While every Ole Miss fan would’ve preferred a blistering start eliciting lamentations from the people of Troy and the haters and the losers*, a fairly boring, stress-free win beats the alternative of opening with a Houston Nutt special.
*Of which there are many
Clearly, this team is a long way from achieving #TheBestVersionOfThemselves, but there were plenty of moments involving high levels of play, as well as signs of the potential for greatness.
As Lane Kiffin noted after the game, there are many things to clean up, most notably the part where everyone seemed to switch off when it was 28-3, and the last 25 minutes were, what’s the phrase I’m looking for, oh right, NO MORE IOWA.
However, Kiffin, like all true coaching psychos, was probably secretly delighted things kinda stunk because it meant he and the coaches got to point out the pile of trash rather than having to remind them they aren’t as good as the way they played.
On that note, let’s get to it.
What We Know
The starting quarterback job does not belong to Jaxson Dart
While I think he ultimately prevails, whether due to lifting his level of play or Luke Altmyer not being able to match whatever his level is, he did not have the look of someone who was going to make Kiffin’s choice easy.
There were a few bad decisions in the first half, especially one deep ball that should’ve been intercepted, but the standout poor choice was the interception he threw in the end zone in the second half. That read and decision can’t happen.
The hyper-passive aggressive coaching move would’ve been to give him the Bill Belichick treatment of “you know the quarterbacks over there at Oxford High School don’t seem to have a problem making that read.” But not everyone responds to violence!
In Dart’s defense, it was a bit of a weird game from a passing perspective (Kiffin said the same after the game). Ole Miss dominated in the run game so it made little sense to devote time to the pass. Not to mention Troy was worried about giving up explosive plays and usually dropped seven on every play.
So most passing was an experiment in seeing if they could do it just because. We’ll learn more about Dart in the weeks to come, and while he didn’t dominate, he was fine and will have every chance to lock down the starting job.
The competition level on Saturday drops significantly, so I’m not sure how much we’ll be able to take away from Altmyer’s performance (unless it’s not great!), but Dart certainly left the door open at least for the next few weeks.
A decision on a starter isn’t necessary until the week of October 1st
Ole Miss’ next three opponents are Central Arkansas, Georgia Tech, and Tulsa, who are FCS, butt, and possible butt. More than likely, Ole Miss is not going to need a quarterback to light it up in these games.
Obviously, they can’t be terrible because [gestures at the history of Ole Miss football facing underdogs], but reaching game manager status should be enough to get the team over the line. While it’s important to improve and figure out more about what works and doesn’t in the next three games, the goal is to be 4-0. If one (or more!) of those games is vomit, but they win, then mission accomplished.
If they get to the Kentucky game at 4-0, then the real complaining can commence that night or on October 2nd.
If you recall from the last month or so of 2021, the offense, due to injuries, looked a lot like what we saw on Saturday. Fine at times, then not so fine.
But it mattered not because the defense rounded into form and helped carry the team to 10 wins. As the Clarion-Ledger’s Nick Suss noted, the form continues with a new coordinator and players.
4. #OleMiss has held six straight opponents to 21 or fewer points dating back to last year.— Nick Suss (@nicksuss) September 4, 2022
This is the longest active streak among Power 5 teams and the longest streak by any Ole Miss team since a streak of seven straight games in 2014.
Of note, with the offense, AHEM, scuffling in the second half, the defense did give up over 200 total yards, but they only allowed seven points and gave Troy no chance to make things a little suspect in the last 30 minutes.
I realize it’s Troy, but they passed the ol’ eye test of being fast, active, and knowing what they’re doing.
Home winning streak? YOU KNOW IT.
Also thanks to Suss, who has been designated as my official research liaison, Ole Miss has now won 10 straight home games, which is the longest winning streak since [please sit down before reading]:
5. #OleMiss has won 10 straight home games. This is the Rebels' longest winning streak in Oxford since an ungodly streak of 33 straight wins in Oxford spanning from Nov. 1, 1952 to Nov. 7, 1964.— Nick Suss (@nicksuss) September 4, 2022
For sadness purposes, here are the longest home winning streaks under modern era Ole Miss coaches:
- David Cutcliffe - 6 (2000-01)
- Hugh Freeze - 6 (2014-15)
- Houston Nutt - 5 (2008-09)
- Matt Luke - 3 (2017)
- Tommy Tuberville - 3 (1997)
- Ed Orgeron - 2 (2006)
What We Kinda Know
Everything will probably be fine on offense
Thanks to our own Will Gates, who is the only person around here who knows how to do math, we have advanced stats for your consumption. Ole Miss’ offensive success rate*, despite a trash second half, was 51 percent (national average was 42 percent).
*As a reminder, a play is considered successful if you gain 50 percent of necessary yardage on first down, 70 percent on second down, and 100 percent on 3rd and 4th downs.
Those rates in the first half were 56 percent (1st quarter) and 65 percent (2nd quarter), followed by said tailing off when it was 28-3 in the third quarter (38 and 40 percent in the third and fourth quarters, respectively).
The game was closer than it should’ve been because Ole Miss turned it over three times and only generated four explosive plays*, which is NOT the Score From Far™ mantra.
*Explosive pass plays are any play that gains 20 yards or more and any run play that gains 12 or more yards (some people say 15).
Other than this weekend, I think it’s safe to say passing just to pass will cease to exist, and they’ll move forward with Kiffin’s strategy of hammering opposing defenses based on what they give the offense.
Khari Coleman, the producer?
The TCU transfer, who I don’t think I’m alone in assuming that he would be a nice rotation guy, went out and challenged records.
2. Khari Coleman had five tackles for loss yesterday, which would've been enough to rank fifth on the team for all of last season.#OleMiss' 10 TFLs against Troy were the most of any SEC team in their season opener and the most in any Ole Miss opener since 2014 vs. Boise State.— Nick Suss (@nicksuss) September 4, 2022
Again, I know it’s Troy, but he was WRECKING SHIT like he’d been doing it for years. As with the quarterback spot this weekend, I don’t know how much we can take from an absurd performance on Saturday, but it would be SUPER GREAT if Ole Miss stumbled into a starter quality linebacker and not just a rotation guy.
Running backs [redacted]
Zach Evans lived up to the hype, and Quinshon Judkins validated what every #SOURCE said about his performance in fall camp. Judkins put on such a show that he took carries away from Ulysses Bentley IV, who was thought to be number two in the pecking order.
Once again, it’s Troy and who knows what happens going forward, but if the Ole Miss offensive line can get some movement on a defensive front seven, the running back crew could punish defenses.
What We Don’t Know
Wide receiver dominance
In Kiffin’s first two years at Ole Miss, Elijah Moore and Dontario Drummond dominated touches among receivers. Moore, because he was a freak, and Drummond, who was a good college player, by default due to injuries to other receivers.
Against Troy, seven different receivers caught passes, with no one catching more than four (Michael Trigg; Zach Evans also caught two passes and Judkins one). Will one receiver follow the Moore/Drummond path or will this season’s numbers lean toward DIRTY SOCIALISM and everyone shares the wealth?
Designed quarterback runs
Last season, out of necessity, Ole Miss leaned on Matt Corral’s running ability. It was probably too much at times, but it felt like they had to go into that territory due to injuries.
On Saturday, it seemed like Dart was told not to run unless absolutely necessary. Finally, on one read-option play, he kept the ball and ran for 36 yards because Troy was convinced he was never going to run.
Will Kiffin incorporate quarterback runs/draws with even half of what we saw last season or is the initial plan to avoid that if possible? As the heading suggests, we don’t know!