In a bizarro world, the Lane Kiffin era at Ole Miss would’ve started with a series of ill-advised dunk attempts on Florida that worked out exactly as planned. Something in the neighborhood of 2013 Florida Gulf Coast during the middle of a mini-meltdown against Georgetown in the NCAA Tournament.
Unfortunately, the world we are in is quite real, and, in the darkest timeline, Ole Miss doesn’t win games against superior opponents. Obviously, a win was not expected because [gestures at everything about Ole Miss football since 2016], but that doesn’t stop the very normal part of our brain that will always beep: JUST NEED A FEW BREAKS AND HERE WE GO.
The good news is there were positives happening in many places, which is an improvement over previous seasons when the least negative things were the only distractions from the core negative stuff.
In this first edition of a regular series that I hope doesn’t lose steam (BOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOOO*), we’ll take a look each week at 10 things we learned last Saturday. These may be as simple as points = good or as deep as the Lane Train is neither a lane nor a train, talk amongst yourselves.
*Two-minute break for more booing.
(1) Offense AHOY
As noted on this website, Ole Miss piled up the yards and points, and did so to such a degree that it sent Florida’s defense from 3rd in SP+ to 17th. Most importantly, the offense did not need to be down 28-0 before finding a pulse.
Of all the things to be encouraged about, an efficient offense that looks organized and well-coached tops the list. In fact, if you were to peruse this advanced stats review of the game, you’d learn that Ole Miss’ offense kept pace with Florida’s in terms of efficiency, even though it was facing a much better defense.
The area of separation occurred in the red zone success rate where Ole Miss clocked in at 27.3 percent, while Florida was at 43.8 percent. Additionally, Ole Miss had 8 scoring opportunities (defined as trip inside the opponent’s 40-yard line or scores from beyond the 40), averaging 4.37 points per opportunity, and Florida in 9 opportunities averaged 5.7 points.
If you recall, on three occasions, Ole Miss got inside Florida’s 20-yard line, and the results were a turnover on downs, a batted pass that was intercepted, and a missed field goal. In the biz, they call that leaving points on the board.
Despite those inefficiencies, all signs point to a season featuring a creative and dynamic offense that gives Ole Miss a puncher’s chance in games where they are the underdog. Because of that, for the first time in what feels like 12 decades, there’s something associated with Ole Miss football that’s entertaining and a pleasure to watch.
Ole Miss may give up many, many points a game this season, but I look forward to watching our point- and yard-collecting sons.
(2) Defense SOS
I was going to write something about a liability, but that felt like a rather liberal use of the word, given what we saw. It was all the NOT GREAT, BOBs out of NOT GREAT, BOBs.
On Monday, Lane Kiffin offered a succinct evaluation of the defensive performance:
If there is general good news, it’s that the defense was tasked with stopping a Florida offense possessing a good quarterback, loads of talent, and a great offensive coach. That’s not a combination they’ll see every week.
I suppose if Terry Wilson and Kentucky light up the defense in a similar fashion on Saturday, we’ll know we need to add at least 25 percent to our weekend booze supply for Week 3.
(3) Elijah Moore should do more fake pees
In the game following his first and only fake pee celebration, Moore had 10 catches for 227 yards and was Ole Miss’ most dangerous receiving threat. If not for a holding call that rivaled the pure trash of MoMo Sanogo’s roughing the passer penalty, he would’ve had 249 yards and a touchdown. Pretty good!
Quick aside to note said trash:
This was called roughing the passer.... pic.twitter.com/WAONvy9fZL— KÏŁŁÄ ČÄM (@FTBeard1) September 26, 2020
However, as Kiffin noted, Moore is officially on film in this offense, and teams will adjust their coverages to focus on him. That means other receivers, including tight ends, will have to show up to replace that production if teams are able to limit Moore.
