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The Cage Dive: Ole Miss went big in third win of 2020

Clipboards, records and points. Oh my!

Ole Miss has a three in the win column. Saturday night’s victory was exhausting and high-scoring but it ended up being a lot of fun. The Rebels took down the Gamecocks of South Carolina by a score of 59-42 and looked great while doing it.

Here are the five major takeaways from a game that was hard to believe:

Matt Corral is an elite quarterback.

Remember when he threw six interceptions against Arkansas? Yeah, me neither. It was a fluke. Corral became the first quarterback in Ole Miss history to throw for more than 500 yards in a single game and did so in style. He missed on only four of his 31 attempts, didn’t throw a pick and added four touchdowns.

While his numbers were impressive, it was the way that he sliced and diced that really stood out. Corral broke down his night in the postgame interview and made it very clear that he saw the field, went through his reads and found the open man. It was not a fluke.

“A lot of one-blitz, one-man and three-weak,” he said when asked about what he saw. “We knew what they were going to run before it even happened and we had a great game plan for the adjustment when they were going to drop eight— to run them out of that.”

On the longest touchdown of the night, Corral found Elijah Moore for 91 yards. He explained what went down for that play to click on all cylinders.

“We got isolation on No. 8 [...] and we called a double move for him,” he said. “I saw the rotation to the left, they rolled to the field, and I didn’t want that boundary safety to get to Elijah because I knew Elijah was going to beat him one-on-one. I wasn’t even worried about that guy so I pumped to the backside and I didn’t want to overthrow Elijah because he was running naked.”

While Corral deserves every ounce of credit he earned, his success also can be attributed to offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby and Kiffin. The two called a flawless game and had a reaction to every one of South Carolina’s actions. It’s also apparent that the two worked with their quarterback after his tough day against Arkansas to figure out what happened, get to the root of the problem and fix it.

The SEC Network crew mentioned it after the game, but the numbers he has recorded around the one bad day in Fayetteville have been worthy of a Heisman look. He won’t be involved in the conversation this season, and it’s hard to win the award without winning ball games, but Corral deserves to be in the mix over the next few years if he can keep up these type of performances. He is only a sophomore after all.

The Defense.

Gamecocks running back Kevin Harris went for 243 yards on 25 carries and found the end zone five times. He broke a long of 46 yards and averaged 9.7 per carry. The secondary ballcarrier Deshaun Fenwick had only nine touches but averaged 9.1 yards on nine carries.

That won’t do. There isn’t much more to say. Make a tackle.

On the flipside, the secondary allowed only 230 yards passing on 17 completions and 10 of them went to Shi Smith, who is a legit NFL talent. There is a lot of room for growth, but the defensive backs weren’t burnt over the top and that’s great if they could stop the run.

With all the negativity out of the way, give two claps to the defense for its play in the fourth quarter. South Carolina had three possessions in the final 12 minutes and two seconds and didn’t score on any of them. The first defensive stop forced a punt with the game still within a field goal’s reach. The second went for a net loss of one yard and stopped the Gamecocks on fourth down to hold a 10-point lead. The third came when the game was mostly out of reach, but the Landsharks had their backs against the wall with a first-and-goal and forced four straight incompletions. Jakorey Hawkins had a pass breakup and Keidron Smith had a pair.

A.J. Finley also got in on the action and is quietly blossoming into a legit defender. At 6-foot-2, 200 pounds, the true sophomore from Alabama has good size and great awareness. He is the most likely to reach the next level from the current defensive roster.

Lakia Henry led the box score with 10 tackles, Brandon Mack played well in his first start and Tylan Knight deserves some love after moving to the other side of the ball just a few weeks ago. There is no way to sugar coat the problems, but Ole Miss wouldn’t have won this game without its defense punching above its weight in the last 12 minutes.

Rampant Receivers.

Seven different players caught a pass on Saturday, led by Moore’s two-touchdown day. He is now the first player in SEC history to record back-to-back weeks with 225 yards or more after meeting that number on the nose against South Carolina. At this point, if he doesn’t at least receive an invitation to the Biletnikoff Award ceremony, it’s ludicrous. He just gets open and casually added 45 yards rushing on six carries, making him the team’s second leading rusher.

Jerrion Ealy and Dontario Drummond scored the other two touchdowns and looked good catching passes, but the other standout was senior Braylon Sanders. Sanders, who has worked so hard to crack the lineup but never quite made the next jump, had a career-high 141 yards on four catches. It was his first 100-yard game since Sept. 8, 2018 against Southern Illinois. Sanders’ longest of the night came on this 57-yard bomb where he made the grab with a defender on his back. Give him a helmet sticker.

Part of the credit, as given in his own section, goes to Corral, but his receivers were open all night. Of the seven pass-catchers, not one averaged less than 11 yards per completion.

Hell, give Sanders two helmet stickers.

Jubilant clipboard throws.

Lane Kiffin has been known to celebrate touchdowns before the ball crosses the goal line. In some instances, he celebrates before the ball leaves his quarterbacks hand, and that was the case on Saturday. On the 91-yard touchdown to Moore, Kiffin threw his hands up to signal a touchdown as Corral released the pass. When No. 8 hauled it in, Kiffin threw his clipboard into the stratosphere and sprinted about 35 yards downfield. He lost his headset in the process and gave one of his most animated fist pumps.

On the next drive, Corral connected with Moore again to essentially put the game away. Kiffin threw his clipboard into the stands after the touchdown.

It went so deep into the bleachers that a grad assistant was tasked with its retrieval.

It wouldn’t come as a surprise if the fun-hating, Kiffin-fining SEC chose to ban clipboard tosses, but it would be a lot more fun if this trend continued.