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Reviewing what we’ve learned about Ole Miss football through one month

As Alabama awaits, we take a look at what we know, kinda know, and don’t know.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: SEP 18 Tulane at Ole Miss Photo by Chris McDill/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

When you sign the unwritten contract to become an Ole Miss fan, no one is brave enough to tell you that you’ve made, at the very least, an interesting life choice. You only learn this after putting enough miles on the emotional odometer to have lived seven lifetimes in a single lifetime.

While on this Mad Max highway, you also come to find out that a multitude of rare birds exist within the Ole Miss football ecosystem. One such bird is goes by the scientific name of Undefeated September.

Ole Miss just completed an undefeated September for the first time since 2015, after doing it previously in 2014. Prior to those two seasons, the last undefeated September for Ole Miss football came to pass in the Year of Our Lord Nineteen Hundred and Eighty Four. 1984!

Even in undefeated glory, Ole Miss still managed to tie Arkansas to finish 3-0-1. Before that, the last all-wins September came in 1972 when the Rebels ran the gauntlet of Memphis, South Carolina, and Southern Miss.

That means this edition of what we know, kinda know, and don’t know is the first of its kind. Unless Ole Miss fans of yore had this idea and logged on to their typewriters and such to produce a newsletter that they then mailed, which seems like an exhausting exercise.

Based on my assumption no one associated with good ol’ boy Ole Miss era was that motivated, I congratulate you on reading this rare bird.

What We Know

Matt Corral: Still a Passing Downs God

If you recall the last edition of this effort, our SoCal son’s passing down* numbers were pretty blah against Louisville. Instead of trashing them on passing downs, he did so on standard downs.

Against Tulane, he showed that Passing Downs God Matt Corral is alive and well. Thanks to friend of the program and sloppy steaks connoisseur Will Gates crunching the numbers, we can see how absurd those numbers were.

Corral finished 7 of 8 for 119 yards with two touchdowns and averaged 14.9 yards/attempt. That also translated into a 75 percent success rate**, which is an advisable football strategy.

And Ole Miss is likely going to need more of the same against Alabama this weekend. The good news is Corral has already shown he can find the Passing Downs God gear against Alabama.

From something I wrote after last year’s game:

This week on passing downs, Corral was 8 of 11 for 174 yards and two touchdowns. And, for fun, let’s throw in 15.8 yards per attempt, which is video game shenanigans. Oh, and for even more fun, he hit a 73 percent success rate on those downs.

It helped that he had Elijah Moore, who he won’t have on Saturday, but this is not rare territory for him.

*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.

**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.

The Big Three

The questions coming into the season about who would replace Elijah Moore and Kenny Yeboah’s production have answers after three games. Dontario Drummond, Jonathan Mingo, and Braylon Sanders have combined to make the production loss less noticeable.

Through the first three games of last season (granted, an all-SEC schedule), Moore and Yeboah caught 46 passes for 817 yards and 5 touchdowns. Ole Miss’ leading three receivers through three games in 2021 have combined for 43 receptions, 762 yards, and 9 touchdowns.

Now, the questions about who’s behind them are very real, and that is what we in the biz call a taste of foreshadowing for further down the page.

Matt Corral: Manipulator

If you’ve spent any time watching Corral or WHEN I TURN ON THE TAPE, BOB, it’s easy to see he has a L I V E arm. He can make every throw, including the NFL-required 15-yard out to the far side of the field where the ball is in the air for 30-40 yards. Side note, if a quarterback can’t make that throw, he’s not playing in the NFL.

In addition to his arm, Corral has improved his ability to manipulate defenses with his eyes. What I mean by that is he, by way of looking at a defender or in a general direction, can either hold a defensive player in place (giving his receivers an advantage) or have the defender commit too early to a receiver or running back (tipping their hand and giving him the advantage).

Against Tulane, his 50-yard touchdown pass to Jonathan Mingo provided an excellent example of this. After cutting Ole Miss’ lead to 26-14, Tulane tried to steal a possession with a surprise onside kick.

