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Just How Good is the Ole Miss Rebel Defense, Redux

Guess what? The answer is still "pretty damn good."

Marquis Haynes has helped make the Ole Miss defensive line a formidable one.
Marquis Haynes has helped make the Ole Miss defensive line a formidable one.
Michael Chang

The last time we asked this question, we answered it by looking at where the Rebels stand, both in raw numbers and in advanced metrics, relative to the rest of the country. If we were to repeat that exercise, we'd have the same results as we had last time, if not a bit better. We all know that, after seven games, Ole Miss has the best scoring defense in FBS (10.6 ppg), has surrendered the fewest touchdowns in FBS (7), and leads the SEC in interceptions (15) as well as forced turnovers (20). Those numbers are impressive, but they don't capture just how good this defense is relative to the other defenses Ole Miss' opponents have played. What's been arguably the most impressive feature of this defense is how adept they are at stifling opposing offenses to the point that they're largely ineffective relative to what they're used to.

I know, I know. That's what a good defense is supposed to do, so it's not particularly surprising to know that's what this year's Ole Miss D is doing. Even then, it's undeniably quite interesting to see just how capable the Rebels are at limiting offensive production.

Let's look at Ole Miss' four SEC opponents thus far - Alabama, Tennessee, Texas A&M, and Vanderbilt - and their average outputs in scoring offense, total offense, rushing offense, and passing offense. Then let's look at what Ole Miss held them to. An average of the differences between these teams' average outputs and their outputs against Ole Miss should be a pretty good proxy of what the Landsharks are capable of doing, on average, against SEC competition.

Admittedly, this is a very simple approach to answering the question posed in the headline, but these numbers do match up pretty well with what we've seen on the field thus far out of this defense. To put it very broadly, this year's Ole Miss team is good at limiting what opponents can do on offense. You don't really need fancy metrics to demonstrate that (even though fancier metrics do tell the same story).

Because I didn't want to pour through box scores and eliminate things like defensive scores, safeties, and garbage time - and because I didn't need to in order to prove my point - I've left all of those things in. So, if anything, these numbers are a very conservative estimate of just how dominant the Ole Miss defense is, because things like Alabama's scoop-n-score and Kenny Hill passing for a gazillion yards when Texas A&M trailed by 20-something points were left in the calculations. For the curious, some back of the envelope figures lead me to believe that Ole Miss' defense, when it matters, is really holding opponents to about 23 points and 180 total yards below their average offensive outputs. (Yes, not having yet played Auburn or Mississippi State is helping Ole Miss in this regard, but it's not as if the Aggies and Tide haven't themselves lit up some opponents.)

But let's forget the estimates and go with the more conservative figures provided above. Even when considering those, the Rebel defense is still demonstrably effective. Using those figures, it's reasonable to suspect that Ole Miss will hold LSU to roughly 311 total yards of offense and just 17 points this Saturday night in Baton Rouge, a figure which really isn't all that surprising considering how effective the Landsharks have looked all season. If Ole Miss can do that - and I suspect they will - they'll have a damn good shot of winning this weekend.