If you’ve been an Ole Miss fan long enough, you have, to put it mildly, seen some stuff, man. Agony is part of the lifetime subscription, but even knowing that doesn’t take the steam out of the inevitable wailing and gnashing of teeth.
The main difference in Saturday’s loss to Alabama versus [pick your pain from a vast catalog of brutal losses] was there wasn’t a moment that set in motion an unraveling or meltdown.
For example, in the LSU game a few weeks ago, Ole Miss was 9 yards from taking a 26-24 lead (extra point pending) with 4 minutes to play in the third quarter. Following a blown pass protection leading to a hit on the quarterback as he was throwing, LSU intercepted the ball in the end zone, and the spiraling out of control commenced.
Against Alabama, Ole Miss was never in danger of losing control. They had four opportunities* in the fourth quarter to tie or take the lead, and they didn’t make enough plays to do it.
Not making those plays wasn’t due to colossal errors, bizarre decisions, or the sports gods deciding to inject their twisted sense of humor. Instead, after showing all afternoon that they could make plays to match Alabama, Ole Miss wasn’t good enough when they needed to be late in the game.
They did enough to win but didn’t. That, my friends, is how you dial up the agony.
What We Know
Pass protection: Crunching the numbers
One of the biggest signs Lane Kiffin was worried about Alabama’s pass rush and said pass rush’s effect on Ole Miss can be found in Jaxson Dart’s stat line. Here, we have evidence of two things:
- Kiffin generally called pass plays to get the ball out of Dart’s hands as quickly as possible
- Dart reacted quickly to the pass rush and got the ball out before he was sacked
In the first half, Dart was 8-15 for 113 yards (7.5 yards/attempt). In the second half, he was 10-16 for 99 yards with 1 touchdown (6.2 yards/attempt). Neither of those yards per attempt were very good, but the decline in the second half was of note.
Take away the 37-yard pass to Malik Heath, and Dart was 9-15 for 62 yards (4.1 yards/attempt) in the final 30 minutes. Ole Miss gets credit for generating an explosive play, but outside of that explosive play, they were putting up Will Rogers-like yards per attempt numbers.
For the historical ledgers, in addition to the pass to Heath, Dart’s completed second-half passes by yards gained:
- 11, 5, 3 (touchdown), 1, 19, 9, 2, 9, and 3
As friend of the program Bill Connelly number crunched (among other things), 31.3 percent of Ole Miss’ pass attempts were at or behind the line of scrimmage. That for the people who don’t do math is almost 1 in 3 passes.
LSU 13, ARKANSAS 10— Bill Connelly (@ESPN_BillC) November 14, 2022
BAMA 30, OLE MISS 24
Two weird, glitchy and incredibly even games, both won by the favorites. (It'd have been a lot more fun with two upsets, and we weren't that far away.) pic.twitter.com/doZiDkbIMK
When possible, Ole Miss did attempt to stretch the field, checking in with 22 percent of their pass attempts traveling 20 or more air yards, with only one completion. If they had hit a few of those, maybe Alabama dials back some of the aggressiveness. You can note that Alabama did not have a single pass attempt break that barrier.
It’s also of note that Ole Miss faced a lower pressure rate (25 percent) than Alabama (33.3 percent), meaning 1 out of 4 pass attempts faced pressure (1 out of 3 for Alabama). However, Bryce Young is a witch and pressure only encourages him to do something ridiculous.
The main takeaways here are Kiffin knew he had pass protection issues and tried to find a way around it, while Dart’s internal clock for getting rid of the ball was set at .5 seconds (roughly).
Pass protection: The 4th quarter visuals
Let’s start with Ole Miss’ first of four opportunities to tie or take the lead in the fourth quarter. Ole Miss had a 3rd and 11 (not ideal) on the first play of the quarter. Alabama showed four linemen and a linebacker lurking in the area.
You can also see the two deep safeties on the left side of the screen splitting the field, meaning Alabama played some form of Cover 2, trying not to give up anything deep. All four of Ole Miss’ receivers ran routes that take them past the first down line, which meant Dart needed more time for them to get there.
Did he get that time? He did not!
Here’s what the pocket situation looked like when he reached his drop point after getting the snap:
Dart had no choice put to climb the pocket, but as you can see above, Alabama spied him with a defensive lineman around the line of scrimmage. Throw in the other interior lineman who got off his block, and this was what Dart saw as he either tried to scramble or buy more time.
Later in the quarter, Ole Miss baked in a couple of shorter routes paired with deeper ones as a checkdown option for Dart.
The interior receivers run stick routes, while the outside receivers went vertical. Dart faked the handoff, and his first read was the outside receiver at the top of the screen.
Dart didn’t feel comfortable with that read, so the next read was Jonathan Mingo, who is open, on the stick route to that same side. But by the time Dart switched to Mingo, things had changed.
Immediate pressure before he got to his second read, and the defensive back closed down the space, forcing Dart to throw it away.
A few plays later, Ole Miss has a first down in Alabama territory, and how about we soak in a massive WHAT IF.
