Lane Kiffin seems to have a calm approach when it comes to the Rebels putting together a team that can mimic the success of the 2021 season. The Ole Miss head coach has to replace the quarterback who led them to ten wins, started all thirteen games and finished third in the SEC in total offense.
For the Rebels to have the same type of success in 2022, Kiffin had to reach into the portal that he talks about so often and find playmakers, especially behind center.
It’s not as if his quarterback room isn’t filled with talent, but replacing a guy like Matt Corral comes with obstacles. The former playmaker threw for 3,349 yards and 20 touchdowns, with just five interceptions last season. So finding that type of offensive success will come with its challenges. During the offseason, the transfer portal that Kiffin loves to discuss brought Jaxson Dart from USC to Oxford, giving Kiffin and his staff another option at the position besides Luke Altmyer, who has proven he can sling it as well.
But as the Rebels head into their first scrimmage of fall camp on Saturday, the two quarterbacks are still neck-and-neck in regards to who will take the first snap against Troy on September 3rd.
“I know I sound like a broken record, but they do some things really well and at times, they look young again,” Kiffin said. “In everything, life is about what you just saw. I’m not saying I am smarter than other people, but you take for granted what you have in life in all areas sometimes. I kept telling our guys the last two years, especially last year, ‘Guys, these throws, we were used to every throw being in there and not missed,’ so it takes some getting used to having new quarterbacks and losing a veteran who had elite arm talent.”
It’s not just the quarterback position, with the Rebels losing Jerrion Ealy, Jarod “Snoop” Conner and Henry Parrish at running back. So having to replace that type of load won’t be an easy task, but they found a diamond in Fort Worth, Texas, with a previous relationship with the staff.
I think it’s pretty fair to say that the Rebels will have an explosive offense this upcoming season with the addition of TCU transfer running back Zach Evans, along with SMU’s Ulysses Bentley. But this squad is only seven practices into fall camp and the coaching staff is working to prepare over twenty new players for the upcoming season, while also trying to find leaders within the group. Evans has the ability to be one of the top playmakers in the SEC this upcoming season.
“We’re probably not where we’d want to be normally, but we have to take (transfer portal class) into consideration,” Kiffin said. “Your new guys are usually at the bottom. Now you’ve got a lot of new guys that have played a lot and we expect them to play. That’s why they’re here.”
If you’ve seen this type of scenario play out before, look no further than Knoxville last season. Josh Heupel inherited a program with a roster that was gutted by the transfer portal and his team started to finally catch-on after the first few games of the season. Now, we all know Lane Kiffin doesn’t have that type of patience, but hopefully he’s adapting to what is roster will look like this season, with a number of portal guys battling each other for starting roles.
This is why Saturday’s scrimmage is so important for Ole Miss.
“I think you put more weight in the scrimmage than ever because of the quarterbacks being young and because of all these portal guys that haven’t played together,” Kiffin said. “As far as us, we haven’t seen the defensive guys tackle. Some of them are in different positions than where you’ve seen them in the year before. I don’t recall scrimmages being more important than these coming up.”
Now with how the portal is setup and players have the option to transfer within the conference, you get scenarios like the one Kiffin pointed out this week.
“You can look out there and see, easily, half of the guys out there that are going against each other are portal guys. At one point I thought to myself, ‘That guy was just playing for Auburn and is covering a guy that just played for Mississippi State’, That’s just the world we’re in.”
It’s not everyday that a college team has transfer players competing for upwards of eight starting spots on both sides of the ball, but this is a new era of college football that everyone is working on acclimating to. So the process might end up taking a bit longer than expected, but it doesn’t mean this squad won’t be as talented as last season. It might just take the whole month of August and the first few games to get fully comfortable.
Usually the newer players are battling it out for 2nd or 3rd string on the depth chart, but not this year in Oxford.
“Your new guys are usually at the bottom,” Kiffin said. “We have a lot of new guys that have played a lot, and we expect them to play. That’s why they’re here. It’s a work in progress and really, it’s both sides.
It might not look the same, but Lane Kiffin is trying to build an explosive team that looks like the 2021 squad. It’ll take a little longer to get there, but I don’t have many doubts that Ole Miss can pull it off.