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Train Talk: Season Halftime Edition

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We’re halfway through the 2020 season, and, despite some unpleasantness, the rebuild is ahead of schedule.

Even though we’re only midway through the 2020 football season, it feels like Ole Miss has lived an entire 12-game season in five games. In this first half of a weird year, Ole Miss, with a new staff in a rebuilding project:

  • Took a superior Florida team into the fourth quarter before being overwhelmed
  • Won a toss-up, anxiety-riddled game at Kentucky in overtime
  • Traded haymakers with Alabama for 50+ minutes before giving out against the weight of inevitability
  • Self-destructed with great zeal against an inferior Arkansas team
  • Semi-self-destructed against a more talented Auburn team, with a side dish of Auburn Jesus to the rescue

MY KINGDOM FOR A NORMAL-ASS GAME IN THE SECOND HALF OF THE SEASON.

Despite not cashing in on opportunities to have a better record and the self-inflicted #WAOM that forever permeates this football program, the Year One rebuild is ahead of schedule. Given the farting away of the last two games, that may be difficult to accept, but Ole Miss is a year removed from 4-8, an NCAA supermax prison parolee, and coming off four recruiting cycles of SEC bottom-feeder levels that were related to the guardians of the game and a December coaching hire.

Even with significant talent issues, they’ve had a shot to win in every game. Lane Kiffin has skipped the “Year One - Lose Big” step of a rebuild and advanced straight to “Lose Small”, which normally doesn’t occur until Year Two.

In the fifth 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) Offense adapts, poops on narrative

After the Arkansas disaster, Ole Miss was looped into the “drop eight stops them” narrative that has never once applied to a Lane Kiffin or Jeff Lebby offense. Yes, Arkansas’ defense did a wonderful job against Ole Miss, but nothing in the careers of Kiffin and Lebby suggested this would be a continued problem.

Because Auburn defensive coordinator Kevin Steele is not dumb, he threw the same “drop eight” look at Ole Miss until they proved it didn’t bother them. In response, Ole Miss did exactly what they were supposed to do and ran them out of it.

In the first half, Ole Miss ran for 154 yards on 27 carries (5.7 yds/carry). Matt Corral also repeatedly checked the ball down, with his longest completion going for 10 yards (he took one deep shot that resulted in a pass interference penalty on Auburn).

Upon realizing the “drop eight” formula wasn’t going to work, Auburn went back to its more traditional four-man front. Even against Auburn’s standard look, Ole Miss ran for 129 yards on 24 carries (5.4 yds/carry) in the second half, which is encouraging.

Yes, the offense didn’t make enough plays to win, but looking at the big picture of a Year One rebuild in a pandemic with a conference-only schedule, Kiffin and Lebby solved their biggest problem to date in less than two quarters. They adapted, brought the offense back to life, and gave Ole Miss a chance to win. Competent, non-stubborn coaching is what we love to see.

(2) Definitely reviewed it, jk definitely did not review it

This is from Kiffin’s Monday press conference, but he said something nearly identical right after the game on Saturday afternoon:

I asked the side judge ‘Why aren’t they replaying it? Do I need to challenge?’. He said, ‘They’ve already looked at it, there’s nothing there’.

via

On the kickoff return in the Auburn at Ole Miss football game at 5:43 in the 4th quarter, the SEC has determined the replay official should have stopped the game for further review of the play. In the football officiating replay process every play is reviewed but, when appropriate, the game is stopped for further review.

Because the play was not appropriately stopped for further review, the necessary slow-motion view of the play was not viewed by the replay official to determine if the ruling on the field should have been reversed.

via

I see. So is the replay official’s excuse laziness, incompetence, or Auburn Jesus had the wheel?

(3) Sry for costing you a touchdown, but that’ll be $25k

After admitting the replay official failed to do the thing he’s supposed to do, which is, you know, watch replays (it’s right there in the name!), the SEC home office announced that they were fining Kiffin $25,000 for tweeting through it after the game.

Generally speaking, when tweeting through it results in consequences, one usually logs off and shuts down the engines for a while. Kiffin, taking his own path, chose to not only stay logged on, but spend Monday evening tweeting about how he may pay the fine in pennies, perhaps even delivering in person using a wheelbarrow (GIVE US THIS ONE THING IN YOUR HELLSCAPE EXPERIENCE, 2020).

We’ll have to consult the record books*, but Kiffin may become the first coach to get fined for tweeting about being fined for something else. Perhaps he’ll even get his own bylaw:

SEC Bylaw 10.5.1

Nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff nerd stuff, coaches and administrators may not use Twitter to dunk on a stupid decision that leads to widespread public mocking of the conference office.

