No, it’s not actually halfway through the season.
But, the Ole Miss Rebels (2-4) did have a bye week after six SEC football games, and, like a good coaching staff, we felt it was time to do a little self-scouting. How is the offense coming along, and what about the defense? It seems to be playing just a little bit better since being last in the country in, well, just about every category after a 63-point outing against Alabama.
2-4. All in all, likely where many fans would have predicted entering the season. 3-3 is about as good as you could have hoped for, of course nobody expected Auburn to be this listless while at the same time Arkansas being this competent.
Strength of Schedule
According to Bill C, the Rebels have faced the number 1, 5, 22, 58, 60, and 120th-ranked team in the country. For a team with a new coach, that’s two sure losses, a sure win, and tossup/lean loss, and two tossup/lean wins.
Improved from 68th last year to 47th this year. I’ll preface the rest of the use stats—the 2020 stats are partial while the 2019 stats are from a full 12-game season, however the 2020 stats will not include any non-conference game.
Last year’s version ranked 42nd, a marked improvement over the 2018 season. This year, with a pair of new defensive coordinator’s in tow, the defense ranks 90th nationally.
Improved from 87th to 18th offensively, or a 10 percent jump on each and every play. The defense has had a similar change, albeit for the worse, from 77th nationally to 120th, or about 13 percent.
Points per scoring opportunity
Here is where the bread gets buttered. The 2019 team averaged just 4.12 yards per trip inside the 40, good for 100th nationally.
The 2020 team?
4.6 points per possession, or 35th. Over the course of a game, eight trips can turn into an extra four points a game. That’s the difference in winning and losing last year’s Egg Bowl, and it would’ve made losses to Auburn, Memphis, Texas A&M, and California into field goal territory.
The defense—again not so hot. Last year’s team averaged 3.9 points per trip, 19th nationally, this year they rank 92nd at 5.16 points per trip. Added together the defensive regression cancels out any offensive improvement.
This is an interesting one.
We won’t look at actual turnover margin—an oblong ball on a field of 22 players running around tends to take interesting bounces. Instead, use turnover luck. How often you put the ground on the ball on offense, combined with passes defensed. If you fumble five times in a game and fall on all five—you got lucky. If you throw 5 passes defensed in a game but none are intercepted—lucky again.
The 2020 team is actually -3 as an actual TO margin compared to 2019’s +1, but the 2020 turnover margin should be +2.7 or about -4.8 points per game. Every game so far this season has been within one possession in the fourth quarter.
Five points a game could be the difference in finishing 2-8 or 5-5.
Third-and-medium success rate
Perhaps the biggest difference year over year, the offense went from 84th nationally (gaining a first down on about 46 percent of opportunities), to 24th nationally (59.5 percent of chances, meaning 13 percent more extended drives). Meanwhile the defense dropped from 10th nationally (36 percent) to 113th (66 percent).
That drop on the defensive side is a key factor in the struggles the defense has shown. Nothing novel—bad defense struggles to get off the field, but still, you can really see the problems with keeping the other team off the scoreboard.
Matt Corral featured on both teams, though last year obviously not enough, but this year’s version is markedly better from last year’s. Corral has an 18:9 TD:INT ratio, and six of those interceptions came from a buzz saw in Fayetteville, Ark.
His adjusted net yards per attempt increased from 6.5 to 8.8 year over year, and he’s thrown for 500 extra yards this season in 9 more attempts.