Ole Miss recovered, and Lane Kiffin/Jeff Lebby dialed up the home run play right away.

As you see, the Green Wave are in a two-high safety look, meaning each one of those guys is responsible for a deep half of the field.

Also of note, the cornerback lined up man to man with Mingo at the bottom of the screen is playing outside leverage, which means he’s going to force him inside where he should (SHOULD) have safety help.

Ole Miss motions Jahcour Pearson across the formation, then back behind Corral and the running back.

As soon as he gets the snap, Corral stares down Pearson, indicating he’s looking for a quick pass on the bubble with Donatrio Drummond PERHAPS as a lead blocker. Notice the linebacker being sucked up because he thinks Pearson is getting the ball, and the safety who is responsible for Mingo’s side of the field holds his ground, despite Mingo appearing to be going vertical.

Corral pump-fakes to Pearson, which officially baits the safety, who is now moving towards the line of scrimmage. Mingo is engaging the high RPMs, and the cornerback is drifting back because he still think he has safety help inside (it’s possible this is some sort of Cover 3 man under, where the two safeties and the cornerback divide the deep field into thirds, and everyone else plays man coverage).

At this exact moment, the safety has desperately tried to change directions because now Corral has turned his attention to Mingo, who is going to roast the cornerback with no help, but it’s too late for the safety. All Corral has to do is put the ball on the money.

The throw is perfect and almost effortless for a 50-yarder, but Corral’s manipulation of the safety is what created the space he needed to drop in the touchdown pass.

What We Kinda Know

No Tackle-to-the-Ground Scrimmage During the Weather Delay

According to SOURCES, Kiffin did not hold a 45-minute scrimmage during the near-two-hour weather delay prior to the Tulane game. This was a departure from the decision-making of a certain former head coach who is now involved in a Title IX lawsuit that will ultimately be the reason he is fired for cause.

Also, the team didn’t look like complete exhausted garbage and get physically dominated by an inferior team.

Defense Threatening to Ascend to Mediocrity?

The simple eye test tells us they’re playing faster and not giving up explosive plays in bunches. Granted, the competition isn’t what it’s going to be for the rest of the year, but they’re doing what they should do to teams they’re better than.

Of note, zero points allowed in the second half against Tulane, which included a healthy amount of garbage time.

What We Don’t Know

Offensive Matchups Against Better Competition

As you may have heard, Alabama has multiple good players (it’s true!), meaning the individual offensive matchups Ole Miss won against the first three opponents’ defenses aren’t going to be won as easily or as often.

Last year against Alabama, Elijah Moore was a terror, even when he didn’t have the ball. He attracted so much attention because Alabama couldn’t match up with him and tried to commit multiple players to him to take him away. The attention on him opened opportunities for others, like Kenny Yeboah and the running game.

This year, Ole Miss doesn’t have an NFL talent who can do that. It’s going to be up to multiple players winning individual matchups without the benefit of Alabama’s defense having their attention focused elsewhere. Can they do it? As the title of this section says, we don’t know!

Wide Receivers After the Big Three

As promised, the highly demanded other wide receivers discussion! After Drummond, Mingo, and Sanders, the only listed receivers with receptions are as follows:

  • Jahcour Pearson (3)
  • John Rhys Plumlee (2)
  • End of list

Tight ends Chase Rogers (4), Jonathan Hess (2), and Damarcus Thomas (1) are on the board, as are running backs Jerrion Ealy (6), Henry Parrish (6), and Snoop Conner (2).

It’s entirely possible Kiffin and Lebby have been saving some slot shenanigans with Pearson and Plumlee, but seeing no one else on the board, with two blowouts, it’s a depth red flag. Even if they make it through the year injury free (PLS), I have concerns about the big three wearing down in November.

Obviously, a depth chart revelation isn’t going to happen this week, but can it be something that develops over the next month? Once again, all together now, WE. DON’T. KNOW.