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What we know, kinda know, and don’t know: Regular season recap

We realize it’s PORTAL SZN BABY, but there are numbers to crunch and discuss.

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Mississippi Matt Bush-USA TODAY Sports

Every November, former Ole Miss coach Houston Nutt loved to repeat a phrase he heard from another coach or a deranged Arkansas fan during a call-in show. He would remind everyone that “they remember November.”

While it’s unclear who “they” is, perhaps a deep state force he assumed was out to get him, the point is how you finish a season holds more weight than the entirety of a season. Finishing strong is obviously better than not, but the November judgment can lead to overlooking bigger picture accomplishments, trends, and warning signs.

Of note, Nutt’s last two Novembers at Ole Miss saw a 1-7 record and a lot of Not Great, Bob football. In fact, let’s look at Ole Miss coaching records in November going back to the United States Senator who believes Sharia law has taken over American cities.

  • Tommy Tuberville: 6-8
  • David Cutcliffe*: 6-13
  • Ed Orgeron: 3-6
  • Houston Nutt: 8-8
  • Hugh Freeze*: 9-10
  • Matt Luke: 4-8
  • Lane Kiffin: 6-4

*Cutcliffe also had a November saying that my brain has mercifully decided to erase from storage, which is sparing us from me doing hollerin’. Also, for the Freeze fanboys, he was 2-2 in his last November, meaning he was 7-8 after the 2015 season, and that’s with getting to play Troy and Presbyterian in 2013 and 2014, respectively.

Coming into November 2022, Kiffin was 6-1 (all games were conference games) in the month before the 0-3 finish that was not a real good time. Two of those losses were in one-score games, which, as Kiffin has said, getting into those games invites a lot of variance that isn’t going to work out in your favor over time.

In 2021, Ole Miss was 2-0 in one-score games (Arkansas and Tennessee). This season, they were 2-2 (Kentucky/Texas A&M wins, Alabama/Mississippi State losses), as living on the edge caught up with them.

The point of this being the line between a 10-2 regular season and an 8-4 season is pretty thin. If you score touchdowns instead of having to kick one billion field goals*, you’re not 8-4.

*A reminder for everyone: Field Goals Are Failures™, especially when you play competent teams. If you keep choosing or having to kick them, you are inviting your own doom.

Despite a finish in 2022 that SUCKED (SUCKED), including the drama surrounding Kiffin and YellaWood shenanigans, Ole Miss finished where most of us had them prior to the season. The way in which they got there was not enjoyable, but anyone with a non-lunatic brain would’ve agreed in August that 8-4 or 9-3 was about right, given what this team had to replace.

However, as we will see momentarily, the stats for the 2021 team and this season’s team were remarkably similar. But as noted above, the 2021 team did enough to avoid more one-score games.

What We Know

Let’s talk offensive stats

First, I do not care if Charlie Weis Jr. is back for the 2023 season as offensive coordinator. If he is fine, if not, it’s fine. Lane Kiffin runs the play-calling show, whether he’s taking input from Weis or overruling whatever he offers. Weis has no autonomy.

Kiffin doesn’t have a call sheet in his hands or cover his mouth before every play while talking into his headset for fun. It’s his show, and he wants an assistant in helping him as he runs the show.

If you want a reasons why Jeff Lebby left for Oklahoma (among several!), it’s because he didn’t want that arrangement. It’s also one of the reasons why, if Weis moves on, Ole Miss won’t get a “name” guy because coming to Ole Miss means serving as Kiffin’s right-hand man. That arrangement is what Kiffin wants and until he changes his mind or realizes he needs to change his mind, that’s the way it will be.

So the heat Weis Jr. has taken at times this year, and not Kiffin, is laughable. Everyone should try to remember that titles don’t necessarily mean what they say.

HOWEVER, let’s take the time to compare last year’s offensive numbers versus this year’s. As a warning, this is going to upset the #NARRATIVE.

