As week one of college football ended on Labor Day in Atlanta, it resulted in the Ole Miss Rebels dominating the Louisville Cardinals 43-24 in the Chick-Fil-A Kickoff Game.
In case you missed it, the Rebels finished with 569 yards of total offense while out rushing the Cardinals on the ground 188-155. Ole Miss finished with four rushing touchdowns as they were led by quarterback Matt Corral who finished 22-32 for 381 yards and one touchdown. He also ran twelve times for 68 yards and scored on the ground.
As the Rebels celebrate this win and prepare for their home opener against Austin Peay next Saturday, there are many things they can take away from this game as they prepare for the challenge of the SEC West crown and a chance to play in Mercedes-Benz Stadium in December. Of course, the Rebels need to make some corrections in order to make their dreams their ultimate reality.
Here are some things that the Rebels can build upon from this game:
Offense: Consistency is a must
One thing about an offense led by head coach Lane Kiffin, they will be able to score points and move the football downfield. The Rebels did just that Monday night while also converting on all three of their fourth down conversions. On the other side of the coin, Ole Miss also finished two for nine on their third down conversions.
As the Rebels continue to play, third down conversions will be the key in improving their offense and wearing down defenses. In this game, penalties made third down conversions a lot harder to convert for the Rebels (but we will touch on that in a few). Outside of the penalties and third down conversions, the offense’s flow was nice and in rhythm. They set the tone early.
Defense: Could the defense become ‘Land Sharks 2.0?’
The Rebels defense played well in today’s game especially in the first half. They held Louisville’s offense scoreless while only allowing 26 passing yards and 81 yards on 23 carries. They recovered a fumble late in the second quarter when the Cardinals seemed to have momentum and were about to score their first points of the game. Another tremendous play was the stop of 4th and one on the Cardinals opening offensive drive which gave them great field position.
They also kept Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham in check who led his team in receiving, passing and rushing in the first half.
The second half was a different story. The Cardinals managed to find the endzone three times and finish with 355 total yards on offense and 155 yards rushing. When speaking which Rebels defensive back A.J. Finley, he answered why the Rebels defense were unable to have the same success in the first half.
“I feel like we weren’t as locked in as we were in the first half,” said Finley. “We made a lot of silly mistakes that we shouldn’t have made that would’ve stopped a few of those touchdowns in the second half.”
Defense for the Rebels will continue to be their x-factor when they play in tough games and environments. The ability to be able to finish in the second half and play a complete game will take the Rebels as a team to different heights.
Penalties: Discipline could be the Rebels’ Achilles’ Heel
If you watched the game, you got tired of seeing the targeting penalties and stoppages in gameplay to review targeting. Overall, four total players were ejected for targeting and two of them were Rebels players (Lakia Henry and Mark Robinson). Not only were the targeting penalties tough, holding, false starts and an illegal receiver downfield halted the Rebels promising drives and put the offense in tough third down situations.
“Obviously we have to clean up penalties,” said Kiffin after the game. The Rebels finished with 14 penalties for 125 yards. Penalties and yardage like this will hurt the Rebels chances in the future if you are unable to fix it.
Matt Corral: Heisman Trophy Candidate?
Corral had a great game and gave the Cardinals defense a lot of headaches. While he only threw for one touchdown, he scored on one rushing touchdown and moved the offense deep into the redzone setting up goal line touchdowns for the running backs.
His play proves that SEC defenses will have a tough time dealing with this offense. Even after a great win, he knows he still has things he has to get better at if he wants to win.
What does this say about the Rebels?
This game proves Ole Miss has the talent to compete for the SEC West division title. Overall, it will come down to Alabama, Texas A&M and the Rebels. If the Rebels are able to clean the small things up such as penalties and third down conversions, they will be able to play great in a showdown against Alabama in Tuscaloosa on October 2nd.
When asking Corral about what it will take to get to Atlanta in December looking at today’s game, he gave a unique but simple answer.
“[Jeff] Lebby (Ole Miss’s quarterbacks coach) always preaches about stop worrying about the competition,” said Corral. “It doesn’t matter how good their defense is on paper, it doesn’t matter what they are ranked. It’s all about how well we can execute each play independent of each other.”
As always defense is going to be the key for the Rebels this season. While it is early and everybody is looking to beat Alabama, keep a lookout for Ole Miss throughout the season and do not be surprised if they play the Crimson Tide close in October.