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

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We survey the landscape leading up to the last four games.

Ole Miss v Auburn Photo by Michael Chang/Getty Images

If you’re an OG Red Cup subscriber, you may remember a post from the early-ish 2010s when another SEC team site asked the staff at the time to illustrate what Ole Miss football is like, especially when playing teams in the upper tier of the conference.

The response involved a picture of a young Palestinian male, standing in the path of an oncoming Israeli tank and winding up to throw a rock that would bounce harmlessly off the armor. The explanation was something to the effect of yes, we’re outmanned and outgunned and often in retreat, but you better believe we’re going to be right back up in your kitchen as soon as you look the other way.

Saturday night against Auburn reminded me of that illustration. The top three wide receivers, starting tight end, and starting right guard were all out, and a version of Matt Corral that could generously be described as “awash in pain killers” was directing the offense.

Throw in the defense gave up 28 points in the first half, and Ole Miss had every reason to pack it in, yet they kept picking up rocks. Thanks to the defense righting the ship in the second half, the offense had multiple chances to put points on the board but couldn’t make plays when they had the opportunities.

As we all know from experiencing seven lifetimes in one lifetime of watching Ole Miss football, it’s probably not the last time that happens. However, and this belongs in the section below, we got a look at how mentally tough they are, which everyone can appreciate.

What We Know

The offense is in desperate need of healing potions and elixirs

On Wednesday during his appearance on the SEC teleconference, Lane Kiffin said that 9 of the 11 original offensive starters did not practice. He went on to say he thought that, of those nine players, two or three would play on Saturday.

Now, when we crunch those numbers in the proprietary Lane Kiffin Injury Comments Decoder™, that number will certainly be higher, as when Kiffin, who doesn’t say anything about injuries, suddenly becomes chatty about them, all signs point to him dabbling in gamesmanship.

However, anyone who watched the Auburn game knows how badly injuries on offense are affecting Ole Miss. Right now, the two most reliable receivers are walk-ons Jahcour Pearson and Casey Kelly (Baby SWAG), which is not ideal.

Both of those guys maximized their abilities against Auburn and deserve praise, but you’re not going to have sustained offensive success leaning on them and others further down the depth chart. Auburn showed how true that was when they were able to dedicate more defenders to stopping the run and took their chances with Ole Miss receivers winning one-on-one battles.

Ole Miss had success at times, but when the field shrank, winning those one-on-ones was a lot harder. And without favorable numbers in the run game, there were not a lot of options for the Ole Miss offense.

Until they get healthy or other players emerge, which seems unlikely eight games into the season, this will be a recurring problem for the offense.

Occasionally, yours truly sees the future

Look, my predictive powers are consistently terrible, so when they’re right, you’re gonna hear about it. Here’s what I wrote after the Tennessee game:

I brought it up last week, but it feels like we are slowly being ground down and it’s a matter of time before depth/fatigue catches up with us. I hope I’m wrong, but as the title of the section says, WE DON’T KNOW.

And after the LSU game:

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.

The answer to that last question: NOT MUCH MORE.

Barring a complete meltdown, it won’t matter this weekend. But to have any chance against Texas A&M, Ole Miss needs to see some recovery.

Fourth down attempts causing some angst among Ole Miss fans

If you were hollerin’ at the game or at your TV on Saturday night, you likely remember that Ole Miss had three second-half drives that ended in the red zone after a failed fourth down attempt. Here were those scenarios:

  • Down 28-17, incomplete pass to Baby SWAG on 4th and 1 from the Auburn 20 (9:14 to play in the third quarter)
  • Down 28-20, incomplete pass to Dannis Jackson on 4th and 7 from the Auburn 13 (1:08 to play in the third quarter)
  • Down 31-20, incomplete pass to Dannis Jackson on 4th and 3 from the Auburn 18 (4:52 to play)

As you’re well aware and reminded every 3.2 minutes by television announcers, Kiffin and company make those decisions based on analytics. But what does that mean?

Essentially, they’re looking at the increase in win probability if they convert in those scenarios. If the probability increase is high enough with a successful conversion, then it’s worth the risk.

From the first day, Kiffin made it clear this is who Ole Miss will be. He doesn’t pick and choose scenarios but sticks to the numbers (although he did admit after the Alabama game that he punted once when the numbers said to go for it).

Kiffin hasn’t outright said it, but he’s inferred that you can’t say what a great decision it was to go for it when they convert and then scream how horrible the decision to go for it was when they don’t convert. Either you embrace who they are or you reject that style of play (please stop nodding your head, Matt Luke). And he’s right.

Winning is the only thing that matters. You take calculated risks and if they miss so what. You’re not winning at Ole Miss with a conservative approach. I know that may be difficult for some to hear, but it’s the hard truth. Ole Miss is not on par with the haves in the SEC. Commit that to memory.

I do think there is valid criticism in the second scenario above, down 28-20. As mentioned earlier, the receiving corps consists of guys who have limited experience and lack overall talent. It seemed like a lot to ask of them knowing Ole Miss had to throw and Auburn knew it too.

If that was with a fully healthy offense, there is no criticism. Go for it. But I don’t think the numbers account for who was on the field.

As for the last scenario, no matter if you kick or go for it, you’re maybe only getting the ball one more time. You’re inside the 20, and it may be your best chance to score a touchdown, which you must have. Plus, if you convert and then do score a touchdown, your win probability jumps up a notch or 50.

Obviously, I don’t have access to the numbers Ole Miss uses, but taking chances that would result in a higher win probability in regulation versus overtime makes sense to me.

What We Kinda Know

Luke Altmyer: Seems fine!

When Corral had to leave the Auburn game in the first quarter and everyone embraced the end of the 2021 season, Altmyer’s first two plays went about as well as myself or anyone reading this parachuting in to run the offense. Fortunately, he is a composed individual and has good coaching, which allowed him to get settled and prepared, then start the navigation of Ole Miss’ first touchdown drive.

Obviously, it’s a ridiculously small sample size, but he may be fine if called into duty again. Like, say, this weekend!

What We Don’t Know

Can the offense get healthy?

We all discuss it as if it’s a matter of time but is it? There are four weeks left, which isn’t a lot of time, particularly for non-fatigue-related injuries.

If they can’t and finish 8-4, God have mercy on some mid-level Big 12 or ACC team that a fully healthy Ole Miss team faces in late December.

Defensive fatigue

As we’ve discussed, the Ole Miss defense has racked up some high snap counts, and they aren’t that deep. If you’ve ever listened to coaches and players, once fatigue sets in roughly midway through the season (no matter how deep a team is), it doesn’t end until late January.

The defense has seemingly settled into who they are, but can they keep that up for another four weeks? For my sanity, PLS, but again, we don’t know.