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What we know, kinda know, and don’t know about Ole Miss football after 5 games

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While preparing for a trip to Rocky Top, we recall what we learned from living to tell the tale against Arkansas.

NCAA Football: Arkansas at Mississippi Marvin Gentry-USA TODAY Sports

When KJ Jefferson’s first-down pass sailed through back of the end zone leaving one second on the clock for a final play, I couldn’t help but think well played, college football scriptwriters, well played indeed.

Had time expired on that play, it would’ve been an exciting way to end a game, but it would’ve had huge TIRED energy and not WIRED energy, which is right in the sweet spot the scriptwriters wanted.

Instead of one play being run in six seconds, they saw the emotional twists of two plays plus a two-point conversion attempt. Why they chose to subject Ole Miss and Arkansas fans to this and not some normally boring Big 10 game I don’t know.

Perhaps due to Ole Miss and Arkansas being united through the human heppin’ covalent bond that is Houston Nutt, the scriptwriters thought fans could handle the dose of CRIPPLING ANXIETY. Or maybe they just wanted to watch the world burn. Who knows!

We do know that Ole Miss lived to tell the tale, but had that final two-point conversion gone the other way, hoooooooo boy, the 2021 season would be hunting for the darkest timeline.

What We Know

The offense can play left-handed or right-handed

Lane Kiffin has repeatedly said that, while his offense is perceived as a “throw it 50 times a game” offense, it’s an offense that will adjust to do whatever it takes to score lots of points.

If a defense commits numbers to make running more difficult, his offense will throw the ball as many times as it takes to break them. If a defense is going to drop seven or eight guys into coverage, the offense will try to run them out of it.

On Saturday, we saw Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby do both. Arkansas sat back in its base 3-2-6, and Ole Miss made it a point to punish them through the running game. When Arkansas tried to stop the bleeding by creeping closer to the line of scrimmage, it gave Ole Miss one-on-one matchups on the outside and opportunities to take shots (HOW DID THOSE TURN OUT).

It was interesting to see how Ole Miss attacked Arkansas, especially in the run game, because it was a different approach than what we’ve seen before. Per Kiffin after the game:

We spent a long time, twelve months, preparing for this game offensively and schematically, because this defense is a pain in the ass and gives a lot of people problems like us a year ago. No turnovers, over six hundred yards, that’s a lot of work over twelve months

Let’s take a look at a couple of wrinkles Ole Miss threw at Arkansas. The first is Snoop Conner’s 51-yard touchdown run in the third quarter.

As you can see, Arkansas commits eight guys to the box, but Ole Miss is going to hit them with some schematic sauce.

Center Orlando Umana and left guard Jordan Rhodes allow the Arkansas nose tackle split them in an effort to let him run himself out of the play, almost like a trap play. Even though he’s coming in mostly free, Conner takes a wide enough angle that the tackle can’t make a play (he also trips which helps).

Why would Umana and Rhodes let him go free? Well, friends, because they want to get out on a linebacker and safety who are the only things standing between Conner and a touchdown.

Right tackle Jeremy James wipes out a safety at the top of the screen, tight end Chase Rogers seals the backside, a linebacker is out of position to make a play, and Umana and Rhodes are two versus two, meaning all of sudden Ole Miss has a huge numbers advantage.

Umana gets the linebacker and Rhodes, while looking confused, does enough to make the safety take a bad angle, which parts the waters for Conner.

Now let’s look at Conner’s second long touchdown run, featuring another twist!

Normally when Chase Rogers lines up behind either tackle like he is above, he will seal the opposite side edge on running plays (meaning here he would typically come across the formation and block an end or linebacker on the left side). HOWEVAH, Ole Miss changes directions and introduces Rogers as a lead blocker.

Receiver Jahcour Pearson is supposed to block the defensive back, left guard Cedric Melton gets the linebacker, and Rogers is assigned to flatten the safety. But to get that 3-on-3 numbers advantage, Ole Miss needs left tackle Nick Broeker to turn the defensive end outside, and the rest of the offensive line must wall off the two other defensive lineman and the linebacker.

Now the numbers advantage is in Ole Miss’ favor, as Arkansas does not have a free defender to tackle Conner. Rogers just has to make his block and it’s six.

