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The Cage Dive: Ole Miss smoked ‘em cause they had ‘em

A lot was left on the table, but winning is worth celebrating.

Ole Miss Athletics

The Golden Egg is returning to Oxford. Saturday night’s victory may not have been the boat race as many had hoped and it might have unnecessarily come down to the wire, but a win is a win and Ole Miss is the 2020 Egg Bowl champion.

Here are the five major takeaways from a game that had a feel-good result:

Matt Corral can’t stop cooking.

Prior to the game, a certain fanbase tweeted out a video of a fight that took place in 2018, involving Matt Corral. No. 2 saw that post and said “bet.”

In his first true start against the Bulldogs, he completed 67 percent of his passes for 385 yards and two touchdowns. While the box score was one thing, and a solid stat line at that, it was the throws he was making that was most impressive.

The first touchdown of the afternoon came on a beautiful ball from the SoCal gunslinger. His eyes made the difference as he looked his running back in the flat the whole way, which forced the safety to pause and wait on the throw. By the time he gained his bearings and saw where the ball was going, he was about five steps too late and Dontario Drummond had a step on his single coverage down the sideline. It scored.

Later, in the second quarter, he made what was perhaps his best throw of the season. Corral saw his read from the snap and looked for Braylon Sanders the whole way. He stepped up in the pocket, waited on his man to get a step on the cornerback and took advantage of the 1-on-1 coverage.

Take another look from a better vantage point. The perfect spiral drops beautifully in the outstretched arms of his receiver.

Seriously, look at this ball. It lands less than six inches beyond the outstretched arms of the Mississippi State defensive back and Sanders doesn’t have to make a single adjustment. What a ball.

Corral didn’t stop rolling and continued to make next-level throws. Look here as the defender watches him the whole way, and Corral gets him to bite on the pump-fake to the short route while Drummond hits the double move and beats his man over top.

The back-shoulder ball is placed in the exact spot for Drummond to get up over his defender and make a play before the corner has time to turn around, look back and recognize where the ball is going. It’s really spectacular what Corral can do. Give him a helmet sticker.

The defense.

Well, let’s dive right in.

The defense, for the most part, looked good. That may be more so a testament to Mississippi State’s incapabilities, but it also showed what D.J. Durkin and Chris Partridge’s group is capable of. It wasn’t a perfect performance by any stretch, and it wasn’t necessarily something you’d look to replicate, but it was good.

Durkin and Partridge dropped eight the whole game and kept the deep ball mostly at bay. Bulldogs quarterback Will Rogers completed more than 70 percent of his passes, which isn’t ideal, and the team racked up 440 yards and three touchdowns through the air. However, only two plays went longer than 20 yards and that is a huge improvement. Especially against Mike Leach’s air raid.

Lakia Henry again topped the stat sheet with 10 total tackles, the secondary held its own for the most part, and the three-man rush did a fine job of forcing as many bad throws as it could. It may have made sense to send a fourth rusher more frequently, but all in all, it was a very good performance. Deane Leonard and Tylan Knight both had breakout performances.

The latter forced a fumble in the first quarter and the former returned it 84 yards. Leonard also had a few huge pass breakups late in the game, with the most important coming on 3rd-and-goal to force a field goal.

Knight, who moved to the secondary from running back only a few weeks prior, not only forced the fumble, but was involved later in the game with another fumble that was (wrongfully) overturned. He played his guts out.

Give them both a helmet sticker.

Otis Reese arrived.

It took long enough!! The former Georgia Bulldog was FINALLY declared eligible during the week after transferring early in 2020. After being held captive in the NCAA’s subjective, unruly, ridiculous transfer portal waiting period, he made a massive impact in his first game for Ole Miss. He was everywhere.

Reese recorded eight tackles and a pass breakup, but it was his presence on the field that made a huge difference. Durkin and Partridge played him all over. He was a roaming safety, a true man-coverage defensive back, a banshee linebacker, corner rusher, and everything in between.

“It felt great to go out there and be with the guys,” said Reese. “God works in mysterious ways and you’ve just got to keep your faith and keep pushing. It was great. It was a great win.”

Prior to being granted eligibility, Reese was moved to the scout team and was playing wide receiver. It was much better having him as a starter on defense. Give him a helmet sticker for his first game in red and blue.

Frustration in a win is acceptable.

Ole Miss left a lot on the field. It never should have been as close as it was:

  • Braylon Sanders redeemed himself later on, but he dropped an easy touchdown pass on the first drive of the game.
  • Corral’s pass to Moore was broken up on 4th-and-3 at the Mississippi State 7-yard-line on the second to last possession before halftime.
  • Corral’s pass to Kenny Yeboah was incomplete on 4th-and-4 at the Mississippi State 21-yard-line on the first possession of the second half.
  • A bogus holding penalty on Ben Brown left significant down and distance at midfield.
  • 1st-and-goal at the 4-yard-line was squandered and forced a field goal. That’s a four-point swing.
  • Even the last drive of the game. Mac Brown came on to punt from the opponent’s 46-yard-line. It wasn’t a bad call, but a first down on earlier downs would have put the game away.

Going for it on fourth down is great. Analytics are awesome. But sometimes, the conversions won’t come. That’s frustrating. It’s okay to be frustrated.

It felt like the Rebels could have been ahead 28-7 or 35-14 in the first half, and the second half should have coasted to victory. That wasn’t the case, it was close until the end, and there was never a moment that felt comfortable. Oh well. The final score is the final score.