Very suddenly, Tennessee is 4-2 and riding high after back to back blowout SEC victories. A switch flipped against Missouri, and it stayed in place against South Carolina. Josh Heupel is hoping that it rolls all the way into the Ole Miss game this weekend.
However, Tennessee is going to have to replicate those two performances, and then some. The Ole Miss offense is humming this year in the second season under Lane Kiffin. The Rebels rank second in the FBS in total offense, putting up 561 yards per game so far this season.
Ole Miss has a balanced attack like Tennessee, but they also have dynamic, Heisman-caliber quarterback named Matt Corral running the show. The junior signal caller has taken a big leap forward this season, cutting down on the 14 interceptions that he threw in 2020. In fact, Corral has zero interceptions through five games, to go along with his 12 touchdowns and nearly 1,500 yards passing. He’s also added 255 yards on the ground, along with another eight scores.
“It’s unbelievable stress on the defense,” Tennessee assistant Brian Jean-Mary said of Corral. “Watching him, I know he gets a lot of praise in the media and coverage for the way he plays, but when you watch him on the coach’s tape, it’s well deserved. He is a complete quarterback, doesn’t make any mistakes, doesn’t have any interceptions this year which tells how much he is taking care of the football.”
Corral is coming off of a dramatic win over Arkansas, where he threw for 287 yards and two more touchdowns. He completed 14-21 of his passes, adding 15 rushing attempts for 94 yards and two scores.
We saw Florida’s Emory Jones tear Tennessee up on the ground, and the Volunteers will have to guard against another mobile quarterback this weekend.
“He is a super athletic kid,” Jean-Mary continued. “I think there was a play we watched versus Arkansas where he runs through an arm tackle of one of Arkansas’ better defenders. It tells you about his athleticism and is super impressive throwing the ball, so we know we have our work cut out for us.”
Kiffin’s offense is very similar to what Heupel runs. In fact, Kiffin hired Heupel’s quarterbacks coach, Jeff Lebby, as his offensive coordinator when he arrived in Oxford.
Heupel knows what’s coming on Saturday, but stopping it is another issue.
“They’re going to put defenses in a conflict,” Heupel said. “Up-tempo, similar to what we do and I think we are the top two teams as far as plays per minute in power five football. They do a great job of being balanced and creating big plays too. It starts with the quarterback but they’re really efficient in the run game, him being a part of that as well. He does great job on scrambles too, so even though you want to push the pocket on him, you have to do a great job of bottling him up and they have special playmakers on the outside too.”
There’s a reason this total is set at nearly 80 points — both offenses are going to score, and this one feels like it will come down to which defense can make the most plays. Tennessee’s defense has done that over the last couple of weeks, but they also haven’t faced a quarterback like Corral.
Tennessee and Ole Miss will kickoff at 7:30 p.m. ET live on SEC Network.