There’s a significant change to LSU’s SEC schedule from this point onward. While LSU used to open conference play against Auburn, that spot has now been taken by the Ole Miss Rebels.
That’s not the only change as far as Ole Miss is concerned. After three years of Matt Luke, the Rebels have moved on to former Florida Atlantic head coach Lane Kiffin. When we last saw Kiffin in the SEC he served as Nick Saban’s offensive coordinator at Alabama. Now Kiffin’s back in the conference and he’ll have a daunting challenge in front of him. The SEC West alone has three coaches who have won national titles (Saban, Ed Orgeron and Jimbo Fisher), while Guz Malzahn coached Auburn to a BCS title game appearance and if that wasn’t enough, Mississippi State, Ole Miss’ most bitter rival, made a splashy hire by bringing in Mike Leach from Washington State.
Welcome back, Lane.
Ole Miss Rebels
2019: 4-8 (2-6 SEC), 53rd S&P+
2020 Recruiting Class Ranking: 34th
Head Coach: Lane Kiffin
Offensive Coordinator: Jeff Lebby
Defensive Coordinator: DJ Durkin, Chris Partridge
So we need to talk about the people Kiffin hired to his staff. Yes that’s that DJ Durkin, the former coach at Maryland who was fired after Jordan McNair, an offensive linemen, died in the summer of 2018 from a heatstroke. Durkin and Kiffin are both represented by Jimmy Sexton and Ole Miss’s athletic director Keith Carter said the school did a “thorough background check” on Durkin and found “consistently strong feedback about (his) strong character and work ethic and his positive impact on communities and institutions where he was previously employed.”
Kiffin also hired Jeff Lebby, who served as Art Briles passing game coordinator at Baylor, as his offensive coordinator. After leaving Baylor, Lebby went to UCF and was the Knights quarterback coach and then offensive coordinator for the 2019 season. UCF ranked forth in total offense (536.6 yards per game) and sixth in scoring (43.0 points per game) last year.
Anyway, quarterbacking the Rebels this year figures to be John Rhys Plumlee, whom LSU fans may remember as the guy who tortured the Tiger defense last season with his legs. Plumlee ran for 217 yards and four touchdowns that night in Oxford.
Plumlee’s not much of a passer, but Kiffin may be the perfect coach for his skillset. Kiffin won the Broyles Award in 2014 with Alabama and in 2016 he was the offensive coordinator for Jalen Hurts best statistical season in Tuscaloosa. Hurts threw for 2,780 yards and ran for an additional 954 as a true freshman. Ole Miss certainly won’t have the supporting cast that Alabama team had, but if Plumlee can even be a fraction of Jalen Hurts he could be a real problem for opposing defenses.
Joining Plumlee in the backfield is a potentially great running back tandem in Jerrion Ealy and Snoop Conner. Ealy and Conner are both sophomores this year and combined for 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns. Add in Plumlee’s rushing production and Ole Miss brings back 2,200 rushing yards and 23 touchdowns.
At receiver, Plumlee will have Elijah Moore to depend on. Moore was a third-team All-SEC member last year, catching 67 passes for 850 yards and six touchdowns. Moore may not have the size that A.J. Brown or D.K. Metcalf has, but he’s certainly a legitimate No. 1 option that defenses will have to put their best corner on.
Along the offensive line, Ole Miss brings back four starters. Center Eli Johnson, a senior, and right guard Ben Brown, a junior, are the veterans of the group, while Nick Broeker garnered Freshman All-American recognition at left tackle.
Defensively Ole Miss is going to have to make serious strides, especially defending the pass. Ole Miss ranked last in the SEC in passing yardage and allowed opponents an average of 12 passing first downs per game; the Rebels were also 13th in completion percentage against. As for defending the run, Ole Miss was just an average unit at best relative to the conference.
The biggest loss for Ole Miss’s defense will be Benito Jones, but the Rebels still bring back it’s top two tacklers Lakia Henry and Jacquez Jones. In the secondary, Ole Miss will count on junior cornerback Keidron Smith and fifth-year corner Jaylon Jones.
The 2020 Rebels will be set special teams wise, bringing back place kicker Logan Luke, punter Mac Brown and kickoff specialist Spencer Cole.
2020 Ole Miss Schedule
September 6 (Sunday): vs. Baylor (@ Houston)
September 12: vs. Southeast Missouri
September 19: vs. Auburn
September 26: @ LSU
October 3: vs. Alabama
October 10: @ Vanderbilt
October 17: vs. Florida
October 24: vs. UConn
October 31: BYE
November 7: @ Texas A&M
November 14: @ Arkansas
November 21: vs. Georgia Southern
November 26 (Thursday): vs. Mississippi State