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Ole Miss Football Game Notes: vs. Liberty

#15 OLE MISS (6-2, 3-2) vs. Liberty (7-2)
Saturday, Nov. 6, 2021 • 11 a.m. CT • Oxford, Miss.
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium

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• This is the first all-time meeting between Ole Miss and Liberty.
• The Rebels check in at No. 15 in both the AP Top 25 and Coaches Poll.
• Ole Miss has lost only one home non-conference game since 2012 (Sept. 23, 2019 vs. #23 Cal, 28-20).
• The Rebels are 55-15 versus non-conference opponents dating back to a 38-0 win over Tulane on Nov. 12, 1994.
• The Rebels rank top 10 in the country in five separate categories: total offense (531.5), rushing offense (249.9), first downs (221), passes had intercepted (2) and turnovers lost (6).
• Ole Miss is third in the FBS in rushing (249.9 ypg) and fourth in total offense (531.5 ypg).
• Ole Miss ranks No. 2 in FBS in number of plays per game (79.8).
• The Rebels rank No. 19 nationally and second in the SEC in sacks per game (2.9).
• The Rebels lead FBS in both fourth down attempts (34) and fourth down conversions (24).
• Ole Miss has forced a turnover in 17 of the 18 games during the Lane Kiffin era.
• QB Matt Corral ranks No. 8 in the FBS in total offense (340.2).
• WR Dontario Drummond is third in the SEC with six receiving touchdowns.
• 17 of Snoop Conner’s 23 career rushing touchdowns have been from five yards or less, including 12 1-yard TD runs.
• DL Sam Williams currently has 8.5 sacks on the season, which ranks tied for eighth in program history … Williams is just 1.5 short of tying the school record (10.0).
• K Caden Costa’s nine field goals on the season are the most by a true freshman since 2006 (Joshua Shene, 14).

Lane Kiffin (Fresno State, 1998) is in his second season at Ole Miss and helped lead the Rebels to four win in their final five games in 2020, including a 26-20 victory over No. 7 Indiana in the Outback Bowl. Kiffin quickly turned the Rebels into an offensive machine last season. Ole Miss ranked top-20 in the FBS in nine different offensive categories, including having the No. 3 team in the country in total offense, shattering the school record with 555.5 yards per game. Kiffin is in his 10th year at the NCAA level and has posted an all-time record of 72-41. In December 2016, Kiffin took over an FAU program that had won a total of nine combined games over the previous three seasons. Kiffin proceeded to take the Owls to new heights over the last three years, including two conference titles and two 10-win seasons. In his head coaching stops at USC, Tennessee and FAU, Kiffin has shown a propensity in helping turn programs around. Kiffin graduated from Fresno State in 1998 after playing quarterback for three seasons (1994-96) for the Bulldogs. He began his coaching career as a student assistant at Fresno State under Pat Hill in 1997 and 1998. He moved on to Colorado State in 1999 as a graduate assistant.

Hugh Freeze has quickly elevated Liberty’s program to unprecedented success during his first three seasons with the Flames. He guided Liberty to an 8-5 record in 2019 and a 10-1 mark in 2020, including back-to-back bowl game wins and a No. 17 ranking in the final AP Poll last season. Freeze has experienced similar success at each of his head coaching stops: Lambuth University (2008-09), Arkansas State (2011) and Ole Miss (2012-16) and Liberty (2019-Present). He has posted a combined 67-40 mark in ten seasons as a head coach. Prior to his current coaching position at Liberty, the native of Oxford, Miss., returned to his hometown school and led it back to championship form during his five seasons as head coach at Ole Miss (2012-16). Freeze’s time in Oxford was highlighted by a 10-3 campaign in 2015, the program’s first 10-win season since 2003. Before returning to Oxford, the former Ole Miss assistant experienced a record-setting run at Arkansas State and Lambuth University.

