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Per The Data: A much-improved Ole Miss defense takes a bye week bow

Mike MacIntyre is earning that paper money.

NCAA Football: Texas A&M at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Rebels enter their much-needed bye week at just 3-5. There’s no question the most frustrating part of the season isn’t the lack of wins—but rather how close Ole Miss was to a whole bunch more. So far, the good guys dropped games to Memphis (5 points), Cal (8 points and a last second goal line stand), and Texas A&M (7 points), and even played Mizzou close on the road, trading blows in the second half before losing 38-27.

Play-calling leaves a lot to be desired, as does game management, particularly head coach feel for the flow of the game.

I’ll try to leave the negatives there. Everyone knows the offense has taken a gigantic leap back from last season when SP+ had them in the top five. The passing game went from one of the best in the country to downright abysmal, and the coaching staff can’t even decide who gets to throw a 30-yard fade on 3rd-and-2.

So let’s talk defense and where we rank compared to 2018.

58th in success rate

The Rebels were 113th nationally in 2018 at stopping opposing offenses. In eight games, Mike MacIntyre has taken a bottom 20 defense and put them just inside the top half of the country.

47th in marginal explosiveness

The 2019 team ranked 103rd in this category. Again, we went from abysmal to right on the “good” cutoff. Maybe Matt Luke and Rich Rodriguez should be giving half of their salaries to this man.

23rd in points per scoring opportunity

This measures how good your defense is at keeping teams to field goals once they get a first down inside the 40, or how often you may get that goal line stand that flips momentum. The 2018 team really wasn’t all that bad—67th—but the 2019 version is bordering on elite at stopping teams with their backs against the wall.

31st in rushing SP+

The 2018 team was 110th in this category. Just, wow.

14th in standard down sack rate

The Rebels get to the quarterback when they least expect it. It helps when your linebacking unit improves like it did over the offseason, but compared to the 2018 defense which ranked 126th in this category, the difference is striking

33rd in LB havoc rate

Ole Miss linebackers force a fumble, get a sack, or break up a pass on 6.1 percent of all plays. Last year that unit ranked 112th and did the same on just 3 percent of plays. It doesn’t take a math nerd to see thats twice as often.

The addition of Lakia Henry and Sam Williams can’t be understated, but the growth of Jacquez Jones, along with the ability to get production out of Charles Wiley, Donta Evans, and Willie Hibbler means coaching makes a much bigger difference than people may notice.

Don’t get me started on offensive coaching. Remember last year’s rushing attack that consisted almost entirely of one guy, a newcomer, in Scottie Phillips. 15th in SP+.

The objectively more talented backfield of Scottie Phillips, Jerrion Ealy, and Snoop Conner is all the way down at 35th. They’ve even added a running QB with lightning speed in John Rhys Plumlee and things still regressed. Now imagine where it’d be if Ealy hadn’t broken a couple open this season.