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Train Talk: Winning Is Better Than Losing IMO Edition

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Lane Kiffin picks up his first win as Ole Miss head coach and, behold, we have life.

Few things are more certain in life than taxes*, the first Monday evening after daylight savings time ends being the most depressing moment of the year, and Ole Miss going to Kentucky and walking away victorious from an anxiety-riddled affair.

*For some of us.

In 2017, a Jordan Ta’amu touchdown pass to D.K. Metcalf (whatever happened to him?) with less than 10 seconds to play secured a 37-34 win. Three years later, a Luke Logan extra point following a Matt Corral touchdown pass to Elijah Moore in overtime combined to get a second close win in Lexington in as many tries.

While it was a great win to get the Lane Kiffin rebuild in motion, this is an exciting but very (VERY) flawed (FLAWED) team, and those flaws probably aren’t getting fixed this year or the next. And that’s fine, because it’s called a rebuild for a reason, and we should expect volatility.

In the second edition of this series, we take a look at 10 things we learned from last Saturday’s game in Lexington. 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, still firing away

What a joy it is to watch an offense that checks the boxes of creative, dynamic, explosive, and running up the points. In two SEC games, they’re averaging 38.5 points a game, 536 total yards, and just over seven yards a play. ACCEPTABLE.

Sure, against Kentucky there was foreshadowing of things that may become issues (PROFESSIONAL TEASER FOR THE NEXT FEW TAKEAWAYS), but the group did more than enough to win on Saturday. Matt Corral continued his brilliant play, receiver Jonathan Mingo decided to announce his presence and pick up some of Elijah Moore’s production, and transfer tight end Kenny Yeboah was a problem yet again for another defense.

While it’s certainly cooking right now, it feels like it’s becoming overly reliant on Corral and his receivers making plays, which works only as long as the chef keeps doing chef things.

(2) About that running game

On Monday, Kiffin said they did not run it well against Kentucky and emphasized that needed to change, starting with blocking better. When asked specifically about getting Jerrion Ealy more involved, he said:

It’s hard to run when there are not big holes. We got to block better, and if we were running more efficiently then we’d run.

In order to run more efficiently, he and the offensive braintrust will have to figure out how to get more from a relatively inexperienced group (only one senior) that is composed of mostly three-star talent, meaning there’s no Laremy Tunsil or Greg Little anchor.

The good news is they have options, as nine linemen got into each game so far. That doesn’t mean nine-man rotation come on down, but it does mean they’re trying combinations to see what could work best.

Maybe that’s not inspiring or reassuring enough, but it is better than having a six-man rotation, with no help on the way, and a “we are who we are” quote. Hard pass.

(3) Wading into the running numbers

Friend of Red Cup, contributor, and superior Exel user, Will Gates, produced advanced stats box scores for both the Florida and Kentucky games, which tell us a little more about the running game results.

Against Florida, the running numbers were effective but didn’t stand out:

  • 54 percent success rate
  • 46 percent opportunity rate
  • 20 percent stuff rate

Brief aside to decode the math: success rate is defined as a play gaining at least 50 percent of the yards-to-go on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on third/fourth down. Opportunity rate is the percentage of carries that gain five or more yards, and stuff rate is the percentage of rushes that don’t make it beyond the line of scrimmage.

The most telling number there is that one out of every five running plays got stopped for a loss or no gain. Not ideal. Against Kentucky, things got more sideways:

  • 42 percent success rate
  • 36 percent opportunity rate
  • 31 percent stuff rate

That means one in every THREE running plays went nowhere. Living with that many potential drive killers will catch up to Ole Miss, assuming Corral eventually experiences some regression.

BONUS MATH: For the LOLs, Kentucky’s stuff rate was eight percent, which is one failure out of about every 12 attempts. As I said, LOL.

(4) Chef Corral

[places hand to ear]

Folks, we are getting breaking reports that this may be good:

Actually, we might be able to make it a little better.

COMPUTER, ENHANCE OUR SLINGIN’ IT SON.

Obviously, the [insert statistical category of your choice] numbers have been outstanding, but to tie this into the lagging running game, let’s look at what he’s done on passing downs.

Passing downs are defined as second down with eight or more yards to go and third down with five or more yards to go. All other downs are considered standard downs. Basically, a passing attempt on a passing down is more challenging because the defense is prepared for you to pass.

Against Florida, Corral was god-like in this category. The 6 of 11 was fine, but he averaged 11.7 yards per attempt (!!!) and 21.5 per completion for a total of 129 yards. The numbers became more mortal against Kentucky, as he went 9 of 13 and averaged 7.5 yards per attempt and 10.8 per completion for 97 yards.

The point being, he’s been terrific when Ole Miss is forced into passing down situations. The question is can he keep this up all season if the running game can’t generate more success. It’s a small sample size, but given that passing downs are much harder when you have to pass, signs point to probably not.

To use Kiffin’s words:

It’s an all SEC schedule, you can’t just play defense like we have been and just rely that the quarterback and two receivers and tight end, bail us out. We’ve got to play better defense and we’ve got to run the ball better.

(5) Defense, we do not love to see it

No need to pour over the numbers because they’re all trash, plus the eyesight test tells anyone who watches that it’s very bad right now. The talent and experience levels drastically need to increase, which is at least a year, maybe two or more, away from even potentially happening.

That’s a sobering reality to absorb, but it’s going to be a problem for many more games. However, if you’re searching for some good news, it’s that if the offense maintains a high level of play, we just need the defense to hover in the neighborhood of average.

WE CAN BUILD ON STRIVING FOR KINDA AVERAGE.

(6) JK, there was one good thing

To their credit, despite being consistently run over and missing tackles, the defense did put together a few stops to give the offense a chance to close the gap. I like to call this revolutionary approach “break but occasionally bend”.

While Kentucky did enjoy a staggering 72% success rate on standard downs, the defense forced the Wildcat’s offense into just a 36% success rate on passing downs. The bad news was only 20% of Kentucky’s plays were passing downs, so, you know, not great!

BEHOLD, PASSING DOWN SUCCESS:

(7) Aforementioned creativity

This is Kenny Yeboah’s touchdown in the second quarter. Before pressing play, look at only Yeboah, who is lined up just off the right tackle. Watch the direction of his route, combined with the play action.

(8) Elijah Moore record watch

Our slippery slot receiver son is on pace to overtake our pass-catching Tennessee Titan son, A.J. Brown, who holds the single-season school record for receptions with 85 over 12 games in 2018. Because we are not cowards, we are documenting that quest over a 10-game, conference-only schedule.

(9) Where are we after Week Two?

We’re not staring 0-3 in the face with the fine, courteous gentlemen from Tuscaloosa (#BAMARESPECTWEEK) graciously appearing in Oxford to dismiss our team in efficient fashion.

Not that 0-3 in a weird season would’ve been a disaster, but for a program and fanbase starving for hope, getting out of the hole for once is a nice boost.

(10) What should we expect on Saturday?

Unfortunately, maybe a dose of hurricane/tropical storm conditions?

As of Tuesday evening, the game is still scheduled to be played at 5 PM on Saturday, but that could change at any time, as Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter noted.

With the current track and strength of the hurricane, it seems unlikely the scheduled day and time will hold. However, if it does, grab yourself some of that under action before it crashes into the low 60s and 50s.

If the game is moved to a time of more optimal conditions, godspeed to those of us who dare to RIDE THE SNAKE at +23.5 or better.