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Ole Miss showed its big-play potential against South Alabama

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After an underwhelming first half, Shea Patterson and the Rebel offense went off in the third quarter.

South Alabama v Mississippi Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

It’s hard to sum up in brevity the frustration fans probably felt when Ole Miss exited the first half against South Alabama up by only a field goal, despite having gained nearly 100 more yards than the Jags. It’s even harder to look at the final score and wonder how the result was ever in question, but that’s where we are.

Through two quarters, the Jaguars had maximized the little offensive success they’d found, and the Rebels had done nearly the opposite.

Ole Miss was moving the ball just fine in the first half, but their efficiency advantage wasn’t showing up on the scoreboard. After a steady, nine-play touchdown drive that took just two and a half minutes, they began to deviate from the image many had formed of an insanely quick-tempo Phil Longo offense.

Not only did Shea Patterson’s squad settle for field goals inside the Jags’ 15 twice, but those two possessions combined for 25 plays and shaved off 11 minutes of game clock. That kind of stagnation, along with a 19-play, 97-yard field goal drive from USA that took nearly 10 minutes, kept the Rebels from setting the rhythm early on. They hadn’t done enough with a meager four first-half drives, and the Jaguars effectively sat on the ball to go into halftime with a fighting chance at an upset.

Obviously, everything changed from the very first drive of the new half, as the offense reached the end zone three times in the third quarter alone. Here’s how they performed before and after the break.

Ole Miss Offensive Production

First Half Third Quarter
First Half Third Quarter
Points 13 20
Plays 36 13
Yards 218 214
Success Rate 53% 54%
Yards per Play 6.1 16.5
Big Plays 3 4

The biggest contrast was the Rebels’ ability to break loose in the third quarter, and that small difference in big plays between periods is an understatement. The offense’s longest gain before halftime was a 25-yard completion to Van Jefferson that set up their sole touchdown of the first half. Meanwhile, A.J. Brown accounted for gains of 77 and 71 yards on his own in the third, reminding viewers what this offense’s ceiling could be.

Looking for a pattern regarding when and where explosive plays are likely to happen is something of a lost cause, and it’s more about staying on the field long enough to give yourself the opportunity for a big gain. One prerequisite is having guys who can leverage space and embarrass defensive backs in the open field, and Ole Miss happens to be loaded with them.

It’s also worth noting that the offense was able to produce regardless of the situation, as they were somehow more efficient on passing downs than standard ones. Even when removing A.J.’s 77-yard score, they gained 9 yards per play on passing downs. That’s not quite sustainable, but its encouraging.

Saturday’s performance doesn’t come without its set of concerns on this side of the ball, though. The red zone sputtering in the first half felt all too familiar, and the run game was underwhelming at times. One point of relief is that Longo didn’t obsess over balance when it became clear that they were more threatening through the air, as they threw 33 times compared to just 16 runs that included a few Patterson scrambles (excluding garbage time).

The offense isn’t likely to reveal much of their playbook until their trip to Berkeley in Week 3, but it’s almost certain that their identity is rooted in threatening secondaries with play-makers like Brown anywhere on the field. If they can combine their embarrassment of riches at receiver and quarterback with methodical ball movement, they’ll be a fun bunch to watch.