No. 25 Ole Miss rolls over Louisville with decisive 43-24 victory
ATLANTA — For one half, Ole Miss' defense stole the show. Then things felt a little more normal.
No. 25 Ole Miss started its 2021 season decisively Monday, beating Louisville 43-24 to start 1-0 for the first time since 2018. The Rebels' defense impressed early, shutting out Louisville in the first half and forcing two turnovers for the game.
The Ole Miss offense played about as expected. Quarterback Matt Corral passed for 381 yards and a touchdown. Three ball carriers ran for touchdowns. Five players caught passes of 20 yards or longer. The Rebels averaged 7.8 yards per play.
Monday marked the first time the Rebels held a Power Five offense scoreless in the first half since a win over Georgia in 2016. Ole Miss held Louisville to 200 passing yards, an achievement the Rebels pulled off only once in 10 games in 2020.
Here are four takeaways from Ole Miss' win over Louisville.
Ole Miss defense swarmed
The obvious difference between Ole Miss' 2020 and 2021 defense is freshness. The Rebels finally have the type of depth expected of an SEC defense, and it showed Monday. Ole Miss was able to rotate defensive linemen and defensive backs wholesale possession over possession, maximizing players for a few great plays instead of making the best players save their stamina to play a full game.
This manifested itself in so many ways. Hustle plays from transfer linebacker Chance Campbell. Consecutive pressures from senior defensive lineman Tariqious Tisdale. An interception off the bench for junior cornerback Deantre Prince and a fumble recovery off the bench for linebacker Austin Keys. Open field tackles from Tylan Knight and shoestring tackles from edge rusher Sam Williams catching speedy quarterback Malik Cunningham from behind.
Ole Miss' pursuit suffocated the Cardinals and made it difficult for Louisville to convert on short-yardage situations. All around, it was about as good of a defensive performance as Ole Miss could've asked for.
Ole Miss passing attack is more diverse
There isn't an Elijah Moore who'll catch 10 passes per game on this Ole Miss offense. Corral completed passes to eight different pass catchers – five receivers, two running backs and a tight end.
Corral was his efficient self, throwing for 252 yards in the first half. Most of Ole Miss' big gains came after the catch on plays when Corral threw over the middle and let his receivers weave past defenders.
It wasn't a perfect night. Corral missed a few open receivers, and miscommunications on option routes led to an intentional grounding penalty and a couple of near turnovers. But in all, Ole Miss' passing attack seems to be picking up where it left off.
Ole Miss found a kicker
When sophomore Cale Nation missed the extra point after Ole Miss' first touchdown, it looked like the Rebels' kicking woes were rolling over into 2021. After the missed extra point, Ole Miss turned kicking duties over to freshman Caden Costa, and the woes seem to be a thing of the past.
Costa connected on field goals of 47, 38 and 22 yards and made two extra points. Costa's predecessor, Luke Logan, made only one kick longer than 40 yards in the past three years.
Of course, Ole Miss' offense probably doesn't want to be settling for field goals in scoring position. Penalties stalled potential touchdown drives on multiple occasions. But having the security blanket of a kicker who can convert from outside the red zone is a luxury the Rebels desperately needed.
The targeting issue
Senior linebackers Mark Robinson and Lakia Henry were ejected in the first half because of targeting penalties. Two Louisville players also were ejected for targeting. Neither Henry nor Robinson will have to sit out any plays in the Rebels' next game vs. Austin Peay because the fouls occurred in the first half.
The penalties exposed a little bit of a depth issue at linebacker, forcing less experienced players like Keys and Ashanti Cistrunk onto the field. Louisville's rushing attack awoke in the second half when Ole Miss' linebackers couldn't rotate as much.
Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.