Well, well, well, if it isn’t the consequences of the march of time.
The 2022 version of Ole Miss football is inside of 48 hours from starting, anxiety and three months of poor life choices are stretching and getting loose, and the losers and haters, of which there are many, are pre-mad about something Lane Kiffin will eventually do.
When we last gathered for this exercise in learning, educating guessing, and outright guessing, we were sifting through scraps of information and trying to decode that which we didn’t understand.
Now, with a completed fall camp, we know a lot more than we did in the spring. However, there’s still plenty of partly cloudy, murky, and in a cave with no lights details out there.
With that, let’s begin our 2022 journey.
What We Know
Quarterback still battling in the squared circle (officially)
With the drop of the latest depth chart album and Lane Kiffin’s answers to the media, no starting quarterback has been named for Saturday’s game against Troy. If you recall the weeks and days leading up to the 2020 season, this move from Kiffin isn’t new.
In the battle between Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee, Kiffin didn’t name a starter until “hours” before Ole Miss played Florida to open the season. Although this is the What We Know section, I think it’s safe to assume we’ll get a similar official declaration on Saturday morning.
Now, again, “officially” is the key word here. Lane Kiffin is not locked in a Hard Knocks moment where he’s alone in his office with his feet on his desk and staring at names on a wall as he tries to make a decision, while background music swells to generate emotions.
He knows who his starter is and dare I say everyone else who has been paying attention has a pretty good guess (section FORESHADOWING).
Find someone who looks at you like the depth chart looks at the word “OR”
If you’re scoring at home, and who among us is not, there are 21 instances of “OR” throughout the depth chart for the offense, defense, and special teams. Obviously, that is driven by the special degree of college football coaches’ paranoia, and the idea that if you make opponents spend even 11 seconds looking at a player they know nothing about, it’s 11 seconds they’re not spending doing something useful and THAT’S A WIN, BABY.
However, there is a tasty nugget in the avalanche of ORs, as it’s clear Ole Miss’ depth is better than it’s been since 2014 or 2015, most notably on defense. They’re going to play a lot of people, or at least initially have the option to play more people, which could pay dividends later in the season as it helps reduce fatigue.
Because I am a responsible citizen, I am always concerned about the offensive line overall but especially depth. That’s the one position where depth alone may be an issue*, but we should all be excited about the options on options across the board.
*I would argue linebacker is a depth AND talent issue. So slightly more bad! I would very much love to be proven wrong about the talent part.
Related, if you want to explore the depth chart space, I recommend Whiskey Wednesday’s breakdown from earlier this week.
Running backs AHOY
My research department, which consists of me being motivated to do research, is unable to confirm (see: motivation), but this is perhaps the first time in the modern era when Ole Miss lost its top 3 running backs and replaced them with either equal talent or pretty close to it.
Zach Evans is poised to have a great year as the top option, and Ulysses Bentley IV and true freshman Quinshon Judkins have the #sources buzzing. I don’t know if it’s because he’s a true freshman and expectations are naturally lower, but Judkins has those who know very excited about what he’ll become. Whether that happens this year or down the line remains to be seen.
What We Kinda Know
Yet another offensive line shuffle?
If you’ve listened to the chatter or simply watched the media interviews Ole Miss puts out, all signs point to redshirt freshman Jayden Williams starting at left tackle or seeing significant playing time there. In that scenario, Jeremy James moves back to right tackle and would be backed up by transfer Mason Brooks.
Your official Jayden Williams scouting report from former offensive coordinator Jeff Lebby:
And how he got to be an offensive tackle is wild. Injuries on his high school team forced his coaches into a classic “what the hell, let’s try this, and now we are geniuses” situation.
It’s outrageous to have a starting left tackle seemingly parachute in, but we love to see it. If we could see depth develop in the interior spots, life would be less ON THE EDGE.
Unofficial quarterback decision
As mentioned earlier, Kiffin knows who his starter is. And if you’ve listened to the word on the street, Jaxson Dart will likely start on Saturday. Well, unless Kiffin engages GOD LEVEL TROLL MODE and starts Kinkead Dent, in which case, a tip of the top hat to him.
Whether it’s Dart or Luke Altmyer starting, it’s entirely possible the starter to begin the season is not the starter later in the season. As previously discussed, Dart has the higher ceiling due to his physical abilities, but if he can’t be consistent or trusted, then Altmyer will get his shot.
Catch the dang ball
The top three receivers are expected to be, in some order, Jonathan Mingo, Malik Heath, and Jaylon Robinson. Who knows if that comes to pass, but as we know from last season, Ole Miss needs more than three receivers.
Names heard throughout fall camp were JJ Henry, who appears to have made a leap, Jordan Watkins, and Dayton Wade. A six-man rotation is better than not a six-man rotation, but an eight-man rotation would be ideal.
Will that happen? Maybe?
Get the dang quarterback
Last season was the first full season Ole Miss committed to the 3-2-6 (they dabbled in it at the end of the 2020 season). While the defense helped carry the team through the last month of the season, it was a defense that was selective in its aggression.
Listening to player interviews about the Chris Partridge version of the 3-2-6, you get the sense that it’s going to be more aggressive and not locked into the 3-2-6 look at all times. While the 3-2-6 was great for Ole Miss at the end of last year, the ability to adapt and play right-handed or left-handed provides options, which are always good.
What We Don’t Know
For the past two seasons, Ole Miss fans were #blessed with Matt Corral and what he brought to the table. Now, we venture into the unknown.
As I said earlier, Dart likely starts, but his sample size as a starter at USC is small and what will he look like against not the Pac-12? I don’t know!
Alternately, if Altmyer starts or takes over, what happens when it’s clear he can’t push the ball down the field effectively? What is the response when defenses start to squeeze the Ole Miss offense?
As you’ve heard by now, Ole Miss’ punter situation has reached “some dude.” Fortunately, “some dude” previously punted at Nevada in 2020, but that was 17 years ago (roughly).
I know Ole Miss is very much Team Never Punt, but it will happen. Maybe it’s fine and things will be great and we are wasting our time here. But there could be a scenario in which Kinkead Dent is third-team All-SEC punter.
As always, linebackers
Shout-out to Chance Campbell and Mark Robinson for making a 53-man roster in the NFL. Ole Miss will not be replacing them with people who, as of right now, will make a 53-man roster in the NFL.
While uncomfortable, that’s the hard truth. I hope that changes dramatically over the next three months, but what happens at this position is a MASSIVE We Don’t Know.