*Will not consult the record books.

(4) Produce the commercial

(5) Rushing success rate

We dive into the world of advanced stats to look at how our football-toting sons are performing when called upon. Specifically, we’re going to look at individual rushing success rates for the 2020 season.

For clarification, rushing success rate measures the percentage of runs that are considered successful. A successful run is defined as picking up 40 percent of the yards to gain on first down, 60 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third or fourth down.

For example, a four-yard gain on first and 10 is a successful run, as is a three-yard gain on second and five. Here are Ole Miss rushers’ success rates:

  • Jerrion Ealy - 54.12 percent
  • Snoop Conner - 43.08 percent
  • Matt Corral - 40.98 percent
  • John Rhys Plumlee - 27.78 percent
  • Momo Sanogo - 100 percent
  • Luke Logan - 0 percent

Additional clarification: Anything over 50 percent is considered good, and anything below 40 percent is not.

Obviously, there are three key takeaways here. One, Sanogo is the most elite non-running back ball carrier to ever play at Ole Miss. Two, no more carries for Logan. And three, Ole Miss is wasting plays when Plumlee is asked to run or keeps it on an option play.

If anyone else running the ball, there is a significant increase in the play being successful. I mean, Plumlee giving the ball to Ealy on an option play instead of keeping it DOUBLES the success rate of the play.

Even more, here are the total explosive runs on the season (an explosive run is considered any run of 12 yards or more):

  • Ealy - 15
  • Conner - 9
  • Corral - 12
  • Plumlee - 1
  • Sanogo - 1

Am I bringing this up because Plumlee was on the field with less than five minutes to go with a chance to end the game? No, total coincidence!

(6) Defense: Now featuring players from the offense

Due to COVID-related issues, we knew some backups on offense would see the field on defense. I don’t think any of us thought they’d be out there for multiple snaps and in crunch time, but indeed Miles Battle and Tylan Knight were.

While watching them live, they didn’t seem completely in over their heads, which was the best case scenario. Battle was even involved in a pass break up or was near receiver when the pass that sailed over the receiver’s head. Either way, in position!

Kiffin’s assessment:

That’s literally like when you’re in little league you have to yell at the kid what to do, because we just moved them over there. We are in two-minute which means you have a lot of different calls that are happening really fast, so just thinking how crazy it was. I’m sitting there listening to our coaches have to yell ‘play press, blitz, play off’. In that situation we were in I think they did a great job for the little amount of time. Think how hard that is.

(7) Elijah Moore and the steady climb

The numbers weren’t there for Moore this week, but he’s still on pace to become Ole Miss’ single-season receptions leader. It was the first time all season he didn’t hit double digits in receptions, but such is the price when you have the undivided attention of a defense.

(8) I just want to watch the D.K. Metcalf play again

I said it Sunday night, but the effort and speed are staggering.

(9) Where are we after Week Five?

Although 1-4 may not feel like it, this rebuild is ahead of schedule. Ole Miss is competitive, despite multiple limitations that aren’t going to be fixed in Year One.

For some perspective, let’s take a look at the original 2020 schedule.

Obviously, the timelines are different, but, in the alternate timeline, where would Ole Miss be heading into the open date this weekend? Based on what we’ve seen, I would give us wins over Baylor, SEMO, Vandy, and UConn and losses to Auburn, Alabama, and Florida.

LSU is a toss-up, so it’s reasonable to say this team would be 4-4 or 5-3 in the alternate timeline, which every damn one of us would take. Instead, because of the revised schedule, the same team is 1-4, and people are upset. Perspective and nuance, plz.

(10) What should we expect on Saturday?

It’s Ole Miss/Vanderbilt so discomfort to some degree is in the forecast. Ideally, the discomfort would end somewhere in the second quarter, and the points start flowing for Ole Miss, negating another anxiety-filled second half.

HOWEVAH, here are the times in the last 10 years where Ole Miss had a solid halftime lead and a comfortable third-quarter lead against Vanderbilt:

  • 2017: 35-21 halftime lead, 47-21 lead going into the fourth
  • 2014: 20-0 halftime lead, 41-0 lead going into the fourth

Not often!

The 2020 Vanderbilt team is expected to be one of the worst SEC teams in years, but Derek Mason is a great defensive coach, so I would mentally prepare for another wrinkle Ole Miss hasn’t seen that frustrates the offense for some length of time. I already do not care for it.