Anyone looking for a repeat of the Rebels’ 70-point outings against 2015’s first two non-con opponents may have been disappointed with Ole Miss’ 38-13 win over Wofford on Saturday. In a game that was more about reestablishing an offensive rhythm and preserving bodies for next week’s matchup with Alabama (is three season-ending injuries in two games a lot or something?), however, the lack of fireworks was mostly by design.
Deriving an abundance of insight from a game like that is at times tough, but let’s try. I’m going to focus more on the first half at times, because most of the starters were still in and the offense was working in full gear.
Before we jump into this, we need a bit of clarification on some advanced metrics that will be discussed:
An offense’s success rate is a way of measuring how well the offense stays on schedule each down. Football Outsiders defines a successful play as one of the following: gaining 50 percent of the yards you need on first down, 70 percent on second down, or 100 percent on third/fourth down.
An explosive play is defined here as a run of 12 or more yards or a pass of 20 or more.
The offense was more stable than it was against FSU.
As expected, the offense’s success rate jumped a good amount between games, from 34 percent against Florida State to 51 percent against Wofford. That number didn’t dip at all even when Kelly went out of the game. What’s more meaningful is the makeup of plays this time around.
I mentioned last week that Ole Miss relied heavily on explosive plays to move the ball against FSU. Big gains at some point during a drive are pretty much imperative to some degree in this age of football, which partly explains how spread concepts have diffused across the country. Ten out of 18 of the Rebels’ successful plays in the first half against the ‘Noles were explosive. In a vacuum, that figure could always be an indication of your offense’s general dominance, but there was reason to believe a secondary as talented as FSU would eventually catch on, so Ole Miss needed other ways to pick up yards consistently. Kelly forced the ball downfield at times, which led to a large number of big plays, but also resulted in turnovers and a herky-jerky offense.
Against Wofford in the first half, just five out of 19 successful plays were explosive. The coaches appeared to have preached patience: when you might normally see Chad Kelly take an early shot downfield, there were more runs, screens, and intermediate passes. Kelly averaged just 8.1 yards per attempt this game, and considering he averaged 8.8 in all of 2015, he probably could have thrown for well over that against an FCS team if that was the intent.
It’s also worth noting that these longer drives mean more rest for the defense. On average, the defense only got one minute and eleven seconds of clocked time off between drives against the Noles, which wore out the D-line and exacerbated the second-half struggles. That rose to about two and a half minutes against Wofford, and the defense played 31 fewer overall snaps. Obviously, some of this can be attributed to Hugh Freeze wanting to wrap the game up quickly, running the ball nine more times this game, but after Week 1, I’m going to be liberal in choosing what qualifies as legitimately encouraging.
We need to talk about the offensive line.
If seeing Rod Taylor get called for holding after getting beat around the edge against Wofford wasn’t enough to confirm that our line has some issues, you’re in the right place. Sure, Kelly never got sacked, but there are plenty of other indications that next week could be rough.
Without getting into the weeds of Football Outsiders’ offensive line metrics, just know that based on the situation, the line gets different amounts of credit for how a play turns out, which is expressed by line yards. If a run is stopped at or before the line of scrimmage, it’s reasonable to believe that’s the offensive line’s responsibility. Longer runs carry less implications for the line, and so on. One of the simpler stats is stuff rate, which shows the fraction of runs that get stopped at or before the line of scrimmage. Just looking at the raw numbers isn’t incredibly revealing, but compare them to the 2015 averages.
|Line yds. per carry||Stuff rate|
One would expect significantly better numbers during a cupcake game compared to an entire slate of games that includes SEC defensive fronts. There was a commonly held belief coming into this season that all the shuffling of pieces on the line last year would result in some unplanned depth and experience, and that may still prove itself to be true later in the year. But the fact that Matt Luke’s squad can’t offer adequate protection against one of the easiest opponents of the year isn’t a great omen.