Jordan Davidsen of CFB Dynasty reached out to us this week with a few questions regarding the Ole Miss football season and how good the offense might be. I took the time to discuss my outlook for 2020 and thought that Rebel nation would be curious to know the answers.
Davidsen’s questions are in bold, my responses are below.
Overall, how do you believe the offense will compare to the 2019 season?
The Rebels hung 31 points on the Tide and 37 points on the national champion Tigers last season, so the firepower is there, and most of the starting 11 is returning. It is my expectation that the Ole Miss offense will exceed its performance in 2019.
Under head coach Matt Luke and offensive coordinator Rich Rodriguez, the Rebels ran the ball a lot and put up some astonishing numbers doing so. However, Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby take over the offense in 2020 and install an entirely new system. Kiffin uses a pro-style offense that uses basic formations to get the ball off and move fast. He morphs his two-back, high-pace approach to the skills of his players and isn’t tied to a predetermined model. It will be interesting to see how he meshes his style with the spread set of Lebby.
However it shakes out, if there is one thing to be said about Kiffin, it is that he can call the hell out of an offense. To couple that play calling with the large talent pool he inherits? Sheesh... the offense should put up some numbers!!
What do you expect from the QB position in 2020?
This is absolutely the biggest question coming into the 2020 season, and truthfully, the answer is a complete unknown. Spring practice would have been the time where the new coaching staff could get a better feel for who would be under center, but COVID-19 has delayed that timeframe.
Kiffin took over the team in early December and has not yet seen his guys play in practice or simulated game situations in-person, which makes things difficult for a first-year coach to get a sense of who best fits his system— in this case a pro-style offense that throws the ball a fair amount. To make matters more difficult, the Rebels have three different options for who could be the guy taking the snap against Baylor on September 5.
John Rhys Plumlee, the presumed incumbent, is a runner. He became Ole Miss’ sixth all-time single-season 1,000 yard rusher in 2019 and has open-field speed that is unprecedented from a quarterback. However, his poor mechanics and inability to throw the ball in the pocket makes it difficult to plug him into a pass-oriented scheme with any sort of confidence.
Matt Corral, a former four-star recruit from California who opened the 2019 season as the starter, is a gunslinger. His 6-foot-1, 206-pound frame is more suitable to his strong arm ability to zip the ball into tight windows or find his guy streaking, but he has sneaky speed of his own that could prove valuable on quarterback draws from the gun or option keepers to the outside. Kiffin turned a former running back Blake Sims into a national champion quarterback with nearly 3,500 yards passing and 350 yards rushing. Corral is a far better passer and likely could touch Sims’ rushing total if his number was called.
Grant Tisdale, a dual-threat former four-star recruit himself, might be the most complete option of the trio but is the least tested on the collegiate level. After he left the program and entered the transfer portal midway through the 2019 season, the Texas native announced he would be returning to Oxford after the hiring of Kiffin. He possesses 4.58 40-yard dash speed and a strong enough arm to hit his receivers on the deep ball to the corner. He is a magician that shines most in his ability to make plays on the fly when the defense is swarming in around him. The 6-foot, 205-pound righty scored 101 touchdowns in his high school career, 69 (nice) passing and 32 rushing, with only nine interceptions. Oh, and the dude just wins, going 30-1 at Allen High School.
It will be curious to see who Kiffin and Lebby go with to run their offense, but no matter who gets named the starter, expect different packages that showcase individual skillsets.
How do you see the workload at RB being distributed?
The backfield should belong to Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner as it did in 2019. However, Kiffin and his staff added a four-star recruit Henry Parrish and three-star Kentrel Bullock.
Hey y’all, meet Jerrion Ealy! Touchdown, Ole Miss! pic.twitter.com/0PjItJ74nd— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) October 20, 2019
Ealy was named a freshman All-American by multiple outlets, finished second in the SEC and No. 5 nationally amongst freshman with 100.9 all-purpose yards per game. I cannot imagine his touches will be diminished until he proves a reason not to give him the ball. The “lightning” of the running back room ran for 722 yards on 104 carries and provided home run speed that the Rebels hadn’t seen since Dexter McCluster.
The “thunder” back Conner will play second fiddle, but shines in his own spotlight when he gets the ball in his hands. The 5-foot-10, 210-pound Mississippi native is a bowling ball with an incredible center of balance that seemingly falls forward to average of 6.3 yards per carry. He has breakaway speed of his own when he gets loose and should receive equal to, or more than, his 81 touches in 2019.
