Notes and thoughts from the Rebels’ 33-21 loss to Arkansas …
I’ve seen a lot of strange for Ole Miss in Fayetteville, but I didn’t mention that during the week.
The Rebels had won the last two in the series after the late Jordan Ta’amu fumble in his first start, the 2017 game in which Ole Miss once led 31-10.
It’s been a strange series, but I didn’t want to assign someone else’s baggage to a new coach who had his offense playing at a high level.
Now Lane Kiffin has his own baggage in the Ole Miss-Arkansas series.
Arkansas had its way with the Ole Miss offense that had looked so good for three weeks. The Razorbacks played in the Ole Miss backfield when they chose to, pressuring Corral or dropping Jerrion Ealy or Jarod “Snoop” Conner for losses on run plays.
Arkansas had 11 tackles for loss.
The Razorbacks’ performance kind of ran counter to Kiffin’s opinion earlier in the week that few SEC teams are playing much defense.
In fact Arkansas sent notice that it could be pretty good on that side of the ball when it handled Mississippi State in Starkville the week after the Bulldogs set records against LSU.
All things considered I thought Ole Miss would be able to move the ball and score against the Razorbacks because they have against everybody else.
They’ve been able to make adjustments to other defenses and still put up yards and points.
That wasn’t the case in Week 4.
The bigger concern for Ole Miss going in was the Arkansas offense. That group showed a pulse for the first time at Auburn, and I was willing to give more credence to the Hogs’ games against Georgia and MSU, two of the best defensive teams in the league.
The Arkansas offense appeared to turn a corner at Auburn, and I figured they had a good chance to throttle down against the Ole Miss defense.
Lo and behold the Ole Miss defense turned a corner too.
Turns out the COVID scare wasn’t that big a deal which was the popular belief once we all began to process Kiffin’s comments on Wednesday.
Ole Miss announced pregame that CB JaKorey Hawkins, DE Tariq Tisdale, CB Deane Leonard, OL Reece McIntyre and RB Isaiah Woullard would not play. Not all were COVID related absences.
Without two starters and a key reserve it was quite a day for the defense.
I’ve mentioned before my belief that there’s only one player on the Ole Miss defense would be noticed by his absence, and that’s Sam Williams.
Williams was rather quiet with three tackles and a pressure as Ole Miss had its best defensive day.
Last week Alabama scored nine touchdowns on 11 possessions. Against the Razorbacks the defense had nine stops on 13 possessions.
Ole Miss forced seven punts against an average offense.
Maybe this performance can be repeated against other average offenses, and I think the Rebels will see other defenses that aren’t as powerful perhaps as Florida, Alabama and Kentucky.
It was interesting to note the big day that Ryder Anderson had as he played more on the edge with Tisdale out.
The Anderson experiment at tackle may be what the defense needed – or what co-coordinators DJ Durkin and Chris Partridge thought it needed – but it hasn’t been Anderson’s best spot.
He had 13 tackles, a sack and two tackles for loss against Arkansas.
Kiffin during the week talked about fragile confidence.
Maybe a surge in confidence can give the defense a lift.
As repeated performances go Matt Corral doesn’t need a repeat of what he showed today.
As camp carried on behind closed doors we were told about a quarterback competition between Corral and John Rhys Plumlee. Nothing Kiffin said or implied or anything I heard from people who know suggested Corral was ever in danger of losing that competition.
In addition to the perception that Corral was ahead of the game in grasping the offense Plumlee missed some time that contributed to his being behind in that race.
What we saw Saturday in how Corral stayed in the game with seven turnovers indicates to me that race wasn’t as close as Kiffin implied.
Kiffin said after the game that he doesn’t like to pull quarterbacks because it affects their confidence and rhythm.
“Coach told me that he had my back, and that’s all a quarterback in my position today can ever ask for,” Corral said.
If Corral can have a seven-turnover game and not come out he’s got to feel pretty comfortable with his place in the lineup moving forward.
Corral staying in the game was Marshall Henderson-esque in the way he could shoot, shoot and shoot some more and stay in the game with Andy Kennedy. "Greenest light ever," was what LeBron James had to say about Henderson in the Rebels' 2013 NCAA Tournament win over Wisconsin.
Would a run-based attack with Plumlee have worked?
Taking a whack at it for a few plays seems justified.
Corral was No. 2 in the nation in pass efficiency. He’d been Superman for three games while Plumlee’s role was extremely minor.
That means the very successful game plan of Arkansas defensive coordinator Barry Odom likely didn’t feature much Plumlee preparation during the week.
A different look might have had different results.
Still, pulling the quarterback was a tricky call for Kiffin because Corral enticed him with decent play between the interceptions.
Ole Miss outgained Arkansas 442-394.
Elijah Moore had 11 catches for 113 yards, and Jerrion Ealy rushed for 113 yards on 23 carries.
There was production between the turnovers. Ole Miss punted just three times in the game while Arkansas punted seven times.
Ole Miss twice reached the Arkansas 1 and did not score.
That the Rebels had a chance to drive for a go-ahead touchdown 3:46 left is amazing and is a testament to the defense.
Corral was only four interceptions into his day when the Rebels took over at their 16 trailing 26-21.
Who would have thought Corral still had two interceptions in him? Probably not Corral who threw it into the arms of linebacker Grant Morgan on the second play.
The lesson from Saturday is that Kiffin is in sync with Corral. For all the off-season talk of the possibility of Plumlee playing another position that’s clearly not in the plans.
Plumlee can be a weapon on offense, but not if he isn’t used, and frankly the offense, when it plays like it did the first three weeks, has plenty of weapons.
The guess here is Corral’s performance was an isolated incident and not a trend. I think he’ll learn from it and moving ahead won’t be perfect but may look less rattled than he did against the Hogs.
Honestly, some things that cost Corral he’d gotten away with on some throws early this season. Ball-placement has not always been his strength. At times he’s made receivers work too hard for catches.
Even in its worst performance Ole Miss lost by 12 points while giving up two pick sixes. Even with those picks if the Rebels just score touchdowns when they’re at the 1 they win the game, and the offense looks a lot different.
Score those touchdowns and you’re talking about what a dominant offense Ole Miss has to be able to turn the ball over seven times and win.
Football’s a strange game folks.