Right about now the safety’s internal monologue is hollerin’ at those linebackers for letting the tight end have a free shot at him.

Finally, one quick look at a pass play that attacked Arkansas underneath when they dropped eight. This is actually the play right before Conner’s second touchdown run above.

It’s 4th and 5, and Ole Miss wants to clear out the two linebackers and have Dontario Drummond drop in right behind them and in front of the safety for the first down.

Rogers and Conner run mesh (shallow crossing routes close enough that they can high-five each other), stretch the linebackers, and Drummond appears in the window they create.

Pretty nice design to pick apart the underbelly of the drop eight.

Matt Corral [insert favorite superlative]

63 yards in the air and hanging in the air for over three seconds.

Many are saying this is very good, and we’re hearing it more and more.

Snoop Conner/Henry Parrish have logged on

Until Saturday, Jerrion Ealy was the only running back to have broken the 100-yard barrier this season in a game (Tulane). Both Conner (110 yards) and Parrish (111) joined him, with Matt Corral standing outside the door with his 94 rushing yards.

Obviously we love to see the numbers pile up, but it was encouraging to see it happen through explosive, gashing runs that tear a defense apart. And it’s really nice to know the running back depth is strong enough that a five-star recruit being out with an injury wasn’t an issue.

Defense cannot play 93 plays

Really going out on a limb here, I know, but given their talent and depth issues, they have no chance if they’re playing that many plays. Kiffin even mentioned on Monday that some guys played over 80 (!!!!!!!!!) snaps, which I assume means they are more IV fluid than man at this point.

Going into the fourth quarter on Saturday, the defense was on the field for 67 plays (the college football average is around 70 plays a game). Basically, they played an entire game’s worth of plays in 45 minutes.

For some perspective, here are the total number of defensive plays against every team Ole Miss has played except Austin Peay:

  • 77 - Louisville
  • 56 - Tulane
  • 77 - Alabama

Are there numbers demonstrating how this many plays affected them? There are!

In the first half, the Ole Miss defense gave up 14 total points and 6.0 yard/play. In the second half, they gave up 37 points and 8.9 yards/play. In the fourth quarter, when the tank was bone dry, they gave up 21 points at 240 total yards (8.6 yards/play).

I should also point out that when Quentin Bivens left the game with 14 seconds left (BOOOOOOOOO), Ole Miss was out of nose tackles. Do you know who played nose tackle on the final three plays of regulation? 255-pound outside linebacker Cedric Johnson! Related, bless you for throwing on that two-point conversion attempt, Arkansas.

Ole Miss’ defensive approach of preventing explosive plays is going to run up play counts against them, but they have to find a way to be better at getting off the field on third down because adding exhaustion to a talent and depth problem is not ideal. Most of me thinks that problem isn’t fixable without another recruiting cycle, but I would love to be wrong.

What We Kinda Know

Offensive line maybe has some reliable options

With starting left guard Caleb Warren out with an injury, the aforementioned Jordan Rhodes and Cedric Melton saw playing time and performed well overall. The offensive line as a whole had issues in a few short yardage situations, but they got tested without their full starting lineup and helped rack up 324 rushing yards. Acceptable!

As the season grinds on, they’ll need other guys to step in and play more snaps in conference games. It’s a good start for the backups, but we shall see how things progress when called upon.

Spread WR wealth option

We’ve wondered how Ole Miss can make up for the loss of Jonathan Mingo, and a new solution may be to spread it around. Against Arkansas, Corral completed passes to nine different players, with no player catching more than two passes.

I’m not sure how sustainable that is in games where he’ll have to throw more, but we are always interested in potential solutions.

What We Don’t Know

Recovery

An emotional win and a physically draining experience for the defense, which is immediately followed by a road trip to a place where Ole Miss hasn’t won since Billy Brewer stalked the sidelines, feels like a recipe for a letdown. Can they hit reset and get themselves ready to do it all again against a team that now has life and confidence?

Welcome to the grind

This Saturday will mark the journey to the halfway point of the 2021 season. How will Ole Miss’ depth hold up over the next seven games with no breaks between games? Can depth help them avoid wearing down before November gets here?