Everyone give a big thanks to One Man to Beat over at Red Cup Rebellion for knocking out this Q&A early in the week and just generally being super responsive and detailed with their answers.
While you’re at it, go support me in my half of this Q&A about Alabama posted on their site.
1) Last season, Matt Corral wasn’t a problem for the Alabama defense, but John Rhys Plumlee was an absolute nightmare. Plumlee’s only got one pass attempt with 9 rushes this year, though. Has Kiffin been saving him as an Anti-Bama weapon, or is he going to be a non-factor in this game? As a follow-up, how has Corral improved from last season, and how will he stress the Alabama defense?
I think Kiffin and Co. have a plan for how to use Plumlee, and it hasn’t fully come to fruition yet. Whether that plan is awaiting a date with Bama, I don’t think that’s likely, because the Rebels played a top 5 Florida team to open the season. There was a bag of tricks opened in that game, but as the Gators opened up a significant lead, Ole Miss leaned mostly on Corral to keep pace. In my opinion, people underestimate Corral as a speedy runner though he doesn’t have the vision JRP has, but additionally, Corral is the starter and JRP will be mixed in as long as the game is competitive. Nobody wants to see Kiffin use JRP on a speed sweep, down 28, and guy ends up blowing out his knee in an effort that ultimately doesn’t matter. ONE MANS OPINION.
Following up, Corral is leading the conference and even nation in some categories mostly due to increased accuracy. I don’t think last year’s coaches knew exactly how to use Corral other than getting rid of the ball quickly compared to taking shots down the field. Kiffin’s offense looks to stretch the field significantly more than whatever the hell RichRod was doing last season, so it plays more to Corral’s strengths as a more traditional quarterback. Going 24 of 29 on the road, granted against Kentucky, shows Corral can make calculated throws in coverage to get the ball moved up and down the field. He’s got seven touchdowns and 14 incompletions for the year - really he’s played some fantastic football against conference opponents to open the year.
2) Jerrion Ealy hasn’t done too much on the ground. Is that just a function of the offensive scheme (i.e. the pass game is so effective, why run?), or is Ole Miss struggling to get the run going?
Well, Florida went up 28-14 at the half in game one, and the Rebels really weren’t able to stop the Gators all day. Kentucky also went up 28-14 in the third quarter of game two this season. The lack of run game in general likely has to do with playing from behind more than anything else, but I think coaches are trying to pick the spots where Ealy can be impactful. He’s had 26 carries through two games, plus he is used in the return game, so he’s in the game but no home run hitting runs just yet. Ole Miss’ offensive line has not opened gaping holes against Florida or Kentucky, so I don’t think it will against Bama. The run game is likely going to struggle on Saturday as it has shown so far to be less of a dynamic rushing attack than last season.
3) Elijah Moore is obviously a dangerous receiver, but tell us about the other pass-catchers, and how much we need to worry about them.
One of the nicest surprises for this season has been tight end Kenny Yeboah who has eight catches for 174 yards and two touchdowns after making the graduate transfer from Temple. Yeah, I wasn’t expecting a guy from Temple to immediately do well in SEC play, but here we are - lesson learned, don’t count anyone out. Sophomore Jonathan Mingo sports a No. 1, and he’s doing his damnedest to replicate production from No. 1 jersey wearing WR’s AJ Brown and Laquon Treadwell this season. Mingo scored twice against Kentucky and has eight receptions for 128 yards this season - he’s a Mississippi kid with a 6-2, 215 lbs. frame, so look for him to challenge the secondary at times if they key on Elijah Moore excessively.
I wouldn’t expect Yeboah or Mingo to go off for 100+ yards as Moore is still the clear WR1, but it’s all in Bama’s court and picking its poison for how they defend against a talented offense.
4) Our biggest fear, as Bama fans, is how Mac Jones might respond to an aggressive pass rush. Ole Miss has three sacks so far this year, with one being from a DB blitz. Are the main 4 rushers struggling to get pressure on the QB, or has it just not turned into sacks yet?
Nope, the defensive line is not getting a ton of push that I can see from the first two games. If I put myself into some crimson shoes and walked a mile, I’d be most worried about defensive coordinator DJ Durkin just having his defense pinning its ears back and blitzing moreso than the previous two games. I think you’re right in that the worst way to defend Bama right now is to drop back into zone and see if Jones can pick it apart. He can, obviously, so now the adjustment is to blitz all day and see if Jones can continue to produce. That being said, the Rebels defense needs a year or two of recruiting to get the guys it needs to compete for four quarters every week in the SEC.
5) Are there any freshmen you guys are particularly excited about that we might see make some plays in this game?
Yeah, we haven’t seen much production out of the freshman class as of yet. Coaches were excited about RB Henry Parrish in the offseason, but he has only seen one carry in the first two games. Clearly, it’s a competitive RB room with Ealy and Snoop Connor, and you add in Corral and JRP being able to run the ball - it’s tough to find his place to make it happen. If you see a lot of Ole Miss freshmen in the game, things are really going Bama’s way, and Ole Miss is using whatever depth it has to finish the game.
6) What’s your prediction for the game?
It’s going to be painful most likely, and I’m not just trying to respect the Tide. The last two seasons this game has been rough for Rebel fans to watch as Bama scored 62 and 59 respectively in 2018 and 2019. In game one at home, Ole Miss allowed more than 50 to Florida, and I think the Tide are more talented or equally talented with Florida. There is some added juice to this game though - it’s Kiffin and Saban, there have been somewhat recent upsets in the series, I think there are players who 100 percent believe in the ability to beat Alabama. It’s wildly unlikely an upset occurs without some injuries or something unusual happening. It’s improbable the Ole Miss defense holds Bama under 50 points, unless it’s 49 or 45 at best. I could see this game going 56-24 or something to that effect - four to five touchdown Tide win.
7) How do you predict the rest of Ole Miss’s season to turn out?
The Rebels really needed the win at Kentucky to get the team “bought in” from my perspective. There was a potential for an 0-3 start, which is very difficult to bounce back from with seven SEC games left on schedule theoretically. Sitting at 1-1, there are winnable games against Arkansas, Vanderbilt, South Carolina, Miss. St. (always a crazy game), and potentially an upset out there against LSU or TAMU. Alabama and Auburn to me are more elite out of the remaining eight games, so I would say the floor is about 2-8 this season and the ceiling is 6-4. For Kiffin to land potentially at 4-6, it’s a big step in the right direction for the future.