ow that Ole Miss defense against Louisville? Yeah, that can play in the SEC West.
There was agreement on Ole Miss’ season-long forecast heading into 2021.
Lane Kiffin’s team would take the next step in Year 2 if it could simply flirt with average on defence.
Ole Miss’ defence didn’t simply flirt with mediocrity on Monday night; it went to Las Vegas and married excellence. It did, at least in the first half.
Is it an overreaction from Week 1? Perhaps.
On Monday night, though, anybody who saw Ole Miss thrash Louisville 43-24 and barely even flirt with competition could see something obvious: that’s a far different defence than 2020.
That was a far different defence from the one that ranked 118th out of 128 FBS teams in terms of scoring. In 2020, the club that allowed 40 points or more in half of its games had a significant shift.
It wasn’t simply a storey for the offseason. It was genuine on Monday.
And, if that Ole Miss defence is legit, SEC West, beware.
It was just one game, after all. That was, in fact, the one initiative. half’s Ole Miss did give up 24 points in the second half, but not with the big plays and shoddy tackling that plagued the Kiffin regime in the first year.
Ole Miss’ defence came up ready to play without Kiffin, who was in Oxford after testing positive for COVID. Chance Campbell, a Maryland transfer, began Louisville’s first drive with a tackle for loss and ended it with a stuff on 4th down to force a turnover on downs, which was certainly a positive omen.
Campbell had the right appearance for the role. Tylan Knight and Lakia Henry felt the same way. Well, Henry did until he was one of four players removed in the first half for targeting.
ALSO, YOU CAN READ:
The Big Ten official crew was apparently the only group who had a problem with Ole Miss’ defence in the first half:
Don’t get it mixed up. Ole Miss understands how to take on a challenge. What will it be like in 2020? That was a reasonable question to pose on a weekly basis.
DJ Durkin’s defence in 2021, on the other hand, seemed to be at ease with the scheme.
It seemed as though the team was no longer concerned about where it needed to be and when it needed to get there, which was all we heard about throughout the summer.
Especially in the first half, it seemed as though the team was pinning its ears back and forcing errors.
For the first time since 2016, Ole Miss threw a first-half shutout against a Power 5 opponent.
Those two scoreless quarters came from a defence that only had six scoreless quarters in the whole previous season.
It only surrendered 107 total yards in the first half, the lowest amount in any game since 2014.
But wait, there’s more.
QB Malik Cunningham led Louisville in throwing yards (1.9 yards per attempt), receiving yards (one grab for 9 yards), and running yards in the first half.
It was a night like that for Louisville.
Not bad for a team that finished worst in the SEC in terms of average yards allowed (519).
The final box score may indicate a good night because of the 24 points allowed, but with Ole Miss racing out to a 26-0 lead, all of Louisville’s scores were basically trash time. The harm had been done.
Whether it was capitalising on a Cunningham mistake with a late pass over the middle that Deandre Prince intercepted or Tariqious Tisdale applying backside pressure to force an incompletion with Louisville in its own end zone, Ole Miss was everywhere.
Maybe there was some carryover from the outstanding Outback Bowl performance.
Perhaps it was having the versatile Otis Reese out there after he missed much of last season due to SEC intra-conference transfer uncertainty.
Or it might have just been a regular offseason with Durkin that produced such a strong first statement.
In any event, Ole Miss’s floor would rise sharply.
The terrifying part is that it seemed as though a Kiffin-less offence really left a lot of points on the table.
While Jeff Lebby’s play-calling was still on spot, Ole Miss had several touchdowns wiped out and had to settle for three field goals.
Matt Corral looked like an even better version of his 2020 self, and the concerns he raised regarding drop-8 coverage seem to be a thing of the past (he had a casual 381 yards through the air without a turnover).
Ontario Drummond performed his best Elijah Moore impersonation by catching three times as many passes as anybody else in an Ole Miss jersey.
Snoop Conner recounted the events of the night.
That’s a lot of physicality for a squad dressed in “sissy” blue.
However, unlike Ed Orgeron’s squad, Ole Miss seems to believe in the art of defence.
What a ridiculous idea.
Does this imply we’ll be seeing the ’85 Bears on a weekly basis in Oxford? Nope. It may be a weekly occurrence. It’s possible that it’s a 50/50 split.
Ole Miss may yet face a couple of shootouts in the future. However, given how dynamic that offence is, the defence does not need to be historically dominating in order to be competitive in the West battle.
Remember that for the time being, we’re simply flirting with mediocrity, not courting greatness.
We’ll find out how serious the Ole Miss defence is soon enough.
MORE, ALSO, AS WELL AS: