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Train Talk: Off-Season Needs Edition

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The Outback Bowl champs head into 2021 looking to minimize their flaws prior to next season.

It’s been a little over 10 days since Ole Miss was on the verge of a blowout win over Indiana in Tampa, which was immediately followed by a trip to the edge of nearly blowing a two-touchdown lead to Indiana, before finally settling into the familiar existence of WE LIVED TO TELL THE TALE.

As I said prior to the game, the result ultimately didn’t matter in terms of the direction of the program, but when you’re in the midst of battling for the right to give the entire country free Bloomin’ Onions, it very much does matter. Fortunately, enough plays were made, and the players were rewarded with a great way to end the season, which hopefully included a buffet of apps in the postgame spread.

Now, we turn our attention to developments we’d like to see between mid-January and August. The program has momentum, which many people are saying, even the losers and the haters, but upgrades are needed in order to make another ahead-of-schedule leap.

In the latest edition of this series, we take a look at 10 things concerning Ole Miss’ offseason. As always, these may be as simple as five-star transfers = good or as deep as the Lane Train is neither a lane nor a train, talk amongst yourselves.

(1) Let’s start with the obvious

Everyone’s thinking it, but I, not a coward, will say it here: TURN DOWN GLEN WADDLE’S PUBLIC ADDRESS MICROPHONE IN VAUGHT-HEMINGWAY*.

[puts hand to ear]

[nods]

[looks back into the camera]

Okay, so maybe not the number one priority, but it should be considered.

Obviously, the defensive talent needs a boost or 20. It’s possible multiple boosts are found in the December signees, but any transfers who play football really well and want to do other stuff well too are more than welcome to join in.

I’m not taking the time to crunch the numbers for transfer spots available because I did some unrelated math the other day and maxed out my allotment for January, but if I had to power rank the position needs, it would be as follows:

  1. Defensive line
  2. Defensive line
  3. Defensive line
  4. Defensive line
  5. Defensive line
  6. Defensive line
  7. Defensive line
  8. Defensive line
  9. Defensive backs
  10. Linebackers

Whatever happens, the defense needs to rise to the level of being able to close out games against average and bad teams. The 2020 version couldn’t get stops late in games, which meant the offensive success rate always needed to operate at an unsustainable level.

*It’s absurd, and people in Pontotoc don’t need to hear it in their homes. I mean, IT DROWNS OUT THE TELEVISION ANNOUNCERS AT TIMES. STOP THE TYRANNY.

(2) Receiver production

With the departure of Elijah Moore, our slippery, record-setting slot receiver son, to the professional ranks, Ole Miss is losing 34.6 percent of its receiving yardage. Throw in Kenny Yeboah’s numbers, and the total jumps to a 49.8 percent, which means half of the receiving production need to be replaced.

The good news is Braylon Sanders and Dontario Drummond opted to return, Hilltopper production is on the way for depth, and John Rhys Plumlee, our former speedy backup quarterback son, may now be a speedy slot receiver son. He needs a lot of work to get better, but if he chooses that path, it could be a productive one for him and Ole Miss.

(3) More buffet-destroyers in the rotation

On the offensive line, Ole Miss was fortunate to get through most of the season without having to shuffle players around due to injuries. As we’ve seen in previous years, it doesn’t always work out that way, and the scramble to find a healthy and efficient rotation on the fly is unpleasant to quite unpleasant.

While a lot of guys got to see the field in 2020, there were a select few who could be trusted later games. Add the departure of right tackle Royce Newman, who was not in the circle of the untrustables, and it’s important to find trustable depth.

Though Newman, who was in the running for best offensive lineman, is gone, the good news is everyone else is back, which means there are at least options. On top of that, you never know what the transfer market could deliver.

(4) Fewer UGH running plays

I realize I’m engaging in the art of, as some like to say, picking nits, because the following is true about the Ole Miss offense in 2020 (ADVANCED STATS SIREN):

So efficient and explosive, yes? Seems good!

The one area of concern was the amount of running plays that went nowhere, forcing the offense into passing downs, which wasn’t as big of a deal because it can then turn to passing down god Matt Corral.

The Ole Miss offensive line’s stuff rate* checked in at 17.7 percent, which ranks 46th in the country. The power success rate** was ranked 83rd (65.8 percent). Combined, pretty blah to not great!

We would very much love to see that get better so we can spend less time living that passing downs life.

*Stuff rate is the percentage of carries by running backs that are stopped behind the line or at the line of scrimmage. For Ole Miss, it means one rush out of just under six gained zero yards or lost yards.

**Power success rate is the percentage of runs on third/fourth down, with two yards or less to go, that resulted in a first down or touchdown.

(5) Okay, one more thing about the offense

As many points as the offense ran up, they weren’t great in the red zone, finishing 111th in red zone scoring percentage. Some of that is related to being team NEVER KICK and failing on fourth down rather than kicking a short field goal, but rattling around in the 100s is not an ideal place to be.

After an extensive film analysis*, the clear solution is to run more touchdown plays. Thank you for coming to my TED talk.

*Zero analysis, but I did think about that tweet of the Yeboah pop pass touchdown against Alabama.

(6) Someone who can let Matt Corral enjoy a well-deserved rest

Whether or not Plumlee moves to wide receiver, Ole Miss needs a legitimate backup option at quarterback. We love our elite straight-line speed son, but a quarterback he is not.

Although the smattering of running package plays for Plumlee can still be effective at times, the backup needs to possess the threat of throwing a defense-burning forward pass. Perhaps that will be true freshman Luke Altmyer, but we will accept other contenders as well.

(7) An employed defensive line coach

Clearly, it’s a matter of time until one is hired, but leaving it off this list could cause someone to question the legitimacy of this list. Totally legitimate, no fraud, perfect list, top generals are saying so, thanks to all!

(8) Summer of Wilson Love

I don’t care if it’s strength coach Mad Libs, bring me the quotes about bigger, faster, stronger. And you better believe I will watch every one of those one-minute hype videos of him screaming “dot dot dot” at players trying not to vomit early in the morning while doing some awful workout I don’t want to imagine.

(9) A three-point specialist

I know I said earlier we are team NEVER KICK, but sometimes, due to life being cruel, unfair, and boring, you have to kick. To put it mildly, it wasn’t the best of situations last season, and that uncertainty has to become infinitely more certain.

(10) The most boring offseason ever

If it’s not crootin’ successes or transfer portal gains, I want no news, no news, no news. When August rolls around, we need to be like, oh right, football!

I will make an additional exception for Lane Kiffin recreational watercraft-related Twitter videos in Boca Raton.