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What we know, kinda know, and don’t know about Ole Miss football pre-Egg Bowl

As we close out the regular season, we’ve got questions, fam.

NCAA Football: Vanderbilt at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Ideally, last Saturday night’s game against Vanderbilt would’ve featured an emphatic result, complete with points and yards galore, hugs and smiles on the sideline as backups ran out the clock in the fourth quarter, and a standing ovation for Matt Corral when he came off the field at home for the last time. Unfortunately, as we all know, real life often doesn’t care for our pictured scenarios.

Instead of a festive and proper send-off for Corral and the seniors, we were treated to a Lite Jefferson Pilot Ole Miss/Vanderbilt special, minus the surface-of-the-sun weather. Make no mistake, Ole Miss was in control throughout, but they didn’t officially TKO Vanderbilt until a Henry Parrish Jr. touchdown run early in the fourth quarter made the score 31-9.

More importantly, and we’ll get to this later, second-half offensive struggles once again showed up. With Corral as healthy as he’d been in a month and the return of his starting receivers, things seemed lined up for an offensive performance similar to what we saw earlier in the season. Alas, that didn’t happen.

However, Ole Miss won yet another game where they were not at their best and did so by double digits. With one game to go, it would be QUITE IDEAL to have their best show up and put together a complete game for four quarters.

One, because I want to be entertained by it, and two, I am not emotionally and mentally prepared to handle an agonizing fourth quarter in the Egg Bowl, so I would prefer to not to find myself in the face down in the bushes following whatever happens on Thursday night and no recollection of how I got there. Could still happen though!

What We Know

Second-half offense: NOT GREAT, BOB?

We’ve spent the last few weeks noting the, ahem, barren wasteland of offensive production in the second half. But the question is does that narrative hold up?

Let’s crunch the numbers and take a look at first half points, yards per play, red zone trips, and points per red zone trip versus those of the second half. We’ll start with the Tennessee game when injuries to the offense began to pile up.

Note: Anything above 6.0 yards/play is going to put your offense in the top quarter of all offenses.

at Tennessee

  • 1st half - 24 points, 4.8 yards/play, 3 red zone trips, 5.7 points/trip
  • 2nd half - 7 points, 4.4 yards/play, 1 trip, 7 points/trip

vs LSU

  • 1st half - 17 points, 6.3 yards/play, 3 red zone trips, 5.7 points/trip
  • 2nd half - 14 points, 5.5 yards/play, 2 trips, 3.5 points/trip

at Auburn

  • 1st half - 17 points, 5.3 yards/play, 3 red zone trips, 5.7 points/trip
  • 2nd half - 3 points, 5.3 yards/play, 5 trips, 0.6 points/trip (YIKES)

vs Liberty

  • 1st half - 24 points, 10.4 yards/play, 3 red zone trips, 4.7 points/trip
  • 2nd half - 3 points, 4.8 yards/play, 0 trips

vs Texas A&M

  • 1st half - 13 points, 6.8 yards/play, 4 red zone trips, 3.25 points/trip
  • 2nd half - 7 points, 3.7 yards/play, 1 trip, 7 points/trip

vs Vanderbilt

  • 1st half - 24 points, 7.3 yards/play, 5 red zone trips, 4.8 points/trip
  • 2nd half - 7 points, 6.5 yards/play, 2 trips, 3.5 points/trip

The verdict? Starting with the Auburn game, the narrative mostly holds up!

Ole Miss moved the ball well in the second half against Auburn, but the fourth down attempts in the red zone were a disaster. Against Liberty, the second-half offense engaged “going through the motions and let’s get out of here ASAP.”

As mentioned last week, red zone inefficiency kept Ole Miss from knocking out Texas A&M in the first half, and the offense in the second half went nowhere. However, against Vanderbilt, we saw a bounce back in terms of moving the ball in the second half, but an interception on the one-yard line killed the red zone points per trip number.

The Vanderbilt game was in an obvious letdown and look-ahead spot, but maybe the 6.5 yards/play in that situation is a sign of somewhat righting the ship. Whether that’s true or it’s just Vanderbilt being Vanderbilt, Ole Miss has to change these later game numbers on Thursday night.

Well now, DEFENSE

It was the third straight game of holding an opposing offense to less than 20 points (extreme Houston Nutt voice saying 50: “TWENTY! TWENTY!”). By design, they’re going to have a lot of play run against them, especially if they don’t create negative plays and sacks against the opposing offense, which they did not against Vanderbilt.

