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What we know, kinda know, and don’t know about Ole Miss football with two to go

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Are we finally running out of things we don’t know?

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: NOV 13 Texas A&M at Ole Miss Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Ole Miss has played five games since injuries on offense attempted to derail a promising season and an offensive output that was going to produce large quantities of #madonline across multiple fanbases about numerous defensive coordinators. While the promising season marches on with a 4-1 record over that stretch, the offensive production took a hit, meaning Ole Miss won those games without their best.

More impressively, of those four wins, two featured Ole Miss taking an early lead, seemingly in position to blow it open, before offensive limitations surfaced and they had to engage grind-it-out* mode. Ole Miss led Tennessee 24-12 and Texas A&M 15-0 at half, yet only scored seven points on offense in both second halves and still managed to win.

*Note: A different kind of grinding than the version practiced by our Oktibbeha County neighbors, as it does not involve getting in the mentions of anyone who dares to type the words “Ole Miss” on Social Media Dot Com.

If you’ve spent any time being an Ole Miss fan, you are aware to QUITE AWARE those games are not Ole Miss’ speciality. Instead of a grind-it-out win, it usually falls in the category of “slow death, followed by being face down in a drainage ditch” loss.

Credit to the defense for finding its footing during this less than ideal time on offense, and the team’s overall mental toughness it takes to continue to trust the process when it’s not going as you’d planned. Their refusal to give in is one of the finer feature of the team’s leadership and coaches.

What We Know

Part III: Offense still in need of healing potions and elixirs

The good news on Saturday night was Ole Miss’ offense was as healthy as it had been since early October. The bad news was it’s clear they need to get healthier in a hurry. It probably doesn’t matter this coming Saturday, but they will need as close to a full return to health on Thanksgiving night as possible.

After putting up 413 yards of offense in the first half and averaging 6.8 yards/play, things took a turn in the second half. Your official second-half drive chart:

  • 3 plays, 6 yards, punt
  • 9 plays, 32 yards, punt
  • 8 plays, 37 yards, turnover on downs
  • 7 plays, 32 yards, punt
  • 2 plays, 14 yards, touchdown
  • 4 plays, 10 yards, punt
  • 1 play, -5 yards, end of game

In a word: G R O S S.

On the positive side, after averaging 2.5 points per red zone trip in the first half, Ole Miss averaged 7 points per trip in the second half. Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain pointing out it was their only trip and due to a turnover!

Part of the second-half tailing off had to do with Texas A&M’s top five defense coming to life, but receivers weren’t winning matchups and the offensive line wasn’t creating holes, as noted by this grisly 1.1 yards before contact stat for Ole Miss running backs.

With Braylon Sanders being limited, Ole Miss had no way to vertically stretch the field. Outside of one shot to Sanders and a double move by Jahcour Pearson in the first half that should’ve been a touchdown, Ole Miss stayed away from pushing the ball deep.

It would be nice if that changed prior to Thanksgiving, as Mississippi State ranks 77th in opponent passing yards per attempt and 70th in sack percentage.

Defense is officially “they are who they are”

The switch to the 3-2-6 was inspired by several things. One, playing against it and finding it to be, as Lane Kiffin said, “a pain in the ass.” Two, there were very few defensive linemen the coaching staff trusted, and finally, well, it probably couldn’t have been worse than before. After a solid start to the season against lesser competition and a brutal outing against Arkansas, the defense made it to the infamous Bill Parcells quote territory.

By design, it’s intended to limit explosive plays*, which was something Ole Miss has been very bad at since 2016, no matter who was coaching. So far, the defense is ranked 66th in yards per play allowed and 47th in points per play allowed. Not great, but not getting shredded!

*Generally, an explosive play is defined as any run of 12 or more yards and any pass that gains 16 or more yards, though some numbers gurus will say a pass of 20 or more yards.

Overall, according to Football Outsiders, the Ole Miss defense checks in at 48th in their defensive ratings, which is up from 107th last season. Again, not locking anyone down, but occasionally making life difficult.

After giving up 7.3 yards/play to Arkansas, here’s what they’ve done in the last five games:

  • 5.9 vs Tennessee (26 points)
  • 4.8 vs LSU (17 points)
  • 6.3 vs Auburn (31 points)
  • 5.6 vs Liberty (14 points)
  • 5.3 vs Texas A&M (19 points)

I will note that the first half against Auburn was quite bad (7.2 yards/play), but they rallied in the second half to only allow 5.5 yards/play. Right in the meaty part of the curve, friends.

