The Ole Miss Rebels took their fair share of punches this season. They were overwhelmed by Alabama.
By Matt Zemek
They watched Matt Corral endure a rough and injury-filled October. Lane Kiffin got pelted by unruly fans in Knoxville when the Rebels narrowly defeated Tennessee. Auburn wore them down.
Yet, as the Rebels wake up on gameday morning this coming Saturday against the Vanderbilt Commodores, they know they are a top-three team in the SEC. That’s a tremendous achievement and a sign of how much head coach Lane Kiffin has matured and evolved in recent years.
We don’t need to say too much about Kiffin. You know his story and the “failing upward” trajectory of his career at Tennessee and USC. He finally went to a Group of Five job (Florida Atlantic) to truly learn how to coach and manage a program without top-tier resources. He always needed that experience in order to grow. He got it. Unsurprisingly, he has improved as a coach.
Now Ole Miss is in a position to produce a 10-2 season. Before the Egg Bowl against Mississippi State, Ole Miss has to take care of business against Vanderbilt. The game shouldn’t be that hard for the Rebels to win, but they need to approach this game in a particular way in order to set themselves up well for Mississippi State.
1 – Run, run, run
This is a game in which Ole Miss needs to simplify the playbook, trust its offensive line, and run the ball. This is based partly on the need to protect Matt Corral and give him a low-stress, low-responsibility game before the Egg Bowl. This approach is also based on the need to play a shorter game with fewer overall plays. It’s a natural spot to give this team a Saturday with less strain and emotional exhaustion. The A&M game was a taxing, demanding game, and with the Egg Bowl next, this Vanderbilt contest is a trap and sandwich game. Managing this kind of situation requires an appreciation for managing a team not just in one game, but over the course of the season. Ole Miss doesn’t need to throw the ball or stop the clock. Playing close to a three-hour game, instead of a 3:45 game, and reducing the amount of pounding this team takes, could pay dividends against Mississippi State. Play this game to set up the next one.
2 – Patient defense
How to defend Mississippi State and the Air Raid? Being patient is the key. Teams that force Air Raid quarterbacks to dink and dunk the ball down the field – taking away the deep ball – often have success. Obviously, Vanderbilt isn’t an Air Raid team, and its passing game doesn’t have the talent of Mississippi State, but if the Rebels want to prepare themselves for Mike Leach, defensive patience is something they want to be very purposeful in cultivating here.
3 – Low workload for Matt Corral
Ole Miss shouldn’t think about the Heisman for Corral. What matters is making him ready – and as healthy as possible – for the Egg Bowl. If Corral plays well in that game, he might be a Heisman finalist. How he does against Vanderbilt won’t make or break his candidacy. The key is to put Corral in a position where he is physically and mentally fresh. Reducing his centrality in the game plan this week is important. Ole Miss ought to be able to do this and still handle Vanderbilt without too much of a problem.