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What we know, kinda know, and don’t know about Ole Miss football heading into the second half of 2021

After sending Ed Orgeron and company out to sea, we review what we know for the final stretch.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: OCT 23 LSU at Ole Miss Photo by Kevin Langley/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

One of the enjoyable things about going to football games is when the opportunity to leave early presents itself. Whether it’s Ole Miss getting blasted into oblivion (think Alabama 2018; the rare first-half early exit) or Ole Miss doing the blasting (choose your non-conference option; sigh), I love the declaration of NEXT and leaving to move on with the events of the day or evening.

It’s like getting a free 30 minutes or an hour back in the day. That’s the perfect time to do the very important, non-important things I’d rather be doing!

Such an opportunity presented itself on Saturday in Oxford, with Ole Miss leading LSU 31-7 heading into the fourth quarter. Though this scenario checked all the boxes for an early departure, the allure of delighting in the display of a rare bird like Ole Miss thrashing LSU was too strong, and I had no choice to ride it out until 0:00. Had Snoop Conner not fumbled into the end zone with just under six minutes to play, Ole Miss would’ve been up 28 points in the fourth quarter and unbridled joy AHOY.

Although it wasn’t a great finish, particularly among those of us who wanted to see BLOOD OH SO MUCH BLOOD, it was the result Ole Miss needed, especially given the list of missing persons on offense.

What We Know

The dialed down version of Matt Corral

After carrying the ball 30 times the previous week against Tennessee in a physically demanding game (not to mention the rolled ankle late in the fourth quarter), Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby knew Corral couldn’t be asked to do the same versus LSU. Corral even admitted in his postgame comments he got a pain-killing injection that wore off some time in the first half.

While he ended up with 12 carries, the majority of those were him taking off when his receivers couldn’t get open against coverage. I can recall only three or four designed run calls, and I will not confirm this because I occasionally attempt to value my time.

The point being, Kiffin and Lebby made an effort to restrain Corral as much as possible. They chose to lean hard on the offensive line and running backs, mostly because they thought it would be successful but also for protective measures.

Corral only attempted 23 passes, which was his second lowest total in the Kiffin era* (against Arkansas this season he threw 21). We should also assume some of that had to do with the receivers available (a lesson learned in the second half against Tennessee), but Kiffin and Lebby knew a Matt Corral Special was off the table and adjusted accordingly.

*We will not look at stats under the Matt Luke era because I will end up in a rant about people belonging in prison.

Offense line + Snoop + Ealy = MORE

With the necessity for the offense to take the Matt Corral Lite approach, the burden to produce the the majority of success fell to the offensive line and the running game. Unlike most of the Tennessee game, they performed well to quite well, producing 265 yards and a 45.6 percent success rate (meaning, 45 percent of the carries gained the necessary yards to be considered successful).

Of note, Snoop Conner’s negative run rate (percent of runs for zero or negative yards) fell from 13.3 percent against Tennessee to 7.1 percent on Saturday, and Jerrion Ealy’s rate dropped from 14.3 percent to 8.3 percent. Would recommend that continued drop.

All of this also took place without starting right guard Ben Brown, who is now out for the season, but with a healthy number of snaps from backups Cedric Melton, Bryce Ramsey, and Jordan Rhodes. And while we’re rattling things off the list, starting center Orlando Umana spent time at right guard.

Given the mix and match effort on the offensive line, you could give those numbers the official declaration of ENCOURAGING.

You know what else is encouraging? Your five-star running back returning from injury and getting in the open field to roast multiple players.

Ole Miss defense: An ocean of time with no points allowed

As I mentioned last week, the defense achieved DID ENOUGH levels, which should be the floor from what’s expected of this group. Against LSU, the defense took things up a notch to DID ENOUGH AND THEN SOME.

The Tigers scored on their opening drive (8:29 to play in the first quarter) and did not change the digital lights on the scoreboard until 7:27 to play, while trailing 31-7. Even then, it was only a #SadFieldGoal.

Never let it be said Ed Orgeron is not well aware of historical records he wants no part of.

The defense also only allowed LSU to average 4.8 yards/play and held them to 4 of 12 on third down, while sacking LSU quarterbacks five times. And in perhaps the most impressive number, they gave up just 77 rushing yards a week after LSU shredded Florida*.

If you’re looking for what the 3-2-6 could be, this is the best example of it to date for Ole Miss. Gave up an average number of plays (68) and a few explosive plays, but they clamped down in appropriate spots and created enough havoc in the backfield.

*It’s almost like LSU putting the tweaks to their counters and power plays on film made it less of a surprise!

What We Kinda Know

Direction of the offense

With the depth and production shortages at wide receiver, we’ve now seen examples of Matt Corral Special and Matt Corral Lite games. Looking at the remaining schedule, Ole Miss is likely good enough on the offensive line in a couple of those to get by with another Matt Corral Lite game (assuming they need to for health reasons).

However, against Auburn, Texas A&M, and Mississippi State, they’re gonna need a little more. As Corral gets healthier (PLS), we can assume Kiffin and Lebby will be comfortable finding a blend between the Special and the Lite, and, if necessary, let him go for another Special.

Of course, the degree of the Special depends on what they get out of the receivers, which, right now, is - AHEM - lacking. The situation improves if Braylon Sanders returns and gets back to full throttle if Jonathan Mingo is able to contribute in November, but we don’t know how that’s going to play out.

While we can’t say for certain what the offense will look like in the last five games, we have seen examples of the various ways they can play.

What We Don’t Know

How badly will the offense miss Ben Brown?

Losing your starting right guard with multiple years of SEC experience is what they call NOT GREAT, BOB, but we saw Ole Miss find a way around it on Saturday. Can they keep that up over the final five games? Unclear!

While Saturday wasn’t an issue, just like LSU’s tweaked running plays, there’s now more film of Melton, Rhodes, and Umana at guard, which can be used to identify their weaknesses.

Can they stay ahead of the depth/injury posse?

I feel like this is an every week thing because something new keeps happening every week. Receiving depth and production is an established concern, but now the offensive line has entered the chat. And as we’ve seen the last two weeks, a defense with Jake Springer is much different than a defense without him.

The question is how much more can they absorb in losses or weekly injuries before a toll has to be paid. Once again, WE DON’T KNOW.