If you told me that an Ole Miss team, regardless of players or coaching staff, needed to drive over 70 yards in two minutes to score a game-winning touchdown, I would ask if that attempt ended with a sack-fumble or a fourth down play where the quarterback and receiver miscommunicated and the pass landed on some unoccupied grass. Through many emotionally-crippling lessons, experience has taught us WHY DO YOU THINK IT WILL WORK OUT THIS TIME, YOU FOOLS.
Facing that scenario last Saturday, I activated my self-preservation mode and shunned* hope. So when Jordan Ta’amu and the Ole Miss offense put together a composed and efficient 14-play, 71-yard touchdown drive, my hollerin’ at the TV was somewhat muted, but my surprise knew no bounds.
*Did not involve a shunning face, which will get you arrested.
I realize this drive was against Kentucky and in a season where we don’t even get the privilege of praying Nashville picks us before Shreveport or Birmingham calls. BUT, the season has had so few rewarding moments and this was fun, DAMMIT.
So how did they pull it off? We’ll need the power of screenshots and light photoshop work to answer that question.
We begin with the first play, which was an incomplete pass, to illustrate Kentucky’s defensive approach to almost every play on this drive. As you can see, they gave plenty of room to the outside receivers and parked their safeties 15 to 20 yards from the line of scrimmage.
When the ball was snapped, everyone dropped, which pushed the safeties even further down the field. They wanted to make sure they didn’t give up a deep pass or anything in the intermediate range. If Ole Miss was going to beat them, the offense had to either pick them apart underneath or hope a coverage gets blown.
Ole Miss reviewed its options and chose the first one, even though this was Kentucky and option two remained very much in play.
Sticking with the first play, this was something Ole Miss did four times on the drive. With two wide receivers to block two defensive backs, all they needed to do was get a quick pass in the flat and the running back has two lead blockers in space.
The blitzing linebacker really opened the space outside, which created an opportunity for a good gain on first down. However:
One play later, Kentucky did not involve any linebackers in the pass rush, but chose to drop them in to coverage.
The rush chased Ta’amu out of the pocket, but because everyone dropped, no one was in his face and he could either run or keep his eyes downfield to find a receiver.
On this play, he hit Van Jefferson for a 13-yard gain.
After an incomplete pass in the direction of Jefferson, Ole Miss went back to what should’ve worked so well on the first play of the drive. Jordan Wilkins was motioned out wide where Ole Miss had a numbers advantage.
While the play probably should’ve gone for more, it kept them out of third and long, and gave them the option to run on third down. As you can see, Ole Miss has enough blockers to account for every defender in the box.
Even in non-short yardage situations, if the quarterback counts only six defenders and Dawson Knox is in the game, they’re more than likely going to run because they can block everyone. Same thing happened here. Although Kentucky sent their slot defensive back on late rush, the run was not in his direction and he wasn’t involved.
Javon Patterson pulled to block the defensive end, while Jordan Sims got out on a linebacker and Knox picked up the other linebacker.
It wasn’t a great run, but it was blocked well enough to get the first down.
A few plays later, Ole Miss got a favorable matchup with Knox (YOU KNOW IT) on a smaller defensive back. Knox used his size advantage to get some separation from the smaller player and present himself as a target for the SIXTH TIME in the game.
Going without a huddle (got the next play off 12 seconds after Knox was tackled, which earned a FIVE-STAR YELP REVIEW), Ole Miss decided to check if Kentucky cared about stopping the swing pass to the running back.
They did not.
However, two receivers allowed a Kentucky defensive back to get through, which prevented what would’ve been a bigger gain.
On the very next play, TROLL MODE ENGAGED.
Even though running the same play three straight times probably would’ve worked, Ole Miss elected to use Ta’amu’s running ability on the quarterback draw that has turned into an effective play for the offense.
Here, they got an even more ideal scenario, as Kentucky only has five defenders in the box. If you recall, the idea is for Sean Rawlings to reach a linebacker and the running back acts as a lead blocker and picks up the other linebacker.
As the play developed, Rawlings made his block, but there was no one for D’Vaughn Pennamon to block.
If Kentucky’s defensive end had not gotten in the dang way and forced Ta’amu to cut back, there was a good chance he scores on that play.
Once Ta’amu was tackled, the ball came loose and SEC replay officials entered the fray to determine if he was down. After one replay, it was obvious he was down, yet they reviewed deep into the night because why not we all want to be here longer.
Meanwhile, GREAT MOMENTS IN MATT LUKE GIVING OFFICIALS THE SIDE-EYE:
After Ole Miss spiked the ball, Kentucky lined up with only one safety, who was not in a position to help defend a pass in the direction of D.K. Metcalf.
They called timeout before the play, perhaps recognizing this was not something they should do. After returning to the field, they stuck to their guns.
Ignoring me yelling from home that they should throw the fade three straight plays, Ole Miss tried to hit either Knox on a dig route or A.J. Brown on a corner route.
They got the space they needed on the corner route, but Ta’amu and Brown couldn’t create some magic.
The following play, Ole Miss lined up in the same formation and Kentucky once again said they could handle Metcalf with one defender.
Shout-out to Pennamon for coming across Ta’amu to pick up a blitzer.
A quick refresher on how that decision went for Kentucky: