Ole Miss, Louisville collide in holiday spotlight game

NCAA Football

What difference does a year make? Louisville and Ole Miss are about to find out in a holiday primetime date on Labor Day in Atlanta.

Ole Miss was really good on offense in 2020.

Louisville was really good on defense last season.

As they prepare to meet in a season opener Monday night with the college football stage to themselves, both teams’ fortunes this season rest largely with improvement on the sides of the ball that weren’t so good last season.

The Rebels’ SEC-worst defense was plagued primarily by an inadequate pass rush (16 sacks).

“We need our returners to play better because we did not play well on the defensive line, especially on the interior part,” head coach Lane Kiffin said, “and that’ll make everyone play better when those guys do.

“I think we’re going to be better on defense. It feels like that. I’m kind of excited to get through a real game to see where we’re at. You never know. Some years you think you’re better on one side than you end up being or better or worse as a team.”

Ole Miss, which led the Southeastern Conference in rushing last season, is entering its second season under Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby.

Quarterback Matt Corral’s otherwise outstanding season last year was tarnished by a six-interception game against Arkansas and a five-interception game against LSU. He threw a total of just three interceptions in the other eight games.

The Cardinals also have a talented, experienced quarterback in Malik Cunningham. He was more efficient in 2019 than he was in 2020.

In 2019 he threw 22 touchdowns and five interceptions, but in 2020 he threw 20 touchdowns and had 12 interceptions and three lost fumbles.

Louisville is hoping 2021 looks a lot more like 2019 than 2020. Two years ago the Cardinals were picked near the bottom of the Atlantic Coast Conference and went 8-5 and finished second before slipping to 4-7 last season.

In a preseason league media poll, the Cardinals were picked to finish sixth in the seventh-team ACC Atlantic this season.

“We really don’t care about what happens or what people think outside of here because they don’t know what’s going on,” tight end Marshon Ford said. “They picked that same thing in 2019. All that stuff is in the past. We’re not worried about that.”

The Cardinals return seven starters from a defense that was fourth in the ACC in yards allowed last season, a jump of eight spots from 2019.

“We’ve been worrying more about ourselves than the outside noise,” cornerback Chandler Jones said. “Our whole defense is strong.”

–Field Level Media

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