Report card: Did the Ole Miss defense grade higher than the Rebels' offense against Louisville?

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

ATLANTA — Ole Miss played like a complete team Monday night. Not a team with a great quarterback. Not a team with a well-designed offense. A team that won in all phases.

Led by a surprisingly dominant defensive performance, a quality night in the kicking game and characteristic success from quarterback Matt Corral and the offense, No. 25 Ole Miss won its season opener against Louisville, 43-24 at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. The Rebels seized a 26-0 first-half lead and cruised from there, riding big performances from seniors such as wide receiver Dontario Drummond and linebacker Chance Campbell. 

REBELS WIN:No. 25 Ole Miss rolls over Louisville with decisive 43-24 victory

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Below are the Clarion Ledger's grades for Ole Miss' performance against Louisville.

Offense: A-

Ole Miss' offense has a way of setting too high of expectations for itself. For most other teams, scoring 43 points while averaging 7.8 yards per play and 11.9 yards per pass attempt would be the start of an offensive revolution. For Ole Miss, it's kind of the norm.

Corral had a good day, throwing for 381 yards without a touchdown pass. Junior running back Snoop Conner was dominant, running eight times for 60 yards and two touchdowns. Drummond was excellent in space, turning nine catches into 177 yards and a touchdown. 

Still, there are concerns. Running backs Jerrion Ealy and Henry Parrish really couldn't get things going. Multiple drives stalled in or around the red zone because of penalties. Corral had a few miscommunications with receivers on option routes. 

These are usually Week 1 problems that tend to solve themselves as the season goes on. But it's hard to anoint this performance as a true "A" without acknowledging some of the mistakes.

Defense: B+

If we're grading on a curve, this was an A+++++ performance. The Ole Miss defense that allowed 38.3 points per game and the nation's second-most yards per game last year shut out a Power Five opponent for an entire half. On growth alone, even a mediocre second half makes this an A-grade performance.

The defense took away explosive plays. It made stops on third and fourth downs. It forced turnovers. It pursued and didn't miss many tackles and made Louisville's skill players work for every yard. 

It's OK to be concerned about the second half. Louisville went from averaging 4.02 yards per play in the first half to gaining 6.2 yards per play in the second half. It looked like Ole Miss' defense got tired and Louisville's speed became a problem.

Still, Ole Miss fans will trade spotty second halves for the alternative. Last year Ole Miss needed to score 40 to win. If Monday's performance becomes a trend, scoring 40 will just mean fans can turn games off early.

Special teams: B

Louisville had success on kick return. And Ole Miss very much didn't; sophomore Kentrel Bullock slipped and fell on his lone return. The hands team worked, with Louisville unable to convert an onside kick. Mac Brown's punts were serviceable, and the punt coverage was a success.

The real special teams unit worth discussing is the kicking team, though. Last year Ole Miss failed to convert on a field goal longer than 39 yards. Freshman Caden Costa bested that on his first try, connecting from 47 before adding a 22-yarder and a 38-yarder. Sophomore Cale Nation doinked one extra point off a goalpost, but Costa made his other four. 

Costa's emergence adds a new dimension to this Ole Miss team. Expect Ole Miss to continue being aggressive on fourth downs inside and outside the red zone. But having Costa to settle for three points when necessary only helps the offense.

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