ATLANTA, Ga. - The Ole Miss football team may have opened year two of the Lane Kiffin era without the head coach himself at Mercedes-Benz Stadium, but the Rebels brought the energy and physicality regardless for four quarters. The Rebels dominated on offense, defense and special teams en route to a season opening 43-24 victory over Louisville in the 2021 Chick-fil-A Kickoff Game on Labor Day.
Matt Corral once again put up big numbers through the air, going 22-for-32 for 381 yards and a touchdown pass to Dontario Drummond, who had 177 yards on nine catches. Corral also added 55 yards and a score while Snoop Conner rushed for 60 yards and two scores to lead the team.
Defensively, Otis Reese, AJ Finley, Tysheem Johnson and Ashanti Cistrunk each recorded eight tackles while the unit combined for seven tackles for loss and two turnovers. The defense made its presence felt early, giving the offense an early cushion and set the tone for a convincing opener.
The Rebels wasted little time getting on the scoreboard first, going 95 yards in 11 plays and capping it all off with a Jerrion Ealy goal line touchdown. The PAT failed, but Ole Miss had an early 6-0 lead with 11:55 left in the opening quarter. Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham followed that by leading the Cardinals past midfield with a pair of first downs, but no further.
Chance Campbell came up with a 4th-and-1 stop to give his team the ball at its own 41-yard line. However, Louisville came up with three consecutive pass deflections in order to give Cunningham another chance on his own 22-yard line, which also resulted in a three-and-out.
A 34-yard reception by Dontario Drummond and pass interference call put Ole Miss on the Cardinal 23, but a first-down sack by Yasir Abdullah forced the Rebels to kick a 47-yard field goal. True freshman Caden Costa delivered on his first career attempt to give his team a 9-0 lead with 2:25 left in the first quarter. The Rebels eventually ended the quarter out-gaining Louisville 132-54 offensively and giving up the fewest first quarter yards defensively in the Kiffin era.
Ole Miss later converted its first fourth down attempt of the season early in the second quarter while also benefiting from a targeting penalty on Louisville's Monty Montgomery. Corral proceeded to capitalize with a six-yard touchdown run to give Ole Miss a 16-0 lead with 11:25 left in the first half. The Rebels came away with scores on three of their first four possessions.
Defensively, the Rebels continued their hot first half start and later recorded their first turnover of the season. Deantre Prince intercepted Cunningham over the middle and returned the ball to midfield. Three plays later, the Rebels extended their lead with a Snoop Conner goal line score. With 7:12 left in the first half, Ole Miss had a commanding 23-0 lead.
In desperation mode, Louisville put together its best offensive drive of the night, pushing to the Ole Miss 19-yard line. The Cardinals again gambled on 4th-and-2 and again lost. An errant pitch by Cunningham resulted in a fumble recovery by Austin Keys and the Rebel offense was given another chance to score with 44 seconds left. The seven-play, 77-yard drive resulted in another field goal by Costa from 22 yards out as the half expired. The Rebels went into the locker room with a dominant 26-0 lead.
The Ole Miss defense pitched a first-half shutout for the first time since September 24, 2016, against Georgia and gave up a total of 107 yards, including just 26 through the air. On the offensive side of the ball, the Rebels totaled 327 yards. Corral went 13-for-20 for 252 yards, with 104 of those yards going to Drummond on four catches. Conner led the Rebels in rushing with 33 yards on five carries.
The Cardinals returned the second half kickoff to the Ole Miss 41-yard line, but the Rebels again snuffed out a touchdown opportunity. Instead, Louisville settled for a 38-yard field goal by James Turner, making it a 26-3 game just over two minutes into the third quarter. The Rebels again drove down the field and again relied on Costa for points with a 38-yarder, giving Ole Miss a 29-3 lead nearing the halfway point of the third quarter.
Louisville finally broke through with 1:58 left in the third quarter. On 4th-and-3 near the Rebel goal line, Cunningham connected with Braden Smith from four yards out, Louisville's first touchdown of the night. The Cardinals still trailed 29-10. The Rebels answered to begin the fourth quarter, capping off a seven-play, 75-yard drive with Conner's second touchdown of the game from 11 yards out. Ole Miss had a 36-10 lead with 14:11 remaining.
Cunningham scored two late touchdowns on the ground, but it was too little, too late. Corral connected with Drummond for his first passing touchdown of the season with 7:11 remaining to ice the victory.
The Rebels return to Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the first time in 2021 on Saturday, September 11, to face Austin Peay. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. CST and can be streamed on ESPN+.