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Our unconditional love of Ole Miss football means its time for an Honesty Check

As we begin the summer and count down the days to the 2022 season, it’s time for the ‘Vice Principals’ treatment.

NCAA Football: Sugar Bowl-Mississippi at Baylor John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

It’s been over a month since the Grove Bowl gave us our first glimpse of the 2022 version of Ole Miss football, but that doesn’t mean we can’t milk more content out of the U FANCY scrimmage. An easy way to do this is to steal from HBO’s Vice Principals, a finer television program you will not find.

If you’re unfamiliar with Vice Principals, first off, how dare you. Second, who do you think you are?

Anyway, the general outline is Danny McBride and Walton Goggins play high school co-vice principals who desperately want to be named principal after the current principal of their high school retires in the first episode (SPOILER). Rivalry, hilarity, and sociopathic behavior ensue. Sort of like Egg Bowl Twitter!

As the sociopathic behavior increases exponentially, Goggins’ character has more and more relationship issues with his wife. In an effort to save their marriage, they see a therapist who encourages them to communicate and practice unconditional honesty.

That leads to the Honesty Check, where Goggins’ lunatic character embraces unconditional honesty in his special way, letting his wife and mother-in-law (who lives with them) know he has some thoughts.

(language warning)

While hopefully not as dark and deranged, that is what I want to do here today. Our very own Honesty Check of Ole Miss football as we head into the summer.

Brief Aside Honesty Check: The bottom of the biscuits in that scene were burned as hell and who is out here putting biscuits in a cereal bowl.

Honesty Check: Luke Altmyer is fine, but Ole Miss needs Jaxson Dart to figure it out

No team quarterbacked by Luke Altmyer is going to be penniless and living under an overpass between Houston Nutt’s last two Ole Miss teams and every Ed Orgeron Ole Miss team. But viewed more closely, no team quarterbacked by Luke Altmyer is going to be lighting cigars with $100 bills (the only way to do it!).

Almost everything we’ve seen with him is fine. His arm strength, mobility, and size, all meet the requirements to have a winning season. With him taking snaps, the offense will generally stay between the navigational beacons, avoid disaster, and produce a solid ROI.

All of that is good and part of the qualities you want in a starting quarterback, but there’s a lack of dynamic ability that separates fine from great. Watching him play, it looks like it takes a lot of effort to produce his results. He doesn’t possess whatever the thing is that makes playing quarterback look natural and easy, as if it’s built within.

I’m talking about playing in such a way that if someone woke up a quarterback with that gift like 15 minutes before a game and said, hey, man, we have a game to play, they’d have no problem pulling it off (entirely possible SWAG Kelly actually did this).

And that’s where Dart comes in. He possesses dynamic capabilities in the combination of his arm, mobility, size, and the thing that makes it look like he was put on Earth to play quarterback. But, and that’s a BUT in like 200-point font, he hasn’t put those together in a way that’s going to get him on the field.

In interviews during and after the Grove Bowl, you could hear the frustration in Kiffin’s voice with Dart and his performance thus far.

He knows what he has in Dart, but he also knows he can’t play him if he can’t trust him to make the right decision. And right now, he can’t trust him.

It should be noted that Dart was playing behind the second team offensive line (more on that in a minute!), which was, ahem, NOT GREAT, BOB. He started pressing instead of recognizing that checkdowns should’ve been his best friend. However, if you kept tabs on #SOURCES throughout the spring, this was a recurring problem.

Right now, Altmyer is the guy heading into fall camp. And with him comes possibility of a fine season that will be totally fine. But if Dart puts it together and learns to appreciate calculated risks and sometimes the defense wins, the ceiling for the 2022 season and beyond rises.

Honesty Check: Ole Miss needs at least eight offensive linemen; unclear if they have eight

As mentioned in the discussion above, the second team offensive line did not have a super great day, most notably in pass protection. Almost from the beginning, Dart was scrambling to avoid at least one, often two, defenders who were either lightly touched or given the matador treatment.

Maybe they had a bad day or weren’t comfortable in their roles, but whatever the reason, it was not the stuff that inspires confidence. As I’ve said before, ideally, they have 10 guys who they trust and can play, but eight is doable. Anything less than eight is going to rely on the wheel of limited injuries fortune to spin exactly how they need it to go.

If I’ve learned anything in my years of fandom, whenever Ole Miss needs to catch some breaks, it always works out!

Honesty Check: I, for one, will preach the gospel of the transfer portal

Who knows what will happen once the NCAA Overlord Harrumph Committee attempts to install some degree of portal regulation, but for now, the portal has been a lifeline for Ole Miss in terms of escaping the traditional multi-year rebuild.