Finally, they’ve also gotten more aggressive as the season has gone on. On October 10th, the day after the Arkansas game, Ole Miss was ranked 67th in sack percentage*. As of this writing, they’re 9th.

*Fairly self-explanatory: number of plays that end in sacks.

I’m not sure if that was a calculated risk taken and it paid off or if the players got more comfortable in their roles and understood the roles of those around them better. Either way, the defense is noticeably blitzing more and committing more players to the box.

What We Kinda Know

Who’s healthy?

As discussed previously, we know people to get healthy ASAP. What we kinda know is where they are in that journey.

After the Texas A&M game, Corral said he needs another week to be back where he wants to be. From the ol’ eye test inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night, he looked to me to be moving much better, but he wasn’t sharp and had the look of someone who hadn’t practiced much over the last two weeks.

Both Dontario Drummond and Braylon Sanders played and contributed but were limited. I suppose we can assume they’re in the same boat as Corral in that it’s a matter of time until they’re close to fully healthy. What that timeframe is for them, well, we’re in kind of a gray area there.

To quote Fletch, one of the finest films ever made, how gray of an area? “Charcoal.”

I’m not sure if you can include Jonathan Mingo in that boat at this point. Although he dressed for the Texas A&M game and participated in warmups, he didn’t play. Clearly, he’s doing better, but it’s unclear if he didn’t play because he wasn’t ready, they didn’t think they needed him after taking control of the game early, or they saw no one else was getting open so no need to have him run around either.

The weekly defensive snap count effect

Kiffin said after the game (or maybe Monday) that, leading up to the A&M game, Ole Miss practiced the least amount of time they had all season, citing health and fatigue. In response, the defense looked as fast and aggressive as ever and didn’t wear down over the 71 plays the Aggies ran.

Kiffin also mentioned the colder weather and Texas A&M’s pace of play as probable benefits to the defense. However, he said there were multiple guys on the back end that played every snap. Sam Williams said he played 65 snaps, which continues to highlight his superior conditioning as a defensive lineman, while also creating anxiety among fans.

Obviously, the high snap counts for individual players have affected the defense in previous games, but we’re not certain what that means for the next two games. Much like the offensive injury bill coming due against Auburn, it feels like that’s a real possibility in the next two games but maybe not!

What We Don’t Know

Lane Kiffin and SOURCES

I have no idea if Kiffin is Ole Miss’ coach in 2022 and neither do you, friends. We can all guess, which is different than factual statements. I believe he’ll be back because the list of places he’d go is very small and would require an ideal setup, which I’m not sure some of those places can offer.

Now, I could be totally wrong and he bails for like the Saskatchewan Roughriders in the locker room after the Egg Bowl. However, the #narrative that he’s a serial job-hopper is lazy, as narratives tend to be.

Behold, his working history:

  • USC assistant (2001-2006)
  • Raiders head coach (2007-2008)
  • Tennessee head coach (2009)
  • USC head coach (2010-2013)
  • Alabama OC (2014-2016)
  • FAU head coach (2017-2019)
  • Ole Miss head coach (2020-?)

For someone in a profession as volatile as coaching, that’s an average of about three years per stop. I realize this involves nuance, which the #narrative hates, but only the decision to leave Tennessee meets the job-hopping criteria. Even then, he bailed for a place on the aforementioned small list of places he’d consider.

While we’re here, let’s do a fun activity and list every SEC head coach’s total number of employers as a professional (no GA jobs) since 2001.

  • Lane Kiffin: 6
  • Nick Saban: 3
  • Jimbo Fisher: 4
  • Ed Orgeron: 5
  • Sam Pittman: 7
  • Mike Leach: 3
  • Bryan Harsin: 4
  • Kirby Smart: 7
  • Josh Heupel: 6
  • Mark Stoops: 4
  • Dan Mullen: 4
  • Shane Beamer: 6
  • Eli Drinkwitz: 7
  • Clark Lea: 7

WHAT AN OUTLIER.

Granted, he has more head coaching jobs that most of the guys on that list, but it’s not his fault people keep offering him those jobs.

Anyway, in conclusion, if he leaves, he leaves and life goes on. Obviously, I would prefer he stays because I enjoy competent coaching and his general demeanor, but I will spend zero percent energy worrying about it.

And as a public service announcement, when a non-national media type who has nothing to lose invokes SOURCES or some dude in your Sunday School class starts a sentence with “I heard*,” take comfort in them being full of shit.

*The level of shit increases exponentially if “I heard” is followed by the word “property” later in the sentence or monologue.