Tommy Tuberville, David Cutcliffe, Ed Orgeron, Houtson Nutt, Hugh Freeze, Matt Luke, and now Lane Kiffin… what a rollercoaster 30-year stretch of head coaches, and results on the actual football field, it has been for the Rebels. Just five years ago they finished the season ranked in the top ten fresh off a Sugar Bowl blowout victory, before more NCAA scandals knocked them down and once again left them rebuilding. Enter Lane Kiffin, back in the SEC once again and with hopes of returning Ole Miss to its former glory, this time with an added touch of consistency and preferably without the immediately following collapse.
Kiffin leads his Rebels into their first bowl game since that Sugar Bowl victory in January of 2016. This will be the program’s first Outback Bowl. They’re 24-13 all-time in bowl games, having won 13 of their last 16. Kiffin is 1-2 all-time as a head coach in bowl games, having qualified for four but departing Florida Atlantic for Ole Miss before coaching in the Owls’ Boca Raton Bowl last season.
This past weekend’s Alabama and Florida SEC Championship game shootout may have clouded your memory, but remember not so long ago when Alabama was playing in those 9-6 snoozefests against LSU? When an offense moving past the 50-yard line was a rarity, and field goals felt like touchdowns? Those days are long past us now, and much of that can be credited towards Nick Saban’s years ago hiring of Lane Kiffin – now, as previously mentioned, the head coach of the Ole Miss Rebels. Kiffin is a character, as you must be to coach in the SEC, but he’s helped revolutionize the modern offenses seen at all levels of football today. Flash forward to present day, and Kiffin has assembled an offensive juggernaut once again in just his first year with the Rebels.
The Rebels finished the regular season ranked first in the SEC in yards per game, third in pass offense, first in rush offense, and third in scoring offense notching over 40 points per game. They’re led by quarterback Matt Corral, a highly touted quarterback from Long Beach Poly High School in California. He was ranked the fourth best pro-style quarterback in the country when he chose the Rebels, behind prospects Trevor Lawrence and JT Daniels. He’s lived up to this praise so far, finishing third in the SEC in yards per game and throwing for multiple touchdown passes in all but one game. The dual-threat athlete also rushed for 469 yards, including 158 last week against LSU. His flaw? Turnovers. He threw 14 interceptions this year and lost four fumbles, but that won’t stop Kiffin from calling plays that have Corral slinging it around.
How does a team ranked so highly offensively finish 4-5, you ask? Look no further than the performance of the defense. The swarming “landshark” defense of 2014 that was loaded with NFL talent, physically beat up their opponents, and finished the season #1 in scoring defense are no more. Two former Big Ten coaches, Chris Partridge and DJ Durkin, are co-defensive coordinators for these bottom-feeders of the SEC.
Partridge and Durkin’s unit finished the season allowing 40.3 points per game. They finished dead last in the conference in rush defense, pass defense, scoring defense, and total defense. The numbers weren’t too much better nationally, either, as they finished 127th out of 127 in the FBS in yards allowed per game, 122nd in average points allowed, and once again 127th in pass yards allowed per game. They allowed opponents to convert 47% of third downs and a conference-worst 176 plays of over ten yards. Three of their five losses saw their opponents scoring over 50. This should be extremely inviting for what will be Jack Tuttle’s second ever start for the Hoosiers.
If the Rebels could have just been average or slightly better on defense, coupled with the offensive firepower, we could be talking about a team that was the surprise of the SEC. Instead, defense in Oxford remained more of a suggestion.
Outback Bowl Game: Ole Miss Rebels
Date & Time: Saturday, January 2nd, 2021, Time: 12:30 PM EST
Venue: Raymond James Stadium, Tampa, Florida
Rebels at a Glance
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin, his 1st Year as the Ole Miss Head Coach
Kiffin’s Overall Record: 4-5 (SEC West)
2020 Season: 4-5 (4-5) 5th in the SEC West
2019 Season: 4-8 (2-6) 6th in the SEC West
Passing: Matt Corral
Rushing: Jerrion Ealy
Receiving: Elijah Moore
Tackles: Lakia Henry