For as long as any can remember, football season ushers in a special feeling.
For those of us who were lucky enough to play, the memories and nostalgia come flooding back every September. We remember the sound of pads popping and the whistles coming from exasperated coaches trying to explain positioning.
We remember the sled pushes, the Oklahoma drills, and that burning feeling in our lungs after too many wind sprints. Whether we played 10 years ago or 50, when the weather starts to turn, it feels a lot like Christmas morning every Saturday.
After nearly eight months, our favorite time of the year is finally back. The 2022 Ole Miss Rebels will feature some new faces on the sidelines and on the field.
Offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby left for his alma mater, Oklahoma, while defensive coordinator DJ Durkin was snatched away by division rival Texas A&M. This would normally be a huge blow for most programs, but head coach Lane Kiffin can still oversee the offense. Last year’s co-defensive coordinator Chris Partridge will share the same title with Maurice Crum this season.
The departure of Matt Corral leaves some question marks at the quarterback position. Corral left in the top three all-time in passing and rushing among Ole Miss quarterbacks. With two days to go until kickoff, Kiffin has not named his replacement.
Both Luke Altmeyer and Jaxson Dart bring their own unique skill-set to this offense, but Kiffin has noted the two have been just average so far. One could argue that the Rebels are looking at the converse of last season’s problems.
With depth issues at wide receiver and no true tight end, Corral often had to do it all. This year’s team will feature several pass catchers from the transfer portal who can make an immediate impact. Zach Evans and Ulysses Bentley IV pack a nice 1-2 punch in the backfield.
The offensive line is full of talent and experience. Whoever emerges as the starting quarterback won’t need to do it all. He will simply need to limit turnovers and get the ball in the hands of his playmakers.
For the first time in years, the Ole Miss defense will have depth up front. We saw the fallout of having no real pass rush in 2020. Opposing quarterbacks had all day to throw, and Ole Miss defensive backs were routinely left out to dry.
Each of the four starters listed on the depth chart along the defensive line this season are upperclassmen. Auburn transfer JJ Pegues and redshirt freshman Tywone Malone will provide valuable depth on the interior.
Ole Miss essentially returns its entire secondary from 2021. Kiffin added some hard hitters in linebacker Troy Brown and safeties Isheem Young, and Ladarius Tennison.
This team’s identity has changed significantly since Kiffin took over in 2020. We’ll still see creative play calling and one of the fastest offenses in the nation, but the points may not come as easily.
There will be some growing pains to work through. Luckily, the soft first half of the 2022 schedule provides an excellent opportunity for playmakers to step up. Ole Miss fans may not have the comfort of knowing a seasoned veteran is leading this team, but the Rebels should be gritty and fun to watch.
Photo credit: Joshua McCoy/Ole Miss athletics