No. 13 Ole Miss, Tennessee expect high-scoring affair
If you like your college football fast-paced and high-scoring, the Saturday night Southeastern Conference matchup between Tennessee and No. 13 Ole Miss in Knoxville, Tenn., might be for you.
The Rebels (4-1, 1-1 SEC) are putting up 46.2 points per game, which ranks fourth in FBS, while the Volunteers’ average of 41.5 points is seventh. No team in the Power 5 squeeze off more plays per minute than these two as Ole Miss clicks off 2.89 offensive plays per minute with Tennessee (4-2, 2-1) right behind at 2.87.
Quantity translates into quality in both cases. The Rebels score 1.75 points per minute, good for second in the FBS, and the Volunteers’ 1.58 is third. Or as Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin famously said before his team’s 42-21 loss at Alabama on Oct. 2, get out your popcorn.
“You can see offensively that there’s a rhyme and a reason behind everything they’re doing,” first-year Tennessee coach Josh Heupel said. “They’re going to put defenses in a conflict. They do a great job of being balanced and creating big plays, too.”
Shockingly, so have the Volunteers. In a 180-degree turn from last year’s 3-7 disaster, when they scored only 215 points (21.5 per game), they have already surpassed that meager output. Heupel’s new approach is one reason and the play of Virginia Tech transfer Hendon Hooker is another.
Hooker was QB2 behind Michigan transfer Joe Milton III when the season started on Sept. 2. Milton was injured in a Sept. 11 loss to Pittsburgh, and it appears he’s been Wally Pipped. No quarterback in the SEC has been more efficient than Hooker.
In a 45-20 blowout of South Carolina last week, Hooker hit on 17 of 23 passes for 225 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. He is completing 69.6 percent of his passes with a 13-1 touchdown-interception ratio.
“He’s become better, more vocal, more ownership on the football field and in the locker (room) with our team as well,” Heupel said of Hooker.
Hooker likely will have to be at his best to match Rebels quarterback Matt Corral. All Corral did last week in a wild 52-51 win over Arkansas was throw for 287 yards and two touchdowns while running for 94 yards and two more scores.
Corral has completed 69.2 percent of his passes for 1,497 yards (299.4 yards per game) with 12 scores and no interceptions this season. He may have to continue to be that good to make up for a defense that has sprung leaks when faced with SEC competition.
Alabama ran over the top of Ole Miss two weeks ago, and the Razorbacks went from getting blanked at Georgia to putting more than half a hundred. The only saving grace for the Rebels was that they stopped Arkansas’ potential game-winning two-point conversion with no time on the clock.
“We stopped them on one play in the second half, so I guess that’s a good thing,” said Kiffin, who was Tennessee’s head coach in 2009.
Ole Miss permitted a whopping 676 yards (326 passing, 350 rushing) and 39 first downs to the Razorbacks, but Kiffin doesn’t plan to switch from the 3-2-6 scheme implemented before the season.
“We know it works, but if we don’t tackle, it doesn’t matter where the people are,” he said.
This will be the teams’ first meeting since 2014, when the Rebels routed Tennessee 34-3 in a game later vacated due to NCAA ruling. The Volunteers lead the series 44-19-1, with the original record 44-20-1 before the 2014 game was deleted.
–Field Level Media