Ole Miss football vs. Louisville: Scouting report, prediction

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD — No. 25 Ole Miss football's quest to climb back into the realm of college football contenders begins Monday night in Atlanta.

The Rebels, who will not led by second-year coach Lane Kiffin because he has tested positive for COVID-19 as of Saturday, face coach Scott Satterfield and his Louisville Cardinals Monday at 7 p.m. CT in Mercedes Benz Stadium. Preseason first-team All-SEC quarterback Matt Corral leads Ole Miss' offense while the defense returns nine starters from a group that allowed 38.3 points per game.

Here is the Clarion Ledger's scouting report and prediction for Ole Miss vs. Louisville.

Ole Miss offense vs. Louisville defense

Corral led the FBS in total offense per game. His top four running backs return, including preseason third-team All-SEC junior Jerrion Ealy, along with three veteran receivers led by seniors Braylon Sanders and Dontario Drumond. The Rebels return four of five starting offensive linemen from a group that led the SEC in rushing yards per game.

Louisville's defense ranked fourth in the ACC in yards and points allowed per game. The Cardinals allowed the fewest pass yards per game in the ACC, and the 17th-fewest in the FBS, but will have to replace both of their safeties.

Corral said he expects Louisville to run drop-8 coverage as Arkansas did last fall. It's a strategy multiple teams used against the Rebels, but Ole Miss' common response was to hammer the run. The Rebels ran for 283 yards against Auburn and 307 yards against LSU. 

Louisville offense vs. Ole Miss defense

The Cardinals had to replace top receivers Tutu Atwell and Dez Fitzpatrick, both of whom were drafted in the first four rounds, as well as leading rusher Javian Hawkins, who spent the preseason in camp with the Tennessee Titans.

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Malik Cunningham is one of the best dual-threat quarterbacks in college football. Ole Miss defenders have compared his style to former Louisville Heisman Trophy winner Lamar Jackson. Containing him will be a primary part of the gameplan for a defense that struggled against mobile quarterbacks last year.

Ole Miss returns nine starters from a defense that was putrid. The roster transformed, though, with the additions of 12 freshmen and junior college transfers as well as senior safety Jake Springer, senior linebacker Chance Campbell and junior cornerback Deantre Prince. 

Special teams

Ole Miss rarely kicks field goals or punts, but senior punter Mac Brown is among the most effective in the SEC. Freshman Caden Costa is expected to make his debut as placekicker and kickoff specialist. Ealy is an All-SEC kick returner and junior receiver Jonathan Mingo is expected to handle punt returns.

Louisville returns James Turner, who was 13-for-15 on field goals and perfect on extra points. The Cardinals had to replace their primary punt returner and were middle-of-the-pack as kick returners in 2020.

Prediction

Offense rules the day in college football. While Ole Miss had to replace All-America wide receiver Elijah Moore, the Rebels still have far more firepower than the Cardinals. If Louisville drops eight in coverage, expect big days from Ealy, Henry Parrish and Snoop Conner on the ground. If not, expect Corral to take advantage of one-on-one coverages against Sanders for big plays.

Louisville's offense keeps up behind some impressive feats from Cunningham, but ultimately Ole Miss pulls away. Rebels win 41-31. 

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.