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Reviewing what we learned about Ole Miss football after Week 1

After running things in the ATL, we take a look at what we know, kinda know, and don’t know.

NCAA Football: Louisville at Mississippi Dale Zanine-USA TODAY Sports

Given it’s Friday, this space could’ve been devoted to the intricacies of the Austin Peay/Ole Miss game because I know the degenerates out there need to eat, but I find talking about what we learned from our trip to Atlanta to be far more interesting. And I’m not judging anyone out there looking for that action (very much judging), however, I am urging a consideration of restraint.

I’ve done this exercise before, most notably in the spring, and our purpose here today is to go over what we know, kinda know, and don’t know following Ole Miss’ 43-24 win over Louisville on Monday night.

Ideally, as the season goes on, the Don’t Know section will shrink and eventually be composed of statements like we don’t know if Matt Corral can throw it over the mountains with his left arm, but I’m not doubting him!

What We Know

Matt Corral: Still Able to Spin It a Little Bit

In huge non-breaking news, you may recall that our Southern California son was quite good on Monday night. Even without his top two receivers from last year, Corral dropped 381 passing yards on Louisville, with a staggering 11.9 yards per attempt on 32 passes (for comparison, Malik Cunningham averaged 5.2 yards per attempt on 37 passes).

While he was not the passing downs* god (8 of 14 for 105 yards) we saw so many times in 2020, he did add 55 yards via his legs, with one touchdown, which allowed him to be second in the country in total offense after Week 1. On top of that, he made throws like this:

[sitting up in the chair, leaning into the screen]

[letting out an Extremely Your Confused Dad “Do what now?”]

*As a refresher, passing downs are considered any play of 2nd and 8 or more or 3rd/4th and 5 or more. Basically, a play where the defense knows you’re more likely to pass than throw. All other plays are standard downs.

For the curious minds out there, Corral’s standard down numbers:

  • 14 of 18 for 276 yards and 1 TD
  • 77.8 percent success rate*
  • An absurd explosive pass play percentage** of 44.4 percent

So when the Louisville defense wasn’t able to lean in to the idea a pass was coming, Corral torched them, which we love to see.

*Any play that gains 50 percent of the necessary yardage on 1st down, 70 percent on 2nd down, and 100 percent on 3rd/4th downs.

**Explosive pass plays are any play that gains 20 yards or more. This percentage is the number of his passes that went for 20 yards or more. Almost half of them!

A New Role

With questions lingering, as questions tend to do, about where Ole Miss would make up for the loss of Elijah Moore’s production, Lane Kiffin and Jeff Lebby answered those with a healthy dose of Dontario Drummond, who finished with 9 receptions for 177 yards and 1 TD.

As I’ve mentioned before, in addition to winning the country free Bloomin’ Onions, the Outback Bowl served as a preview for how Kiffin and Lebby would find ways to get production out of guys who hadn’t been called on to produce at a high level. In scenic Tampa, Drummond caught 6 passes for 101 yards and a touchdown. So basically, he picked up right where he left off.

In his last two games, Drummond caught more passes than he did in the entirety of the 2019 season and was just 11 yards shy of his 2019 yardage total. My point, ladies and gentlemen of the jury, is that this is just more evidence that Matt Luke and Rich Rodriguez belong in prison. The prosecution rests.

A New Look

After dabbling in the 3-2-6 at the end of last season when the NCAA finally got around to declaring Otis Reece eligible to play, the Ole Miss defense unveiled a dedicated form of it against Louisville and stuck with it. Clearly, there are talent upgrades that helped, but it was a very different look from what we saw most of last season.

In fact, in his post-game press conference, Kiffin admitted they changed schemes and referenced it’s similar to what Arkansas and Iowa State run.

Side note: if you are a junkie of the junkiest order, you will enjoy these two reads (here and here) about Iowa State’s defense, which they turned to out of necessity. Sounds familiar!

It remains to be seen if Ole Miss can hold up in this scheme for a full season, but when I hear Kiffin talk like that, it makes me believe they’re committed to it from here on out, unless wheels and such start to fall off.

What We Kinda Know

The Running Back Pecking Order

As of Week 1, the order of appearance credits start with Jerrion Ealy, followed by Henry Parrish Jr., and are closed out with Snoop Conner. Where things start to get foggy is when the game progresses, as we don’t know if there’s a plan to use certain backs at certain points or it’s the ol’ HE’S GOT THE HOT HAND, BOB philosophy.

Of the three on Monday, Conner was the most explosive carrying the ball, which, as we all watched 5,493 times, included him opting to not put his foot in the ground.

Obviously, things can change but consider me INTRIGUED as to how this plays out all year. Whatever situations develop, all three will get their chances.

Did We Just Become Two-Gap Best Friends?

With the new 3-2-6 look, one of the things that stands out is the nose tackle, in most instances Quentin Bivens, lines up directly over the center, which is known as a 0 technique. In this technique, the nose tackle is responsible for both A gaps, which are between the center and the two guards.

To make this easier to follow and incorporate 100 percent more imagery, here’s an example of where the gaps are and what they’re called.

When you hear coaches complaining about run fits or gap responsibilities, as coaches love to complain about run fits and gap responsibilities, what they’re talking about is someone not filling the gap to which they are assigned. For instance, on the play above, here are the likely gap responsibilities for the Ole Miss defenders:

In short, each player has to make sure the runner doesn’t get through his gap or else YARDAGE AHOY and cue said coaches complaining about run fits and gaps.

You’ll notice above that Bivens (may not be him in this image), lined up over the center, has two gaps to control or so it seems. I mean, we are in the Kinda Know category.

It’s also entirely possible there are additional gap assignments, but I don’t sit in the meeting rooms. Regardless, it’s a pretty significant departure from Ole Miss’ base four defensive lineman look from most of last year.

Who knows how the new scheme will prevail, but I am encouraged that the coaching staff was willing to make a dramatic change in Year 2 instead of dying the slow stubborn death.

What We Don’t Know

In rapid-fire format:

  • Can Ole Miss live in the 3-2-6 all season? I guess that’s sort of a two-front question in that 1) will it be effective enough to not abandon it and 2) would injuries at nose tackle or safety derail the whole operation?
  • How will the offensive and defensive lines hold up when the level of competition increases exponentially? Our Southern California son cannot dazzle the crowds and TV audiences when he is buried under bodies. Nor can the defense look fast and aggressive if they’re being steamrolled.
  • Will Ole Miss play in a game where FIVE players are ejected for targeting?
  • After going two for two on extra point attempts at the College Football Hall of Fame on Monday afternoon, will I be called to serve if we miss another extra point?
  • Waiting for the MARTA train after the game, who was the person who asked to take a picture with me while I was wearing my Bag Man shirt? Related, public transportation when everyone is ELATED (ELATED) to be on it is the best.