In the olden days of walking five miles to school in the snow, Ole Miss would’ve had to rely solely on past recruiting classes, which would be filed with high school players and a smattering of junior college guys. The only relief from average to poor classes would’ve been recruiting good to great classes of high school players, who were untested at the college level.

Even if they were talented, they needed development time and experience to become contributors, which would make a quick change within the program difficult. Hence the generally accepted rebuild blueprint of:

  • Year 1 - Lose big
  • Year 2 - Lose small
  • Year 3 - Win small
  • Year 4 - Win big

Ole Miss under Lane Kiffin followed no such plan. He and his staff made it a priority to seek accept transfers with Division I experience and production, which helped* them skip those steps.

*Obviously, the biggest contributor was him knowing Matt Corral needed to be his starting quarterback, and then coaching him and the offense with something called “competence,” which was in short supply for some years.

In 2020, it was Kenny Yeboah, a Temple transfer, who gave Ole Miss a dynamic* tight end that made everyone’s life on offense easier. In 2021, it was a host of defensive transfers who transformed a bad defense into one carried Ole Miss the last month of the season. In fact, that defense had four players with 90 or more tackles on the season, and three of the four were transfers.

*Need this again in 2022 pls. Not having this inflicted damage on Ole Miss in 2021. A Lane Kiffin offense with the threat of a tight end is lethal.

How sustainable is this going forward? Who knows! Could a fleet of new guys create tensions and resentment within a program, leading to a season blowing up? Always possible!

At least for now, Kiffin and staff have acknowledged the areas of need, found talent to make those areas less needy, and developed a culture that can handle new faces that are there to take over positions. We’ll see how this plays out, but Ole Miss leaving multiple scholarships open for transfers as part of future recruiting classes is the path for now.

Honesty Check: The receiver situaish is a little dicey

As previously documented, the current situation is Jonathan Mingo, who has not played a full season in three years, and a lot of unknown. How unknown you ask? Let’s run through what’s coming back. Your leading returning receivers from 2021:

  • Jonathan Mingo - 22 receptions, 346 yards, 3 TDs
  • Dannis Jackson - 12, 244, 2
  • Casey Kelly - 17, 150, 1
  • Jadon Jackson - 5, 42, 0
  • Jonathan Hess - 2, 7, 0
  • Kentrel Bullock - 1, 2, 0

100% YIKES.

If you recall the spring game, and who among us can’t recall a scrimmage from April, transfer tight end Michael Trigg was the only standout. Everyone else who played fell in the mixed reviews category, which, like the offensive line segment above, is not an inspirer of confidence.

However, Ole Miss does have options to throw at the situation to see if multiple guys can stick. Transfers Jalen Knox (assuming he recovers from an injury), Jordan Watkins, Malik Heath, and Jaylon Robinson have produced at the college level before.

Then there are those options that arrived via the high school route. JJ Henry, Bralon Brown, and Brandon Buckhaulter all arrived with a lot of promise, but it’s unclear what Ole Miss has in them. None of them being able to get on the field in the 2021 season when receivers were needed was not ideal, but the adjustment from high school to college isn’t an easy one for most players.

Regardless, Ole Miss needs the majority of those seven guys to find a way to contribute.

Honesty Check: There are more questions on offense than defense for the first time since the middle stage of the Brother Hugh era

As also previously documented, the Ole Miss defense lost 40 percent of its tackles from 2021 and 57.7 percent of sacks from last season. That is, ahem, significant, but the defense returns almost the entire line and secondary, plus transfers in those positions who produced at other schools.

Obviously, there is the Linebacker Question™, but in an unusual turn of events, I feel pretty confident the coaches have that mostly figured out. Of course, depth there is a notable issue, and it’s entirely possible they end up playing multiple 215-pound safeties as linebackers out of necessity if injuries occur. Not great, but those are options other than walk-ons and freshmen/sophomore with no experience.

On offense, hooooooo boy. Let’s see here:

  • One of the best quarterbacks in school history is gone
  • Top four 2021 rushers are gone
  • Top three 2021 receivers are gone
  • 40 percent of the 2021 starting offensive line is gone

While absolutely scary as hell, the recurring theme here is there are proven options to replace that production. A great deal of unknown remains, but Ole Miss isn’t solely relying on players without any college receipts.

Honesty Check: If things get dire and I’m called to play linebacker, I will not serve

First, and most importantly, it’s probably against the rules since the eligibility clock for me ran out in [redacted because it’s too painful to type]. Second, and we’ll call it reason 1B, five minutes of pre-practice stretching alone would put me in the hospital. Seeing as that scenario doesn’t sound great, I will refuse to play.

Does that make me a bad Rebel? Probably. But let’s call it even after we tally up the miles being an Ole Miss fan has put on the life odometer.