Although the 2020 regular season lacked a game in which Ole Miss cashed in on a host of chances to pull off an upset in Year One of the Lane Kiffin era, it did establish that competency, after a multiple-year journey in the wilderness, returned to the football program. The reward for said return is a January bowl game in Florida for the first time since 1991*.
Whether Ole Miss wins or loses on Saturday isn’t important, though winning and hollerin’ about it is way more fun, because we’ve already seen what we needed to see in 2020. Kiffin and Jeff Lebby proved to be outstanding offensive coaches, recruiting worked out well to quite well, and Kiffin showed very little patience for things that aren’t working, rather than hope things turn around through the power of simplifying, eye discipline, or name your buzz phrase floating around the football building the last few years.
These are all signs we should embrace that TRUST THE PROCESS life. The rebuild remains ahead of schedule, and there’s sustained excitement surrounding the program that’s been missing since the bill for Brother Hugh’s abysmal defensive recruiting came due in 2016.
Unlike previous years, it’s nice to head into an offseason with the expectation that we’ll see improvements in 2021, rather than the overwhelming stink of stagnation.
*Michigan Men™ piled up 715 total yards of offense but only won 35-3. What fine charitable work on their part.
In the latest edition of this series, we take a look at 10 things concerning Ole Miss’ appearance in the Outback Bowl. 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) GREAT TEAMS TAUNT
Let’s go ahead and get this out of the way, courtesy of honorary team captain Grandma Sarah from The Outlaw Josey Wales:
(2) Offensive depth issues, which we do not love to see
Due to opt outs, injuries, and COVID-related issues, Ole Miss will likely be without its top three receivers, perhaps starting running back Jerrion Ealy, and a handful of players beat writers will tweet about around 20 minutes before kickoff, causing you to curse your decision to take the points.
While not ideal, I am looking forward to seeing how Kiffin and Lebby attempt to solve the loss of production. We got a taste of it in the LSU game, which featured a heavy dose of true freshman Henry Parrish Jr., who looked like he belonged, but offensive success will likely call for more than Parrish having another great game.
It would be nice to see a receiver or two step into the void, but I will accept any plan that finds a way to pile up the yards and points.
(3) Solving Indiana’s defense
As you may have read or heard by now, the Hoosiers can play a little bit of defense. Currently, defensive coordinator Kane Wommack’s group sits at sixth in DFEI defensive ratings (ADVANCED STATS JARGON AHOY) and eighth in defensive efficiency.
They’re also 16th in opponent points per play, which means they don’t give up a lot of explosive plays, and they’re first in opponent red zone scoring percentage (52.63 percent), which means even if you do methodically march down the field, it’s difficult to score once you get close.
The good news for Ole Miss is that two offenses, Penn State and Ohio State, showed that Indiana’s defense can be torched. The Nittany Lions put up 35 points and 488 total yards (with 3 turnovers), and the Buckeyes dropped 42 points and 607 total yards (also with 3 turnovers).
Like those two teams, Ole Miss will have a team speed advantage, but the aforementioned loss of productive players, which includes their experience, is cause for concern. Throw in Indiana is second in turnover margin per game, and Ole Miss will need to show patience when attacking the Hoosiers’ defense.
(4) Digging a little deeper
On Monday, Kiffin was asked if Indiana resembled a team Ole Miss has played this year. He said no, but defensively they reminded him of the Ole Miss teams he faced when he was the offensive coordinator at Alabama.
If your brain can recall anything beyond the crushing weight of 2020 and the previous four years of miserable Ole Miss football, those defenses were under the direction of Dave Wommack, who is Kane Wommack’s dad.
According to Wommack the Younger, his parents still live in Oxford, which means the obvious next step is to get the elder Wommack to press pause on that day’s fishing efforts and break down what his son is going to throw at Ole Miss.
(5) Okay, I’ll stop talking Indiana defense after this
I mentioned the numbers Penn State and Ohio State produced, but in order for Indiana to put up great defensive numbers on the season, they had to dominate everyone else, which they mostly did.
HOWEVAH, let’s take a look at where those offenses rank in OFEI ratings and points per play. First, OFEI:
For the record, Ole Miss is ranked sixth.
And now, points per play:
- Rutgers (86th)
- Michigan (43rd)
- Michigan State (119th)
- Maryland (82nd)
- Wisconsin (106th)
Double for the record, Ole Miss is ranked 18th.
(6) So how about Indiana’s offense?
Michael Penix Jr., the Hoosiers’ outstanding starting quarterback (threw for 491 yards against Ohio State, nbd), was lost for the year after an injury in the Maryland game. His replacement is Utah transfer Jack Tuttle, who saw the Maryland game out and has one full start to his name this season.
In that start against Wisconsin, he was peak “not showing off, not falling behind” on his way to a 13 for 22, 130 yards, and two touchdowns performance. He wasn’t asked to do a lot, but more importantly he didn’t do anything dumb, which is more than half the battle.
His sample size is small so I have no idea if the “game manager” label applies to him, but I will bet multiple dollars the announcers give that narrative a run early and often, regardless if it fits.
(7) Sputtering object meets very movable force
We will not get into the obscene amount of Indiana football I’ve watched this season, but know that one of the Hoosiers’ biggest issues on offense is running the dang ball. They’re ranked 116th in yards per rushing attempt.
The good news for the fellas from Bloomington is that, in some wonderful symmetry, Ole Miss is ranked 116th is opponent yards per rushing attempt. As the Bobs in the booth like to say, SOMETHING HAS TO GIVE HERE, BOB.
If Ole Miss can keep Indiana from making a significant leap in the yards per rushing attempt rankings, one would feel good about limiting their offensive success. Of course, that assumes the Jack Tuttle 2021 Heisman campaign is not launched on Saturday.
(8) Exploring the calorie space
Taking a page, nay, directly stealing from a Spencer Hall podcast a few years back when he perused the Beef O’ Brady’s menu to find an appetizer, entrée, specialty drink, and dessert combination that pushed the boundaries of human caloric intake in a single meal, we shall do the same with the Outback menu and nutritional guide.
Server, let’s dial up the following:
- Bloomin’ Onion (1950 calories)
- Prime Rib Sandwich (1720 calories)
- The Gold Coast ‘Rita - Frozen (540 calories)
- Chocolate Thunder from Down Under (1500 calories)
That, friends, is your basic 5,710-calorie meal. If you were to get adventurous and throw in a post-dinner cocktail, say, the Lava Flow, you’d break the 6,000-calorie barrier with ease.
(9) Just to be clear
For most people, 6,000+ calories is about as many calories as they should consume over three (3) days. However, to be fair, I do not know what sorcery awaits Ole Miss and Indiana fans on Saturday, but the likely trauma gives everyone full license to cut the brake lines and see what kind of caloric damage can be done.
(10) What should we expect on Saturday?
When mixing Ole Miss and Indiana football, the predictive models flash the blue screen of death. I’d like to think Ole Miss has a reasonable amount of offensive success and a decent shot at winning outright, but we are dealing with two programs that the college football scriptwriters have decided are agents of chaos.
My best guess is we see a more tame version of the Ole Miss/South Carolina game. Not as high scoring and fewer explosive plays, but still a tight back and forth rock fight that we all do not need in our lives late in the AM and early in the PM on the second daggum day of 2021.