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ATLANTA — Several clips of Lane Kiffin highlighted the Ole Miss hype video that played on the Mercedes-Benz Stadium videoboard minutes before kickoff of Monday’s game against Louisville.
Even when Kiffin is not in the building, the Ole Miss coach attracts a lot of the attention.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing. Coaches are the stars of college football, and Ole Miss athletics director Keith Carter craved a coach like Kiffin who would attract some spotlight to an often-overlooked program.
But make no mistake, No. 25 Ole Miss’ 43-24 season-opening victory over Louisville in the Chick-fil-A Kickoff wasn’t about Kiffin.
This victory was about quarterback Matt Corral showing he’s worthy of the mantle of being considered one of college football’s best quarterbacks.
It was about a defense rising to Kiffin’s preseason challenge to not be terrible.
It was about Dontario Drummond showing that the Ole Miss receiving corps remains well stocked despite Elijah Moore's departure to the NFL.
It was about Maryland transfer Chance Campbell stuffing Louisville quarterback Malik Cunningham on fourth down during the first quarter to ensure Ole Miss would never fall behind.
It was about Snoop Conner darting through wide running lanes.
It was about the Ole Miss secondary befuddling Cunningham for two quarters and limiting him to 17 first-half passing yards.
This win was about Ole Miss showing there’s more to its program than its second-year coach.
That’s not a knock on Kiffin. He’s the architect building Ole Miss into a program deserving of its top-25 ranking.
But Kiffin was reduced to watching Monday’s game from his office and playing on Twitter, his favorite social media app, before the game. Kiffin announced Saturday that he tested positive for COVID-19, a breakthrough infection after Kiffin and his program reached 100% vaccination this summer.
The Rebels quickly put to rest any idea that their coach's absence would cause them to come out sluggish.
The only thing that could stop Ole Miss on its opening drive was the 6-yard line. Kentrel Bullock tripped over that spot and fell on the kickoff return.
Ole Miss traveled 94 yards in just more than three minutes during a drive in which Corral zipped one beauty after another, looking every bit the part of Heisman Trophy contender.
Corral’s moxie matches his arm strength.
Corral suffered a vicious helmet-to-helmet hit in the second quarter while sliding at the end of a fourth-down run. Louisville linebacker Monty Montgomery was ejected for the targeting penalty. Three plays later, Corral scampered into the end zone on a 6-yard run.
And Ole Miss fans could exhale.
Corral’s 381 passing yards outpaced Louisville’s 355 yards of total offense.
Ole Miss made Cunningham, Louisville’s once burgeoning dual-threat quarterback, look pedestrian. He continued his regression that began last season. In Cunningham’s defense, his offensive cohorts offered little help.
Louisville played like a team that would have been better off had its coach, Scott Satterfield, accepted the South Carolina job he interviewed for in December.
By the time the Cardinals finally scored with a third-quarter field goal, the game was well in hand, and many Ole Miss fans probably were feeling the effects of their Mic Ultras.
It’s hard to know how impressive this victory is because through one week, the ACC looks like a joke. ACC teams went 4-6 in Week 1 nonconference games against FBS opponents, including an 0-3 mark against the SEC. Among the ACC's losses were two to Group of Five opponents.
The Big Ten and Pac-12 might want to reconsider their alliance with the ACC and swap it for the Big 12.
Meanwhile, everything the Rebels hoped to achieve this season remains possible, thanks to an effort Monday that had everything to do with the players in the building.
Blake Toppmeyer is an SEC Columnist for the USA TODAY Network. Email him at BToppmeyer@gannett.com and follow him on Twitter @btoppmeyer. If you enjoy Blake’s coverage, consider a digital subscription that will allow you access to all of it.
This article originally appeared on USA TODAY NETWORK: Ole Miss football boasts more than Lane Kiffin