If you recall, Ole Miss ran (multiple times) some form of a Bash Toss to Quinshon Judkins, which is the running play where Dart turns and essentially pitches the ball to his running back, like on an old school toss sweep play. The line blocks down, and they pull the center or the guard to wipe out the unblocked defensive end.
Here, Ole Miss faked the toss and tried to take a shot.
The receivers on the bottom of the screen run a scissors concept, with Mingo (in the slot) running a corner route and Dayton Wade (outside) running a post, which is the deep shot. It was set up pretty well until the Alabama edge rusher did this:
He beat the pulling guard, forcing Dart to step up in the pocket, where guys are in his face. You can see he looked in the direction of Mingo/Wade, but he was out of time.
He dumped it off to Judkins for a minimal gain. HOWEVER, had the offensive line been able to give him a remotely comfortable pocket, let’s take a peak down the field.
U G H.
And if you’re wondering what third and fourth downs looked like for Dart on Ole Miss’ second-to-last possession, it was not good:
Finally, a quick look at the last series of the game. First, after getting down to the Alabama 14 via the legs of Judkins, Ole Miss didn’t give him another carry. After the game, Kiffin said the reason for that was that he was tired.
How tired was he? Well, watch him on second down, as he motioned across the formation and Dart faked the give to him:
Ole Miss opted to try to run Dart on that play, but he was dropped by a defensive lineman who threw his blocker aside.
On third down, which was the play Ole Miss needed some yards to avoid the dreaded fourth and a mile, I’m not sure what happened. Judkins motioned out of the backfield, clearing out the middle linebacker, leaving the middle of the field wide open and making you think a quarterback draw is on the table.
However, it was not blocked like a draw, and receivers ran their routes.
Dart had Jordan Watkins on a stick route, which would’ve been at least a five-yard gain and avoided a long fourth down. Not to mention, the pocket holds up enough to allow him to make that throw.
For whatever reason (maybe the lack of a middle linebacker), Dart reacted as if it was a draw and tried to run.
[insert all sad emojis]
This isn’t a rocket surgery revelation, but in a tight game that can go in either team’s favor, finishing drives increases your chance of winning. How did Ole Miss and Alabama compare in this category?
- Ole Miss: 6 red zone possessions for 24 points (4 points/possession)
- Alabama: 4 red zone possession for 24 points (6 points/possession)
I, for one, hate it.
As Connelly noted above, Ole Miss actually ran 30 (THIRTY) plays in the red zone to Alabama’s 15 and didn’t outscore them. That is a great way to come up short in a one possession game.
And for the complainers who wanted to kick the field goal on Ole Miss’ first drive, field goals are failures in games with a witch as the opposing quarterback. Getting to overtime doesn’t increase your win probability.
More importantly, Kiffin made it clear back in 2020 that he’s going to go for a lot of fourth downs, based on whether it increases win probability enough that it’s worth going for it. You can’t praise the decision when it works and then question it when it doesn’t. Either you embrace it or always reject it.
What We Kinda Know
Defense regaining its footing?
I realize they gave up 30 points, but 7 of those points came via a drive that started at the Ole Miss 23 after a fumble. And when you dive into the stats, there are some promising numbers:
- 4.6 yards/play allowed
- 317 total yards allowed
- 3 sacks
- 33 percent pressure rate on pass attempts
- 6.3 yards/passing attempt allowed
- 6 of 15 3rd/4th down conversions allowed
- 6 explosive plays allowed (8.7 percent; Ole Miss was at 12.3 percent)
Certainly not a lights out performance, but those are numbers you like to see against a quarterback who can light anyone up.
We’ll find out on Saturday if this was a step to recovering some of their early season form or more of a sign of a slumping Alabama offense.
What We Don’t Know
Response after losing any shot at Atlanta
After the LSU loss, Ole Miss went to College Station and won. While not a stress-free win, but what Ole Miss win is, it showed the team and coaching staff had some mental toughness and the ability to reset the mechanism.
However, they still had Atlanta to play for at that point. Obviously, that’s gone now, so how do they respond after a tough loss, when only a good bowl game is still available to them, and they’re playing in Ole Miss Football Graveyard Number Two* in Fayetteville**?
*Graveyard Number One is in Tuscaloosa
**2-12 all-time in Fayetteville
Kiffin versus Arkansas’ defense
After the 2020 season, Kiffin made it a point to evaluate ways to hammer Arkansas’ version of the 3-2-6, which frustrated him exponentially in that season’s loss in Fayetteville. The result in 2021 was 52 points, 8.73 yards/play, and 611 total yards.
Will that carry over against same scheme and defensive coordinator in Barry Odom? Or will we witness the usual Fayetteville slowly-draining-the-will-to-live-out-of-everyone experience?
As a reminder, the last time Ole Miss won in Fayetteville was way back in 2008 when Houston Dale Nutt was CALLIN’ THAT PLAY, BROTHER.
Ole Miss defense versus Kendal Briles
Last year, Arkansas scored 51 points, ran 93 plays, and had 8 zillion yards of offense (give or take). However, after that game, the Ole Miss defense rounded into a solid group that eventually carried the team through the month of November.
So do they have an Arkansas problem or was that just a one-off experience that made everyone’s life miserable for a Saturday afternoon last October?