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Ole Miss football is converting third downs

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Jeff Lebby and Lane Kiffin keep the ball moving.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Kentucky Katie Stratman-USA TODAY Sports

Ole Miss football’s offense saw a complete overhaul under head coach Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby and through the first two games of the season, it has lived up to the hype. The Rebels have scored 77 points and put more than 1,000 yards of total offense on the board, 309 rushing and 763 passing. Matt Corral is dazzling under center and has completed 46 of his 60 pass attempts for 715 yards and seven touchdowns with only one interception, added 101 rushing yards on 26 attempts, and led the Southeastern Conference in passer rating against Kentucky.

The new-look offense is firing on all cylinders and the results are following suit. Perhaps the most impressive improvement comes on third down. From 2016 to 2019, Ole Miss struggled to stay on the field and consistently ranked lower than No. 90 in third down conversion percentage:

2016 - 37.18% - 91st in the country

2017 - 36.30% - 94th in the country

2018 - 33.33% - 113th in the country

2019 - 35.76% - 97th in the country

Thus far into 2020, against two in-conference opponents, the Rebels have converted 57.69% of third down attempts. That rate is good for No. 5 in the nation.

Here is a breakdown:

Vs. Florida

  • 3rd-and-1, John Rhys Plumlee run, +3 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-4, Jerrion Ealy run, +6 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-3, Corral pass, incomplete
  • 3rd-and-1, Ealy run, +1 yard — First down
  • 3rd-and-19, Corral pass, complete to Elijah Moore +28 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-11, Corral run, +11 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-9, Corral run, +17 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-2, Tylan Knight run, +1 yard
  • 3rd-and-2, Snoop Conner run, 0 yards
  • 3rd-and-18, Corral run, +7 yards
  • 3rd-and-16, Corral run, +8 yards
  • 3rd-and-5, Corral run, +6 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-1, Conner run, +4 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-19, Corral run, +20 yards — First down

Vs. Kentucky

  • 3rd-and-7, Corral pass, complete to Knight +8 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-9, Corral pass, incomplete
  • 3rd-and-6, Corral sacked
  • 3rd-and-6, Corral pass, complete to Moore +14 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-2, Corral run, +4 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-3, Corral pass, complete to Moore +8 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-10, Corral pass, complete to Moore -2 yards
  • 3rd-and-6, Corral pass, complete to Conner +6 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-3, Corral pass, complete to Moore +2 yards
  • 3rd-and-4, Corral run, +14 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-goal, Conner run, +1 yards
  • 3rd-and-5, Corral pass, complete to Jonathan Mingo +19 yards — First down
  • 3rd-and-17, Corral pass, complete to Moore +16 yards

Takeaways

Ole Miss has faced 27 third downs this season and ran the ball on 15 attempts, including broken-play scrambles from Corral. Of those 15 runs, 11 went for first downs. Ealy got the ball 13 percent of the time, Conner took the handoff 27 percent of the time, Plumlee and Knight were involved 7 percent of the time, and Corral carried the remaining 53 percent. Neither Kiffin nor Lebby is shy away from keeping the ball on the ground in third down situations, and the results speak for themselves.

Of the 12 pass attempts, six moved the chains. Moore caught the ball in the slot 41 percent of the time, while Mingo, Conner and Knight combined for 35 percent of the touches.

The distribution between the first and second week is another interesting note. Against Florida, Ole Miss ran the ball on 12 of 14 third down conversion attempts. Against Kentucky, the Rebels threw the ball on 10 of 13 attempts. There isn’t much to overthink here, it’s just good coaching. Lebby and Kiffin take what the defense gives them and executes.

It is impossible to know if this top-five national trend will continue, but the bar is set very low, as anything above 90th is an improvement.