Tommy Stevens shines for MSU; Ole Miss QB Matt Corral struggles
As the summer was heating up, so were the prognostications about where both the Ole Miss and Mississippi State football teams would land in the SEC Western Division. Both were picked toward the bottom of the pack. Also, both were opening the season on the road against a team outside of the Power 5.
The Egg Bowl rivals were both breaking in new starting quarterbacks as well, and the difference between their performances was stark.
The opening weekend went much more favorably for the Bulldogs than it did for the Rebels. Ole Miss fell 15-10 at Memphis while the Bulldogs finished off the Louisiana Ragin’ Cajuns in New Orleans, 38-28.
The good news for Ole Miss? Its defense played better in the opening game of the 2019 season than it did the entire season last year. It’s obvious the 3-4 defensive scheme, implemented by new defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre, has worked well. The bad news is the path to six wins and a bowl trip became incredibly much more difficult going forward.
As for the Bulldogs, it was the Kylin Hill show. The junior from Columbus finished with 197 yards on 27 carries and 2 touchdowns. That’s good for a whopping 7.9 yards a rush.
“He’s feeling really good and had a great training camp,” MSU coach Joe Moorhead said of Hill. “We talked about the possibility of a 200-yard rushing game today at the pregame meal. I think he’s one of the premier backs in the country.”
And MSU quarterback Tommy Stevens, who was tagged with the starting role recently, played well for the Bulldogs in the road win.
What happened to Matt Corral?
Many thought there would be an offensive explosion in Memphis, but the opposite happened. The Mississippi offensive line struggled all day. Even when Rebels quarterback Matt Corral was able to make throws, there was a miscommunication between he and the receivers, or it was a poor throw.
The offense looked lost throughout the entire game.
“We couldn’t get a rhythm going all day,” first-year offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez said. “That’s really difficult when you’re a tempo team.”
Corral finished the day just 9 for 19 throwing for 93 yards and no touchdowns and was running for his life for most of the game on the Liberty Bowl turf.
If felt like the numbers were worse than that.
On the ground, Corral was the second-leading rusher on the team with 17 yards on nine carries. Those sobering stats tell Ole Miss fans all they need to know about this opening game.
“He’s got a lot of ability, we just have to settle him down and keep him from pressing,” Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke said. “We have offensive weapons, we just have to find a way to get them the ball in space and stay away from negative plays.”
Tommy Stevens shines under Superdome lights
Tommy Stevens did exactly what a quarterback needs to do in his first game with a new team. Find the best running back on the team and give it to him. Against Louisiana, it was Kylin Hill. This should be no surprise, as Moorhead noted during the offseason he wanted to get back to running the football.
Louisiana had no answer, frankly. Stevens was good, connecting on 20 of 30 passes for 236 yards and 2 touchdowns. One of the questions coming into the season concerned the wide receiving core. For the Bulldogs, Osirus Mitchell was an answer on Saturday. The junior wideout played well and led the Bulldogs with six catches for 88 yards and a touchdown. Even better for the Bulldogs, Stevens wasn’t stingy throwing it around. Nine Bulldogs caught passes from Stevens.
“I texted him (Stevens) last night and told him ‘you’ve been working for this your whole life and I want you to go out and have fun,’ ” Moorhead said. “For a guy making his first start, it was a good positive step for the rest of the year.”
The best stat of all? Stevens didn’t throw one interception. In a game full of turnovers — seven by both teams combined — Mississippi State forced Louisiana into five turnovers en route to the victory.
With a bevy of receivers emerging, the remainder of the season should be encouraging for Bulldogs fans. Stevens provides optimism about the Bulldogs’ vertical passing game.