New to the bunch, Parrish and Bullock provide depth at the position but likely won’t see a bulk of carries. Parrish is a strong, crafty runner who can turn on the jets in space, while Bullock is a thick-built back who once reportedly ran a 4.38 forty-yard dash.
Kiffin’s offense plays really fast and has high play counts, so there can never be enough running backs— especially with former NFL standout Kevin Smith coaching them up.
How does the offensive line compare to the 2019 group?
The Big Uglies will not see any turnover and should see some improvement in 2020. Eli Johnson will anchor a fairly young group in the middle and has showed the ability to hold down a strong pocket when he’s fully healthy. To either side of the 6-foot-1, 300-pound center, Royce Newman, Jalen Cunningham, Ben Brown and Chandler Tuitt will compete for the guard spots in fall camp after showing some improvement toward the end of last season. Both tackle spots are held down by big rising sophomores Nick Broeker and Jeremy James.
#OleMiss has been high on true freshman Nick Broeker (64). He played about half the snaps Saturday at left tackle.— Nathanael Gabler (@nategabler) September 9, 2019
Here's what they like: he intelligently picks up the DL stunt, and finishes the play till the end. Disregard all the other issues here, that's good LT play pic.twitter.com/yuas9YCezP
Each stands at least 6-foot-4, 300 pounds and showed great hands, a strong base and good footwork in their differentiating amounts of playing time last season. A full offseason in the weight room and a summer working with offensive line coach and noted prospect-builder Randy Clements will serve them each well. The position is not super experienced, but Kiffin sured up his depth chart with four tackles 6-foot-6 or bigger in his first recruiting class.
All in all, last season was a learning curve for a lot of young Rebel linemen. The growing pains will surely continue at times, but comparatively, the group will be much better in 2020 than in 2019.
What do you think the distribution will be to the Wide Receivers / Tight Ends?
This is going to be interesting to see, and can not fully be answered until a quarterback is chosen.
Elijah Moore is the clear-cut No. 1 receiver on the team. He had a phenomenal sophomore season and was nearly a 1,000 yard receiver in 2019 despite only 332 total pass attempts and will presumably be the top target for whomever lines up under center in 2020. Should Moore get locked down by opposing defenses, seniors Dontario Drummond and Braylon Sanders have showed moments of greatness. Sanders will likely line up inside Moore and could see targets at the seams, while Drummond may lineup at the opposite numbers and body opposing receivers in jump-ball situations or break down the sideline and leave his corner in the dust.
The receivers room is loaded, especially with former four-star recruits Miles Battle and DeMarcus Gregory returning to Ole Miss after some time in the transfer portal. If Kiffin throws the ball as much as he presumably will, there will be plenty of opportunities for everybody to eat… it’s simply a matter of who steps up at the No. 2 behind Moore.
What Ole Miss has lacked since Evan Engram is a confident tight end presence. (We won’t talk about how Phil Longo neglected Dawson Knox. We can save that rant for another day.)
That missing component should change this season after Kiffin went out and pulled graduate transfer Kenny Yeboah, listed at 6’5, 240-pounds. New tight ends coach Joe Jon Finley has an immediate weapon with FBS experience and a ton of athleticism. He may not have the numbers to show for his talent, but he is a specimen that could flourish in a new system. Expect him to receive looks over the middle.
Who are some young players that stand out as future breakout performers?
The thing is, Ole Miss was so young in 2019 that the future breakout performers are already on the field.
The obvious answer is at quarterback. Should John Rhys Plumlee get the starting nod, his weak arm could hinder his performances as incompletions rack up and passing attempts are less than that of most Power 5 counterparts, but No. 10 ran for 1,000 yards AS A QUARTERBACK in 2019, which must rack up the points. Should Corral get his number called, he will be throwing deep to one of the deepest receiving cores in the nation and slipping in a big run or two. Should Tisdale win it outright, he may not run as much as Plumlee, but could get pretty close and would have a significant number of completions over five yards.
From there, you look at the running backs and Moore at receiver. Ealy can break one at a moment’s notice, and Conner could provide a strong RB2 as he won’t run for less than two yards every time he touches the ball. Barring unforeseen circumstance, Moore will be the team’s leading receiver in 2020 on an offense that better suits him.
Digging a little bit deeper, it’s worth looking at Gregory and Battle. Both guys were relatively high-profile recruits in high school but got caught up in a system that didn’t suit the passing game. A receiver will have to step up as the No. 2 guy on the depth chart, so maybe it will be one of those two!