +70 advantage (+17.5 per game).
On Saturday, though, no lead will be safe. Not with the quick-strike ability of both offenses. Both are coming off a game in which they hit 45 points and each team only had 1 scoring drive that lasted more than 4 minutes. All signs point to Saturday night turning into a track meet.
It’s cliché, but the defense that handles tempo should be the difference. Then again, did Ole Miss really handle tempo against Arkansas? The difference in that game was a 2-point conversion attempt. Either way, it was the highest-scoring SEC game of the season so far, and it was arguably the most entertaining.
I mean, we even got another Kiffin play-sheet heave. We were a fake dog pee celebration from breaking the internet with a noon football game (that might be an “Egg Bowl only” thing).
Perhaps Kiffin’s reunion in Knoxville will do just that. The over/under is 82.5 with a 2.5-point spread. In other words, the oddsmakers have both teams getting into the 40s. Nobody should be surprised to see that happen. Both Kiffin and Heupel overhauled their respective offenses in a short time, and we, the viewer at home, get to reap the rewards of that on Saturday night.
All the popcorn, please.