Given how long they’re on the field, the last three weeks have been pretty impressive:

  • Liberty - 81 plays, 5.6 yards/play, 14 points allowed
  • Texas A&M - 71 plays, 5.3 yards/play, 19 points allowed
  • Vanderbilt - 93 plays, 4.9 yards/play, 17 points allowed

In those three games, they’ve created 6 turnovers (including a pick six) and a safety. They’re playing their best football of the season when Ole Miss needs it most to cover for an offense that’s trying to recall life when they were all healthy and humming.

What We Kinda Know

Second-half offense hasn’t been good but why?

There are several theories, but we don’t have anything definitive, which could mean it’s related to multiple things. First, as Kiffin mentioned on TV right after the game Saturday night, they haven’t practiced a lot together in about a month, which would affect the Texas A&M and Vanderbilt games.

Once again, the ol’ eye test results from the Vanderbilt game showed an offensive passing game that was not sharp, which was also present in the A&M game. Corral missed a couple of deep shots and, in general, they seemed to be pressing to hit deep shots against a Vandy defense that ran a two-high safety look all night, determined to give up nothing over the top.

The second potential reason for their struggles relates to what Kiffin said in his post-game press conference:

I think part of that has been in our lack of depth that we start really fast so the game is in high tempo on both sides. We do not play a lot of players, especially when receivers have been banged up, so those guys were down, we weren’t rotating linemen, so I do think that’s part of it.

I’ve mentioned defensive fatigue almost every week, but it also applies to offense. I’m not totally LOCKED IN to offensive line rotations when watching the game, but tackles Nick Broeker and Jeremy James play every snap, and it appears as though in the last two games, the coaches rolled with Caleb Warren and Eli Acker at guards and Orlando Umana at center for all or nearly all the snaps. Not ideal, but they clearly don’t trust many linemen right now.

The last potential reason, which is purely speculative, as this is the kinda know section, is whether Ole Miss is too predictable in the red zone, has a tell they haven’t spotted in self-scouting, or hasn’t been able to adjust to adjustments. Again, this is the semi-educated guessing portion of this section, and I offer no evidence, meaning this could be embarrassingly wrong.

What We Don’t Know

Can the offense put together a four-quarter game?

I submit that the Liberty and Vanderbilt games were treated as “just live to tell the tale” and who cares what it looked like. A win is a win, especially in look-ahead spots.

The most concerning of the numbers above is A&M’s defense giving Ole Miss the business in the second half. Again, unclear if that was an Ole Miss problem or A&M’s defense getting hollered at real good at halftime and playing at a high level after that.

Mississippi State’s defense is not Texas A&M’s, but they are strong group against the run (27th in yards/attempt), which has been what Ole Miss has relied on the last month. I realize Ole Miss gashed A&M in the run game, but how they gashed them is on film, meaning State can look at ways to avoid those mistakes.

State’s defensive weakness is in the passing game (76th in yards/passing attempt allowed) and giving up explosive plays (88th in points/play allowed). Right now, Ole Miss isn’t doing a lot to take advantage of that.

Can Ole Miss hit the shots they’re going to take against that secondary? Can they trash another solid run defense if they can’t stretch the field? Who knows!

Can the defense keep the scoring efficiency vibes going?

As I said last week, Ole Miss has gotten more aggressive in their looks and blitzes out of the 3-2-6. I say that because I don’t think last year’s drop eight approach for most SEC teams against Mike Leach has seen the same results.

State has been more productive on offense this season, and I don’t expect Ole Miss to do what they did last year, which was sit back in their early iteration of the 3-2-6 and make State take moderate gains at a time. They’ll keep up the more aggressive approach they’ve found and find out how Will Rogers responds.

Does that mean good things or bad? As the section says, we don’t know!

I will close with these Mike Leach numbers against Washington in the Apple Cup. The Huskies did this to Leach from 2012 to 2019:

  • 31 points allowed (Wazzu win in OT)
  • 17 points allowed (Washington win)
  • 13 points allowed (Washington win)
  • 10 points allowed (Washington win)
  • 17 points allowed (Washington win)
  • 14 points allowed (Washington win)
  • 15 points allowed (Washington win)
  • 13 points allowed (Washington win)

Can Ole Miss follow the same pattern? Obviously, PLEASE LET IT BE SO, but we don’t know.