As we head in to Turn Four of the February of summer, we find ourselves making last-minute mental and physical adjustments to prepare for the exhausting journey that is an Ole Miss football season. The first steps of the 2021 journey will be taken on Monday night in the U FANCY Mercedes-Benz Stadium in Atlanta, where we will feast on reheated Chick-fil-A and hopefully grind Louisville into a fine paste, perhaps even a zesty sauce the chicken barons can add to the menu.
Before we get this machine in gear, we need to check the gauges and such to get a status update so we are not perplexed when that Shoot-Out Life embraces us again. Also, if we smash Louisville, we need a brake check in case we are tempted to start a sentence with “I’m not saying it’s going to happen” and then end said sentence with “playoff.”
In the latest edition of this series, we take a look at 10 things to remember about where Ole Miss stands prior to Year 2 of Lane Kiffin. As always, these may be as simple as signing five-stars is good or as deep as the Lane Train is neither a lane nor a train, talk amongst yourselves.
(1) Year 2 of the rebuild
As previously mentioned in this space, the schedule for a rebuild that is the result of a former head coach enjoying the companionship of professional ladies more than recruiting defensive players doesn’t exist. However, a typical rebuild schedule looks something like this:
- Year 1: Lose big
- Year 2: Lose small
- Year 3: Win small
- Year 4: Win big
Ole Miss in Year 1 of Lane Kiffin skipped the traditional first year of a rebuild, going 5-5 and winning the whole dang country free Bloomin’ Onions in the Outback Bowl. Of those five losses, Ole Miss lost three by double digits but was in all three games well into the fourth quarter.
There were no demoralizing “THEY’VE GOT THEIR WORK CUT OUT FOR THEM, BOB” losses, which is unusual this early a rebuild. However, four losses featured the always exciting “if we just made a few more plays, we win”, which has been a staple of Ole Miss football since the Bronze Age.
The point being here is that Ole Miss, despite being in Year 2, is somewhere between Years 2 and 3 on the official rebuild schedule. Whether they can remain ahead of schedule will be answered over the next few months, but I am willing to wager monies Year 2 will have huge Year 3 of a rebuild energy.
(2) Ain’t no forfeits
Unlike the elected leaders of the state of Mississippi, Lane Kiffin and staff showed what happens when you actually lead and hold people accountable, as the team and staff are 100 percent vaccinated. Obviously, the most important parts of this are the public health benefits and effort to be good citizens who care for their neighbors.
The football-related benefit is Ole Miss won’t lose any games due to a COVID-related forfeit, which is on the table this season. However, that doesn’t free Ole Miss from still losing games in horrific fashion because [gestures at Ole Miss’ ability to find increasingly painful and inventive ways to lose games].
(3a) Returning offensive production
We covered this in the spring, but remembering things is hard, so I’ll just copy and paste from March.
With the departures of Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah, the offense must replace:
- 47.5 percent of its receptions
- 49.8 percent of its receiving yards
- 46.7 percent of its receiving touchdowns
On top of that, former starting right tackle Royce Newman is living the NFL life and will not be replaced by an NFL-ready player such as himself.
Minus the absence of Newman, Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby did have a trial run at solving this problem in the Outback Bowl at the end of last season. Without Moore and Yeboah, they found a way to pile up 493 yards of offense and score 26 points, which, if not for red zone inefficiency (Phil Longo, HELLO) and a kicking game that can best be described as NOPE, would’ve been well into the 30s.
The sample size is small, but they inspire confidence that the problem is solvable.
(3b) Returning defensive production
Continuing the theme of plagiarizing myself, here’s a recap of what returns on defense:
- 93.5* percent of tackles made
- 84.4 percent of sacks
- 83.3* percent of quarterback hurries
- 100* percent of interceptions
- 95* percent of pass breakups
*Includes Jacquez Jones’ and Jon Haynes’ 2020 stats, who both transferred, so the actual numbers will be a little lower. Apologies for not doing the new math, but my stance right now is we ain’t here to play math.
Throw in transfers Jake Springer and Chance Campbell and a host of freshmen/JUCO guys who are going to play, things could get better? Maybe? REALLY NEED A WIN HERE.
Based on Kiffin’s comments in the last week or two, he seems moderately pleased with the first-team defense’s performance, which makes me believe we will see improvement to some degree. We’ll probably find out what degree that is in the second half against Louisville, so prepare accordingly.
As for the realm beyond the starters, how about we just move along and not talk about our feelings that are locked away in a safe at the bottom of the ocean. The only healthy way to live!
(5) DJ in the stadium? DJ IN THE STADIUM
In their quest to be innovative in the field of crippling self-inflicted penalties, Ole Miss will be the first team to give up a penalty on a crucial third and long due to, and I quote the referee saying this for the first time, “Dropping the EDM beat prior to the snap and all of the lasers and shit too. 15-yard penalty. Automatic first down.”
(6) Lane Kiffin’s favorite topic during press conferences.
“Lane, can you talk about the backup quarterback situation. How those guys, Kinkead Dent and Luke Altmyer, are doing. Just talk about that a little bit.”
ENGAGE TALKING ABOUT THE BACKUP QB MAD LIBS:
Both guys have done some <<blank>> things. But both guys need to improve on <<blank>>. Competition has been really <<blank>>, which I am <<blank>> to see.
(7) Update your mental game program
New numbers ahoy.
For those of you trying to keep up with all the number changes recently:— Nick Suss (@nicksuss) August 25, 2021
Jake Springer: 1 (was 39)
Otis Reese: 3 (was 26)
Sam Williams: 7 (was 13)
LeDarrius Cox: 52 (was 7, now an OL)
Jalen Cunningham: 60 (was 50, now a DL)
Jordan Rhodes: 79 (just joined team) https://t.co/uIlIni3rUW
(8) Team Never Kick watch
Also mentioned in the spring was the number 37, which was our combined total punts (27) and field goal attempts (10). Zero is unrealistic (OR IS IT), but I move for a motion to demand that we get under 37, perhaps dabbling in the 20-ish range.
(9) Score from far
(10) FORESHADOWING ISN’T REAL FORESHADOWING ISN’T REAL FORESHADO-
Breaking news: a fire at Vaught-Hemingway started at around 3:45 today. pic.twitter.com/aQkHV0yrq2— The Daily Mississippian (@thedm_news) August 26, 2021
Unless this is foreshadowing the Ole Miss offense torching every defense in its path, then it’s TOTALLY REAL.