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

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While waiting for a get-right game, we review what we learned from last week’s loss to Alabama.

Ole Miss v Alabama Photo by Kevin C. Cox/Getty Images

When in the course of human events your team goes to a place where it’s 2-27 all-time and loses by three touchdowns to the greatest dynasty in the history of college football, it becomes necessary for one people to shrug and move on because 2-27 and the greatest in history.

However, let us not pretend last Saturday wasn’t disappointing because it was. Not winning is always trash, but what made this one sting was the performance, which will not be receiving any five-star Yelp reviews.

The flaws and shortcomings of this team were very much laid bare for all to see over the course of three or so hours. The good news is there’s not a team left on the schedule that can bring all of those flaws back into the light.

Some of the flaws, sure, but not all of them because they will not have a roster built entirely of 5-star, Charger-driving, destructive forces. That means one has to like Ole Miss’ chances over the next two months.

What We Know

Talent Gap AHOY

Pointing out Alabama has better players than Ole Miss is not groundbreaking Pulitzer Prize for Blogging content, but if you were looking for an accurate measurement of where Ole Miss is compared to Alabama, you got a good reading.

In the competitive portion of the game, Ole Miss’ offensive line was overwhelmed by the size and speed of Alabama’s defensive line and linebackers, particularly on almost every passing play after the first drive. Running plays also suffered the same fate.

Even when they did something mostly right, Alabama still made plays. For example, let’s look at the unsuccessful fourth down attempt on the opening drive.

After coming up short on third down, Ole Miss goes fast with a zone read that Jerrion Ealy ends up carrying. On this play, the offensive line zone blocks to left, meaning they all take a step to their left and push whatever is in front of them. The tight end comes across the formation in hopes that he will seal the edge, creating a nice hole for Ealy.

The line gets Alabama’s front moving out of the way, and the tight end, although he whiffs on his block, gets in the way and re-directs the Alabama defender for a split second, which buys time.

The defender is grabbing Ealy, but Ealy has enough momentum and strength to carry him for a yard or two, which is all Ole Miss needs. Plus, notice the defensive line being shoved aside.

This is a first down. Until......

Yes, until No. 50 engages freak strength to shed his block and drill Ealy at the line of scrimmage. A near-automatic first down ruined by a great play from a talented player.

Speaking of initially doing things correctly before they fall apart, the defensive side of the ball!

In normal speak, what that’s saying is Alabama’s running backs, on average, made it 1.5 yards before receiving contact from an Ole Miss defender, which, as noted, is not good. That means Ole Miss defenders were in position most of the time but couldn’t make the play.

Would you like to see an example? Okay!

With four Ole Miss defenders in the area, how many yards do you think Brian Robinson gained here?

If you said eight, congratulations, you are one of life’s winners.

And there’s the difference between 5-stars and Top 100 players versus not 5-stars and not-Top 100 players.

Matt Corral Maintains

Despite the aforementioned pass blocking issues and lack of a running game, Corral had a solid game from a decision-making standpoint. Throw in his receivers, as feared, weren’t winning individual matchups consistently, and it’s pretty remarkable he made it to 21 of 29,

The production was well below what we’re used to seeing, but we also saw no interceptions, no sign of panic when there were plenty of reasons to be panicked, and no “screw it, let it rip” wild shots when there were plenty of reasons to take risks with little chance of rewards.

He was in control throughout, and it’s yet another indicator how much he has improved since last year.

Braylon Sanders: A Witch

I mean, how?

You know who had a front-row seat to getting his face melted and mind blown? Ole Miss athletic director Keith Carter.

What We Kinda Know

Defensive identity

I realize what I’m about to say sounds insane for a group that gave up 42 points and 451 yards, but the defense did almost exactly what was asked of them. Allowed very few explosive plays, made Alabama put together extended drives, and got a few stops.

Compare that to last year when we saw 63 points and 723 yards of total offense allowed. In 2020, Alabama had runs of 39, 18, and 14 yards, and pass plays of 45, 36, 32, and 24 yards.

This year, Ole Miss’ defense allowed runs of 21, 17 and 16 yards, and pass plays of 29, 26, and 21 yards. Improvement! Had the offense been SIGNIFICANTLY more productive, the defense gave them a chance to win it.

They won’t face an offense like Alabama’s the rest of the year, but we’re getting a peek at who they really are. Huge bend but don’t get shredded energy, and it remains unclear if they’ll get more aggressive against less explosive teams.

What We Don’t Know

Bouncing Back

It’s one thing to lose, but to be physically dominated for large stretches of the game can be an eye-opening, confidence-shattering experience. Last year, Ole Miss had multiple games where they were competitive deep into the fourth quarter and experienced painful losses, but they never got dominated on both sides of the ball like this.

We don’t know how they’re going to respond to something like this because it’s the first time it’s happened in the Kiffin era. However, based on how they kept fighting in the second half against Alabama, we can assume they’ll bounce back but assuming is never a sure thing.

Last year’s team kept plugging along after those tough losses, but this isn’t last year’s team. We shall learn a great deal about their intestinal fortitude this weekend.

And Then There Were Two

Jonathan Mingo’s injury reduced the big three receivers to Dontario Drummond and the previously mentioned witch that is Braylon Sanders. Mingo’s injury opened the door for Jadon Jackson and Dannis Jackson (I shall call them THE 75 PERCENT Js), who made a few nice plays but nothing memorable. At the very least, they looked like they belonged, which is good news.

However, Kiffin and Sanders both talked about Sanders’ high snap count and wearing down as the game goes on. Not what you enjoy hearing [checks notes] [GULP] four games into the season. To steal a line from every ad for every #brand during COVID, now, more than ever, we need production out of more wide receivers.

Good for Chase Rogers having 53 receiving yards on Saturday, but under no circumstances can he be the leader in receiving yards. That, friends, is what we analytically call NOT IDEAL.

Ole Miss needs someone to emerge, but who it will be or if it even will happen, we, as the category says, don’t know.