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Train Talk: Breathe In, Breathe Out Edition

The 2020 Ole Miss football team gets its first big helping of NOT GREAT, BOB.

After keeping Ole Miss on schedule for the first three weeks of the season, the college football scriptwriters decided Week Four would be the week things would unexpectedly nosedive into a burning tire yard for Ole Miss.

The losses to Florida and Alabama were, barring a lot of help, inevitable, and the Kentucky game could’ve gone either way, as expected. Had the script carried on as originally planned, the Arkansas game would’ve ended with an Ole Miss win and no new problems to worry about.

Instead, Fayetteville struck again*, and Ole Miss has their first non-defensive problem they have to fix on the fly. I suppose some opposing defensive coordinator stubbornness might help them out on occasion, but they’re likely going to get a steady diet of a defense that gave them, ahem, ISSUES until they prove they can handle it.

*2-12 all-time in the shadow of the Waltons. Although Ruby is 100 percent correct about Fayetteville, it’s also TRASH.

In the fourth edition of this series, we take a look at 10 things we learned from last Saturday’s game in Oxford. As always, 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.

(1) Is six interceptions a lot?

After he played brilliantly for three consecutive games, we watched in head-shaking disbelief as our highly accurate California son threw interception after interception. Facing a zone defense that typically dropped eight players into coverage, Matt Corral struggled to not stare down receivers as he waited for them to find the holes in the zone.

As Lane Kiffin noted after the game, interceptions are going to happen when players make great plays, like the first pick six, but the majority of these throws were the result of Corral locking on to a receiver, which significantly narrows the choices a defender has to make.

On Monday, Kiffin also offered this:

They did a great job reading his eyes and he was trying to do no look passes where’s he’s holding one guy off. The problem is he can’t see the other guy while he’s doing that. Something that you do every once and a while, especially while you’re rolling out. He got away with it the week before, so I think he learned a lot from this.

If there is good news, it’s that Corral, in his postgame comments, thoroughly diagnosed what happened and the mistakes he made. I know five-minute videos last AN ETERNITY, but if you want to be educated, it’s worth listening to him explain the disaster.

Based on Kiffin and Corral’s comments, it feels like this is a rather large, jackknife-inducing bump in the road and not a chronic problem for the rest of the season. I am not a Kevin Steele historian, other than being able to remember that time Holgo dropped 70 on him in the Orange Bowl, but I would imagine that belief is going to get tested against the Auburn defense on Saturday.

(2) Running game decides to opt out of the first half

If a team plays with five defenders in the box, two of which are ready to drop into coverage, that is what we like to call a favorable front to run into. You have five offensive linemen that can block every defender, which should translate into running success.

Did that happen for Ole Miss? It did not!

Here are Ole Miss’ first-half rushing stats:

  • 18 carries for 57 yards (3.2 yds/carry)
  • 5 runs that didn’t cross the line of scrimmage (almost a third!)
  • The longest run was 13 yards

Not really helping out the quarterback there, friends.

It slightly improved in the second half, as Ole Miss ran for 138 yards on 34 carries (4.0 yds/carry; minus Momo Sanogo’s 47-yard fake punt jaunt). But overall, 52 carries for 195 against a non-stacked box is, in technical terms, HOT WET GARBAGE.

The offensive line has to be better in those situations. If not, opposing defenses are going to make life quite difficult for the offense.

(3) What does Ole Miss do the next time they get that defensive look?

It’s pretty simple: run those assholes out of it. There’s no better way to break up a drop eight look or Team Keep Everything In Front Of You than repeatedly gashing them on running plays.

If they’re giving up 5+ yards a carry, they have no choice but to come out of their shell, which gives the offense more space in the passing game. As Kiffin noted on Monday:

When people do that and play boxes like that, you have to run them out of it otherwise you get long days.

If Auburn does throw a similar look at Ole Miss, it’s not all on Matt Corral to get them out of it because it will be almost impossible for him to do so. He’ll have to have help from his line and running backs.

(4) A very normal football game

After trailing 20-0, Ole Miss scored with 4:35 to play in the third quarter to make it 20-7. Here are the possession outcomes for both teams for the rest of the game:

If you’re crunching the numbers, that’s four straight combined possessions with a turnover, three straight that ended with touchdowns, and two more turnover possessions for dessert.

Ole Miss/Arkansas games should come with a Surgeon General’s warning.

(5) One more thing on the offensive line

This makes me feel not great!

We got to communicate better. There’s too many times we don’t go to the same guys. There’s a guy on block, and two of us go to the same guy. It’s really basic stuff that we’re struggling with. Especially when you just played a team that played one front the whole day and don’t block people on the goal line. It’s very frustrating to be this far into the season for that to still be the case.

I know in a previous edition of this dog and pony show I mentioned that there are options on the offensive line but said options need to become good options.

(6) Defense: Many people are talking about it

A lot of the credit goes to the Arkansas offense for being very not good, but it was encouraging to see a bad defense not get torched by a bad offense. BE THE BETTER BAD.

Arkansas ran 82 plays for 394 yards, which comes out to 4.8 yards per play, which is pretty okay! For comparison, Alabama averaged 10.2 yards/play, Kentucky hit 7.6, and Florida checked in at 8.7. More offenses like Arkansas plz.

As I may have noted here before or in conversations with friends that you didn’t hear, the elite offenses are behind Ole Miss (and a really bad matchup in Kentucky). That doesn’t mean they won’t get lit up defensively in some games because they certainly will, but I think they’re in a territory now where they’re capable of getting a handful of stops each game, which is all the offense needs (assuming it doesn’t collapse).

(7) Elijah Moore, still catching everything

A standard 11 receptions for 113 yards and a touchdown day for our slot receiver son, who, after just four games, is staggeringly only 43 receptions away from tying A.J. Brown’s single-season record. He has six games left to tie or break the record, and we have monies that say he will do just that.

(8) One possession

I know we’ve spent most of our time here today covering the mounds of garbage from Saturday, but despite these mounds, which included six turnovers (not to be confused with the seventh), Ole Miss had the ball down five, with just under four minutes to go and a chance to win the game.

Of course, that opportunity blew up in their face, but a tip of the hat to the players and coaches for not rolling over when it would’ve been easy to do so. We’ve seen that show before in Fayetteville, and, while this version still sucked, it was good to not see a repeat.

(9) Where are we after Week Four?

The only reasonable best-case scenario start to this rebuild was 2-2 after four games. Ole Miss is off that by one game and is matching the 1-3 start most non-lunatics expected to happen.

After beating Kentucky, I think we all saw a 2-2 start as a lock, which makes the loss to Arkansas more unsettling than it should be. Granted, it was not great and questions abound, but it’s clear Ole Miss can be competitive with any team, even if playing miserably, which is a step up from the results since the Year of Our Lord Two Thousand and Sixteen.

(10) What should we expect on Saturday?

Just like last week, assuming COVID doesn’t wipe out important portions of the roster, and Ole Miss gets back to that TEAM SHOOTOUT life, there’s a chance they could jump ahead of schedule to a 2-3 record instead of the on-schedule 1-4 record.

I’m not betting that happens because I enjoy keeping my money, but the most important thing on Saturday, win or lose, is that offense shows it can still cook. If they’re cookin’ and Ole Miss loses, fine, that was expected, but we will at least know the most pressing solvable issue has been resolved.