Note: These stats (and the defensive ones below) do not include the Baylor game from last year, as I took the time to remove those numbers. So it’s regular season versus regular season. No need to thank me, I already know I am a great American who also doesn’t value his time.

Points Per Game
  • 2021: 35.92
  • 2022: 34.17
Yards per play

This helps measure how explosive the offense is.

  • 2021: 6.5
  • 2022: 6.4
Points per play

Another explosive play measurement.

  • 2021: .464
  • 2022: .447
Passing yards per attempt
  • 2021: 8.58
  • 2022: 7.97
Total touchdowns
  • 2021: 55
  • 2022: 52

In these first few categories, the 2021 offense holds a slight edge, with no significant* drop-off in 2022. The edge makes sense given the offense was run by a 3rd round NFL draft pick and had two NFL running backs and two NFL receivers.

In fact, losing that level of production and talent, and then nearly matching those numbers with replacements is, as they say, INTRIGUING moving forward.

*The passing yards per attempt decline shouldn’t be dismissed, but it didn’t go from Passing Downs God Matt Corral to Will Rogers Stick Route God.

3rd/4th down efficiency

How frequently Ole Miss converted on these downs.

  • 2021: 44.1 percent
  • 2022: 48.5 percent
Red zone touchdown percentage

How frequently the offense scored a touchdown once they got inside the 20-yard line.

  • 2021: 61.2 percent
  • 2022: 64.4 percent
Red zone scoring percentage

How frequently the offense scored any points once they got inside the 20-yard line.

  • 2021: 77.6 percent
  • 2022: 79.7 percent

Well, well, well. Ole Miss, without the services of message board god Jeff Lebby, slightly improved in 3rd/4th down efficiency, red zone touchdown percentage, and red zone scoring percentage. But please, continue the Weis Jr. inferiority #taeks.

Granted, it wasn’t a huge improvement, but the #NARRATIVE about last year compared to this year is wrong to quite wrong, as narratives tend to be.

Now, they weren’t great in the red zone in either year, which is something that, regardless of any November finish, needs to be a priority in improving. For example, this year, if they weren’t DROWN ME IN A SHALLOW POOL OF WATER in the red zone against Alabama and Mississippi State, they win both games by double digits.

And once again, let me point out this slight improvement or maintaining the level was done via an offensive overhaul.

Sacks allowed
  • 2021: 24
  • 2022: 14
  • 2021: 9 (4 INTs, 5 fumbles)
  • 2022: 16 (9 INTs, 7 fumbles)

The sacks difference makes sense because 2021 Ole Miss threw the ball almost 100 more times* than they did in 2022. I will say that after watching the last four games of this season, the 14 sacks number does not seem real.

*In doing the research for this, I was reminded Baylor had 10 (TEN) sacks in the Sugar Bowl. I am currently tracking down #sources to find out if this was bad.

It should also be noted that Ole Miss fumbled 22 times in 2022 (this seems insane, and I do not recall that level of fumble), and recovering 15 of 22 fumbles is a wildly unsustainable stat. Fumble recovery is luck and recovering 68 percent of them over time is not going to happen. In 2021, they fumbled 14 times and only recovered 5 (35.7 percent).

Let’s talk defensive stats

As stated previously in this space, Ole Miss will run the 3-2-6 until Lane Kiffin decides they’re not running the 3-2-6. I repeat, it’s not Chris Partridge’s choice to run this system. It was a style of play Kiffin committed to prior 2021 because he did not want to watch the same defensive bullshit of 2020, which was essentially a 4-2-5 look.

For the most part, the 3-2-6 has done what it was designed to do - limit explosive plays and make opposing offenses put together drives without a mistake. Have there been issues? You bet! Can it be grind your teeth into dust to watch at times? Indeed!

As an aside, nothing makes me want to stick my face in a fan (the type with blades, not a person) more than hearing wailing for four down linemen. Beefiness doesn’t mean better. There are still run gap responsibilities no matter who is on the field, and that is the issue.

