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Ole Miss Rebels-Florida Gators Recap: Strong Offensive Showing, But Defense Falls Flat

The Ole Miss Rebels hosted the No. 5 Florida Gators to open their 2020 CFB season. The Gators came into the game favored by a pair of scores and covered the spread, winning 51-35. If that score sounds like a lot, well. it is.

Florida’s defense last year was one of the nation’s best, and with much of their starters returning, it’s expected to be one of the best again. On the other hand, we have the Rebels. A team that had an offseason full of turmoil and turnover. Most people expected the Gators to stroll into Oxford and stroll right back out.

But that isn’t exactly what happened. The new-look Ole Miss Rebels under new head coach Lane Kiffin would not go down without a fight.

Florida got off to a hot start, scoring on four of their first five drives. However, the Rebs were hanging tough. At halftime, the Gators led by just two scores.

Gators’ quarterback Kyle Trask would not be denied, though. He showed the connection with his top tight end, Kyle Pitts, for four scores this afternoon. Trask finished the day with six total touchdowns and 416 yards. Even when down late, the Rebels kept grinding.

To cut the lead to 16, the Ole Miss Rebels scored with 58 seconds left on the clock. They went for two points and missed. To take another risk, Kiffin called up an onside kick, and the Rebels recovered. The last drive would take the Rebels to the red zone, but they would not cash in during the dying seconds of the game. Rebels fall 51-35.

Five Major Takeaways

1. This is NOT the same Ole Miss Rebels offense as last year.

Look, I know that the heading of this takeaway sounds silly, but there was a part of me that was worried. Part of me worried that the new staff would come in and see a dynamic young quarterback who can really run the ball and be so enamored that they wouldn’t notice what else is in front of them.

Luckily, Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby did not fall into that trap. Matt Corral played the game as the de facto starting quarterback and played more than well enough to warrant another start. He looked poised under a lot of pressure from a Florida front seven that was able to create chaos in the backfield.

Corral delivered the ball with precision to most of the receivers on the roster. On the day, he went 22/31 for 395 yards and three touchdowns. His single interception was not fully his fault. A batted pass landed squarely into the hands of lineman Gervon Dextor.

Even the running game looked different. The Rebels utilized different formations to open up the running game as well. Backs lined up on both sides of the quarterback regularly, and the handoff motion on even simple draw plays changed drastically from last season. Both Snoop Conner and Jerrion Ealy scored touchdowns, and Matt Corral scrambled for 50 total yards.

2. Where was John Rhys Plumlee?

Coming into the game, Lane Kiffin was non-committal to either of his stud quarterbacks. However, as the Ole Miss Rebels continued to score points with only Corral on the field, Plumlee saw his time on the field disappear.

Early in the game, Kiffin showed off a few formations that featured both Corral and Plumlee, but they didn’t get too much done. Mid-way through the first quarter, Plumlee took a handoff from Corral for an outside run and got minimal yardage. That was his last time on the field until one of the late drives in the second and third quarters.

Overall, Plumlee simply looked subpar compared to his game last season. He seemed a half-step slower and less dynamic with the ball in his hands. He had a nice catch out of the slot in the first half but wasn’t able to gain many yards after catch. I think this performance cemented Corral as the starter and JRP as a secondary option.

3. This Ole Miss Rebels Receiving Corps is Great.

This is another one that may have been expected by some coming in, but I was a touch skeptical of. I am very happy to have been proven wrong. Elijah Moore is one of the most electric WRs in the nation, Kenny Yeboah showed that experience can be everything, and Dontario Drummond showed that, sometimes, people just need a chance.

Moore bounced back from his Egg Bowl gaffe last season with a dominant performance this afternoon. He caught ten passes for 227 yards, missing the endzone by just a hair at times. Moore showed why he’s the Rebs’ number one target as he collected a ton of yards after catch using his shiftiness and blistering speed.

Kenny Yeboah is Kiffin’s new starting tight end. A grad transfer from Temple, Yeboah didn’t make much of an impact until late when he had three straight catches on one drive, resulting in a touchdown. The veteran player had five total grabs for 91 yards and that touchdown.

Dontario Drummond looks like he just needed an opportunity to play. The senior from Laurel, MS transferred from East Mississippi Community College before last season, and he had minimal playing time during the season. In his 2020 debut, Drummond had two catches for 60 yards and a pair of touchdowns. He also threw for a 45-yard pass on a trick play. Expect Drummond to feature in Kiffin’s offense from here on.

4. The Ole Miss Rebels’ Defense Needs Work… Again.

For years, the Ole Miss Rebels were known for their high-octane offense, but their lackluster defense. But for that time, it worked for them, since they happened to have multiple NFL talents on the team at the time.

The years since haven’t been those same Rebs. Last season, they finally had a serviceable defense under then-coordinator Mike MacIntyre. MacIntyre had the Rebels’ D playing stout red zone defense, but this game showed that the new coordinators have their work cut out for them.

D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge came in as co-defensive coordinators under Kiffin, and their first game did not go according to plan. The Gators shredded the Rebels’ defense, racking up 642 total yards and 51 points. The defense will have to buckle down for the team to have any chance against most of the rest of the SEC.

5. The Gators are REALLY Good.

At the end of the day, the Ole Miss Rebels played a solid game against a very good opponent. The Florida Gators came into the season ranked as highly as they were for a reason.

As the Rebels quickly found out, Kyle Trask is an exceptional quarterback. He was accurate at all three levels, delivering strikes to receivers up and down the field. He might not have burnt the Rebels’ defense on the ground, but he is mobile enough to move outside of the pocket to deal with pressure.

Trask’s connection with his tight end Kyle Pitts cannot be overstated. The two linked up for four touchdowns in the air. Pitts looks to be a contender to be the best TE in the nation, as he routinely made catches in double coverage look easy.

The Gators defense did not look great overall, but they have the talent to rebound. They blocked multiple passes thrown by Corral and stuffed the middle of the field often.

Looking Forward

The Ole Miss Rebels travel to take on the Kentucky Wildcats next weekend. The Wildcats went to Auburn and lost 29-13 after a strong start against the Tigers.

This will be another good test for this young Rebels team. Stay on the lookout for a preview during the week!

Follow me on Twitter @kinggeorge94 for more Ole Miss Rebels Football news and notes and follow @OT_Heroics for any and all things sports!

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