The Ole Miss football team is now having COVID-19 “issues,” according to head coach Lane Kiffin in a press conference on Wednesday. After going four weeks without any positive cases, this week broke the streak.
“We have a number of guys out,” Kiffin said. “I’m not going to get into numbers. We have not had that in-season. We had it during camp. This is the first time dealing with it in-season. It’s very difficult. We’re moving people around, and we’re beat up, too, from a very high play-count, intense game versus a great team Saturday.”
As of now, the Rebels’ game against Arkansas is still scheduled for Oct. 17 with Kiffin stating that the team could “play today.” Kiffin also claimed that he knows who has been spreading the virus among the team, but he doesn’t think the player spread the virus in Ole Miss facilities.
“Now they’re seeing it and seeing depth charts move, and people have to change positions and different things,” Kiffin said. “I hope it really was a better reminder. Only takes one person to really screw it up.”
Per SEC protocol, a team must have 53 scholarship players, including seven offensive linemen, one quarterback and four defensive linemen to continue play, even though a team below that threshold could play with league approval. Kiffin said the team currently meets all four requirements.
The Rebels must go through another round of tests later this week, which may impact the game on Saturday against the Razorbacks.
With COVID-19 cases cropping up throughout the SEC this week, two games have already been postponed because of positive cases. The Vanderbilt and Missouri football programs announced the rescheduling of their game on Monday, and the LSU and Florida programs announced their postponement on Wednesday. Both games are tentatively rescheduled for Dec. 12.
The Daily Mississippian discussed the decision to reschedule the games and the impact it will have conference-wide with Simon Gibbs, sports editor at the Vanderbilt Hustler.
Gibbs pointed out that there was a quick drop-off in healthy scholarship players at Vanderbilt from the weekend to Monday.
On Oct. 10, when Vanderbilt played South Carolina, Vanderbilt had 56 scholarship players dressed, and by Monday, the number of scholarship players that are healthy dropped below the 53-player threshold.
“This means that if one of the four players who have been ruled out took the field on Saturday against South Carolina, that team was put at risk,” Gibbs said.
South Carolina issued this statement following the announcement from the SEC:
“Our athletics training staff has been notified by Vanderbilt, per SEC protocols, that no players on the Gamecock football team were identified as being a close contact that would result in quarantine. A close contact is identified as someone who is within six feet of an infected person for at least 15 cumulative minutes. We will continue to test our players as normal SEC protocols — three times each week.”
One thing this does affect is the scheduling of SEC play for the rest of the season. Vanderbilt was set to go into their bye week the weekend of Oct. 24, before getting ready to play Ole Miss in Nashville the following week.
With no more schedule changes looming yet, Ole Miss will likely be seeing a Vanderbilt team that is already 0-3, and the Commodores will not have faced competition besides their own practices for three weeks.
“This is like starting all over again,” Gibbs said. “We’re going to see the game-one jitters all over again, and with no word on when Vanderbilt will resume practice… Come Oct. 31, Vanderbilt will be steamrolled by Ole Miss.”
With two upcoming games that look very winnable for the Rebels and after receiving six votes in the AP Coaches Poll this week, if both games go to plan, this Ole Miss team could be ranked in the top 25 come November if the team stays healthy.