The Liberty Flames bring a red-hot offense to Oxford for Saturday’s matchup. Hugh Freeze and company are 7-2 on the season and are coming off a big 62-17 win over UMass last week. Spearheading Liberty’s offense is dual-threat quarterback Malik Willis. The former Auburn quarterback burst into the spotlight last season and has attracted national attention after throwing for nearly 2,000 yards and 21 TDs, while adding 684 yards and nine scores on the ground through his first nine games this season. Joshua Mack and T.J. Green split time in the backfield. Both running backs have tallied 315 yards and three touchdowns on the season. Demario Douglas and CJ Daniels have been two of Willis’ top targets out wide. Douglas has caught 37 passes for 562 yards and five touchdowns, while Daniels has hauled in 26 passes for 456 yards and seven scores on the year already. Overall, Liberty’s offense ranks 32nd nationally, averaging 445.3 yards per game. Defensively, the Flames are led by Storey Jackson, who leads the team with 67 total tackles, including 7.0 for a loss. As a unit, Liberty has recorded an interception in seven of its nine games this season and is 6-1 when registering a takeaway.

• Ole Miss has a 3-2 record against current FBS independents schools.
• The Rebels’ last game against an independent team was a 41-3 victory over New Mexico State in 2019.

The Rebels rank top 20 in the country in eight separate offensive categories: total offense (531.5), rushing offense (249.9), scoring offense (39.1), first downs (221), team passing efficiency (156.1), fourth down conversion percentage (.706),  turnovers lost (6) and passes had intercepted (2). The 249.9 rushing yards per game ranks third nationally, while 531.5 total yards ranks fourth.

QB Matt Corral and RB Snoop Conner rank third in the SEC and No. 18 nationally with 10 rushing touchdowns on the season. They are the first Rebel teammates ever to tally 10 or more rushing touchdowns in the same season. The 10 rushing TDs are the third-most ever by a Rebel quarterback in a single season. Conner currently ranks fourth on Ole Miss’ career charts with 23 career rushing touchdowns.

Kicker Caden Costa, a true freshman from Mandeville, Louisiana, is 9-for-11 on field goal attempts, including a 50-yarder vs. Arkansas. Costa is 3-for-4 this season on field goals greater than 40 yards. His nine field goals on the season are the most by a true freshman since 2006, when Joshua Shene connected on 14 successful attempts. He’s the first Rebel to connect on a 50-yard field goal since Andrew Ritter made a 50-yarder against Idaho in 2013.

QB Matt Corral has 15 passing touchdowns and 10 rushing touchdowns this season. The last three SEC players to accomplish this feat through their team’s first eight games were Dak Prescott (2014), Johnny Manziel (2012) and Tim Tebow (2007).

The Ole Miss offense has been moving the ball up and down the field at a unbelievably fast pace under head coach Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby. The Rebels rank second in the FBS in number of plays per game (79.8), averaging a play every 21 seconds. Ole Miss ran a school record 101 plays on offense in their win at Tennessee. The previous mark was 100 plays in 2004 against Wyoming. The 101 plays run were tied for the ninth-most in SEC history and are the most since 2018 when Texas A&M ran 107 in a seven overtime loss to LSU.

While the Rebel offense gets much of the praise from week-to-week, the Ole Miss defense has proven very capable of gaining some attention of their own. Ole Miss currently ranks No. 19 nationally in sacks per game (2.9). DL Sam Williams is second in the SEC and tied for sixth in the FBS with 1.06 sacks per game. Williams’ 8.5 sacks are tied for the most by any Rebel player in a single season since 2015. The Rebels has tallied two or more sacks in seven of the eight games this season.

When the Rebels are nearing the goal line trying to find the end zone, chances are very good that Ole Miss will look Snoop Conner’s way. Seventeen of Conner’s 23 career rushing touchdowns have been from five yards or less, including 12 1-yard TD runs. Conner currently ranks third in the SEC and No. 18 nationally with 10 rushing TDs on the season.

Mark Robinson transferred to Ole Miss as a walk-on running back from Southeast Missouri, but the Leesburg, Georgia, native made the switch to the defensive side of the ball at the end of fall camp last season. Robinson, who sat out last year due to NCAA transfer rules, ranks third on the team and No. 13 in the SEC with 7.5 tackles per game. Robinson has tallied at least eight total tackles in five straight games. He set career highs in total tackles (14), solo stops (12), tackles for loss (5) and sacks (2) in Ole Miss’ win at Tennessee. Robinson’s 5.0 tackles for loss against the Vols were the most by a Rebel since Kendrick Clancy had 6.0 against Auburn in 1999.