(4) Let Corral cook
Our hair braid-experimenting son only rolled up 445 yards of total offense, leads the SEC in passing efficiency, and is the primary reason Ole Miss is first in the country in passing yards per completion. On top of that, when pass protection started to break down, he showed the vision and wheels to turn potential negative plays into positive ones.
Even with these numbers, Kiffin said on Monday that his footwork was lacking at times, causing him to be late on passes that were completed but could’ve been touchdowns. I, for one, am enjoying the head coach saying his quarterback could’ve had 450 passing yards and 5 touchdowns if he had sharper technique.
I could be wrong, but I don’t recall anyone asking Kiffin why John Rhys Plumlee got a series 3 minutes before halftime, trailing 21-14 and knowing Florida was getting the ball to start the second half. Maybe the coaches’ confidence in Plumlee was enough they thought he could string something together, but it felt like a wasted opportunity (three and out) in a game where they had to hold serve on offense because of the defensive issues.
(5) Let Matt Corral’s hairstylist cook
Many people are saying they want to see something new each week. We’re hearing it more and more. Explore the space of braids they’re saying. It could be very, very big.
(6) Be still my heart
On the first possession of the daggum season, Kiffin went for it on fourth and three from the 19-yard line. He later said that was an analytics-based decision where it statistically made more sense to attempt to extend the drive to get seven instead of taking the three points (as if that would be, AHEM, automatic).
I don’t have the numbers he was using, but after watching our former squinting-at-the-scoreboard head coach choose to kick a quarter of a million pointless field goals, I don’t care what they are. TEAM NEVER KICK.
(7) Dontario Drummond side pocket awareness
If the quarterback position ever gets thin, let our he-only-catches-touchdowns son cook.
Cannot get over how natural and calm the pump fake was.
(8) Jerrion Ealy out here getting his yards
Outside of kickoff returns, Ealy had 19 touches for 123 total yards and one touchdown, which seemed like a quiet 123 due to just one explosive gain. However, he was the team’s leading rusher with 79 yards, and his 44 receiving yards were a career high.
Granted, he had one reception for 45 yards, which means the other two went for -1 yard total, but it will be interesting to see how he gets used in the passing game. This could be an indicator that Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby will find multiple ways to get him touches and yards, and his production won’t be based in only the running game.
I, for one, advocate getting the ball as much as possible to five-star talents who have shown they can produce.
(9) Where are we after Week One?
No one enjoys seeing an opposing team run up half a hundred points, but if you’re being non-delusional, I think we should be pleased with where things are. After four years of all things uninspiring and leaving at halftime, Ole Miss hosted a top five team and had multiple chances to push the outcome deep into the fourth quarter.
That, of course, speaks to the staggering upgrade in coaching. Not having concerns about the offensive approach, general game management, and conservative FOOTBALL GUY choices is a world that is equal parts confusing and refreshing.
Obviously, there’s more talent on offense, but it went from one-dimensional to dynamic in less than a game. As the great Herm Edwards once said, WE CAN BUILD ON THIS.
Defensively, it at least appears the primary reason things are bad is because of the talent gap and not breakdowns or flaws in the defensive plan. While not ideal, I can live with future NFL millionaires making more plays than not future NFL millionaires.
(10) What should we expect on Saturday?
Kentucky lost by two scores last week at Auburn, but the score, as the experts like to say, was much closer than that. The Wildcats turned it over three times, including an interception on Auburn’s one-yard line. After cutting the score to 15-13 in the second half, here are the Wildcats’ final possessions:
- Turnover on downs
My point being, this Kentucky team is a good team that is very capable of getting in its own way (the second part of that sounds vaguely familiar). They’re ranked 25th in returning production (Ole Miss is 35th), with most of that on defense, from a team that went 8-5 last year.
Given they’re not as skilled as Florida but very competent, I would expect a great deal of crippling anxiety Saturday afternoon, which, while awful, at least lets us know we’re not dead inside. That is also an upgrade over the last few years.