But while we’re here and for fun, name 8 defensive linemen who can be a part of a four-down rotation. The answer is 5, maybe 6, and please only consider those with any degree of meaningful production on a line where the door has been wide open for potential contributors.

On the whole though, the 2022 defense had two really bad games, with almost nothing good to take away from the result: LSU and Arkansas. Every other game, they did enough to win, given what the offense is capable of.

Like the offensive stats above, most categories are going to be very close, save for a couple.

Points Per Game allowed
  • 2021: 25
  • 2022: 24.17
Yards per play allowed

This helps measure their ability to limit explosive plays.

  • 2021: 5.5
  • 2022: 5.3
Points per play allowed

Another explosive play limit measurement.

  • 2021: .321
  • 2022: .337
Passing yards per attempt allowed
  • 2021: 6.9
  • 2022: 6.69

An overload of NICE there.

Total touchdowns allowed
  • 2021: 38
  • 2022: 36

Pretty close across the board. But if you remember last year, the defense played really well from about the middle of October through the end of year. This year’s group played really well early thanks to the schedule, and then later featured a lot more bumps and falling off cliffs and things of that nature.

Opponent 3rd/4th down efficiency

How frequently opponents converted on these downs.

  • 2021: 40.2 percent
  • 2022: 39.1 percent
Opponent red zone touchdown percentage

How frequently opposing offenses scored a touchdown once they got inside the 20-yard line.

  • 2021: 60.8 percent
  • 2022: 68.2 percent
Opponent red zone scoring percentage

How frequently opposing offenses scored any points once they got inside the 20-yard line.

  • 2021: 80.4 percent
  • 2022: 90.9 percent

In review, the 2022 defense held their own in getting off the field, but hoooooooo boy, those red zone declines are projectile vomit. I don’t have an answer other than the 2021 version featured an elite edge player in Sam Williams and two linebackers who made 53-man NFL rosters (Chance Campbell and Mark Robinson), while the 2022 version did not.

Living with red zone struggles on offense and defense in the same year is a special blend of THANKS I HATE IT.

  • 2021: 39
  • 2022: 33
  • 2021: 20 (10 INTs, 10 fumbles)
  • 2022: 17 (7 INTs, 10 fumbles)

In the sacks category, we see the aforementioned loss of Williams, Campbell, and Robinson. Williams had 12.5, and Campbell and Robinson combined for 9 (6 and 3, respectively). That gap between 2021 and 2022 is closer than I thought, but the 2022 defense really struggled to generate a pass rush, even when they did bring pressure.

Shout-out to the degenerate out there who cashed the “Ole Miss exactly 10 fumble recoveries in consecutive seasons” ticket. Enjoy never working again.

Texas Bowl AHOY

Ole Miss is set to play Texas Tech in Houston some time after Christmas and before New Year’s (not looking up when!). I bring this up because the last time Ole Miss played in Houston, they played Texas Tech in Year 2 of Year 1 of the Matt Luke era.

This made me think about a photoshop I did of cowboy-hat-wearing Matt Luke’s head (after the win) on the end of former linebacker Momo Sanogo’s club wrap on his broken hand. Why I made that, I have no idea. Unfortunately, my search to find it came up empty, but I did come across these other Matt Luke-related things I made:

A finer use of time I cannot recall.

What We Kinda Know

Coaching staff shuffling

Offensive line coach Jake Thornton has already departed for Auburn to help Hugh Freeze search his name on Twitter, and there are likely more changes to come. Both of Kiffin’s previous seasons saw multiple coaches move on after the season because they were told to, got a better offer (always popular), or didn’t want to keep working with Kiffin.

It’s still unclear who could be moving on, but based on Freeze calling everyone at Ole Miss, Kiffin should have an offer to become Aubun’s offensive coordinator any day now.

What We Don’t Know

Texas Bowl enthusiasm

A mid-week game where I am assuming the team has to spend Christmas and practice during that time in Houston. FEEL THE ENERGY.

The probability of being motivated and winning by two scores is the exact same as just showing up and seeing if they can wing it (who among us can judge) before losing by two scores.