• Ole Miss ranks No. 15 in both the the Associated Press Poll and the Coaches Poll this week after their loss to Auburn.
• Ole Miss has been ranked in the top 25 all 10 weeks this season, which is its longest streak of being ranked for the entirety of the 2015 season.
• The SEC boasts six teams in the top 25, including top-ranked Georgia.
• The Rebels’ were ranked to start the season (No. 25) for the first time since 2016 when Ole Miss started ranked No. 11.

Ole Miss leads the country in both fourth down attempts (34) and conversions (24). The Rebels rank No. 16 in the FBS, converting fourth downs at a 70.6 percent clip. Lane Kiffin and the Rebels have gone for it on fourth down at least three times every game. The Rebels have been perfect on fourth down attempts against Louisville (3-for-3), Tulane (5-for-5) and LSU (3-for-3).

Ole Miss leads the SEC and ranks No. 3 in FBS with 249.9 rushing yards per game. Lane Kiffin’s offense has tallied 250 or more yards on the ground in three out of the last four contests. Matt Corral, who came into the season with seven career TD runs over the course of 24 games, is fourth amongst FBS quarterbacks with 10 rushing touchdowns. Corral and Snoop Conner both rank No. 18 nationally in rushing TDs (10).

Ole Miss has gained 600+ yards seven times in 18 games under Lane Kiffin. Before Kiffin, the Rebels had 16 such games in the program’s 1,209 games. Three of the top 10 offensive performances in school history have come under Kiffin’s guidance, including the 707-yard output against Tulane that ranked No. 4 all time.

Quarterback Matt Corral is not only a threat to burn you with his arm, but as teams are quickly finding out, the junior signal-caller can also beat you with his feet. Corral has thrown for 2,203 and 15 touchdowns, while running for 64.9 yards per game and 10 rushing TDs. He’s the only FBS quarterback with at least 15 passing TDs and 10 touchdowns on the ground. Prior to this season, Corral had just seven career rushing TDs in three seasons for the Rebels. Against Tennessee, Corral became the first Rebel to run 30 times in a game since 2007 when BenJarvus Green-Ellis ran 33 times vs. Missouri. Corral finished with a career high in both rushing yards (195) and attempts (30) vs. the Vols.

Even when Lane Kiffin isn’t fishing, he’s still landing big fish. One of Kiffin’s biggest catches came when the Rebels snagged Utah transfer Orlando Umana. Umana has started seven games on the offensive line for the Rebels, missing just one contest due to injury. Umana joined the Rebels after spending four years at Utah where he appeared in 40 career games, including 26 starts. Twenty-two of those starts came at center for the Utes. Battling injury, Umana appeared in just one game for Utah during a shortened 2020 season. Umana played in all 14 games on the offensive line as a sophomore in 2018, starting four at left guard and the last nine at center for Utah. The Sacramento, California, native allowed just one sack in 472 pass blocks in 2018.

Ole Miss senior defensive back Keidron Smith was named the winner of the 2021 Chucky Mullins Courage Award earlier in the fall. The award, sponsored by Phi Beta Sigma fraternity, honors the late Chucky Mullins, who had his Ole Miss career come to an end during the 1989 Homecoming game against Vanderbilt when he was paralyzed after making a tackle. After returning to his studies at Ole Miss, Mullins passed away May 6, 1991. Smith is the 31st recipient in the 32-year history of the award, which is presented annually to an Ole Miss upperclassman defensive player that embodies the spirit of Mullins. Smith wears a 38 patch on his No. 20 jersey rather than switch numbers.

When he was in seventh grade, Ole Miss punter Mac Brown had a modest goal of raising $500 for a childhood friend’s   dad who had been diagnosed with ALS. Along with a group of neighborhood friends, Brown started a lemonade stand, Awesome Lemonade Stand, in Eden Prairie, Minnesota, to help his friend’s family. Ten years later, that $500 goal has ballooned to over $145,000 raised by Brown and his friends for ALS research. The Awesome Lemonade Stand is held on a late day in June, and this year’s fundraiser raised nearly $45,000 alone. Brown was recently one of 22 collegiate football players named to the 2021 Allstate AFCA Good Works Team.

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