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Checking under the hood at the halfway point of Ole Miss’ season

With 6 regular season games left, let’s see how the 2023 team stacks up against previous Kiffin teams.

Arkansas v Ole Miss Photo by Justin Ford/Getty Images

In solidarity with Lane Kiffin and his staff exploring the space of self-scouting during the bye week, we too shall pause our weekly routine and take a peek at where the 2023 Ole Miss team stands statistically versus the 2021 and 2022 teams.

If you recall, and how could you not, I did a similar comparison at the end of the regular season last year. However, this comparison will be somewhat flawed because it only includes the first six games of the 2023 season, which featured three non-conference games, one of which was Mercer.

The point being, the 2023 stats* should have a little more juice to them because they don’t have the full SEC schedule baked in. So if the numbers are lagging in areas compared to the previous two seasons, that is probably a red flag of note.

*I suppose I could’ve done all the math for the first six games of the 2021 and 2022 seasons, but I chose to on value my time and limit deranged behavior.

Let’s start with the offense and wrap things up with the defense.

Offensive Stats

Points Per Game
  • 2021: 35.92
  • 2022: 34.17
  • 2023: 41.67
Yards per play

This helps measure how explosive the offense is.

  • 2021: 6.5
  • 2022: 6.4
  • 2023: 7.1
Points per play

Another explosive play measurement.

  • 2021: .464
  • 2022: .447
  • 2023: .600
Passing yards per attempt
  • 2021: 8.58
  • 2022: 7.97
  • 2023: 9.77
Total touchdowns
  • 2021: 55
  • 2022: 52
  • 2023: 31 (on pace for 62)

As expected, 2023 offense is outpacing the previous versions, which is a good sign. Maybe the outpacing should be higher given the schedule, but these numbers show an offense with the potential surpass the others.

3rd/4th down efficiency

How frequently Ole Miss converted on these downs.

  • 2021: 44.1 percent
  • 2022: 48.5 percent
  • 2023: 44.6 percent

And welcome to the first red flag! This number is as high as it is because Ole Miss has been good on fourth down, while being awful (AWFUL) (A W F U L) on third down.

  • 3rd down: 30 of 78 (38.46 percent)
  • 4th down: 12 of 16 (75 percent)

Obviously, this needs to improve immediately or else the remaining SEC schedule is going to feature a lot more unpleasantness.

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
  • 2023: 63.3 percent

Also terrible! Leaving points on the field is a great way to lose games you should win. And always remember that we are on Team Field Goals Are Failures.

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
  • 2023: 86.7 percent

Given Kiffin’s belief in going for 4th downs when it is statistically advantageous, this indicates the offense is getting in gross fourth-and-goal or fourth-and-long situations inside the red zone, and he has to kick the field goal.

Because inquiring minds want to know, Ole Miss has attempted 14 field goals this year (on pace for 28), which is quite an increase. They attempted 17 in 2022 and 20 in 2021.

Sacks allowed
  • 2021: 24
  • 2022: 14
  • 2023: 12 (on pace for 24)

The good news is the offense has only given up two sacks total in the last two games, so maybe this number slows down. I would happily sign up for anything under 20.

Turnovers
  • 2021: 9 (4 INTs, 5 fumbles)
  • 2022: 16 (9 INTs, 7 fumbles)
  • 2023: 3 (2 INTs, 1 fumble; on pace for 6 total)

Sort of a wild stat that probably isn’t sustainable, but we would love to see it sustained. But speaking of unsustainable, I wrote this about fumbling last December:

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).

In the bowl game against Texas Tech after those words were written, Ole Miss fumbled twice and lost both. I bring that up because the Rebels have fumbled four times this year and only lost one. The 75 percent recovery rate is very much not sustainable.

Finally, as a friendly reminder, the 2022 offense, with new starters at quarterback, running back, and wide receiver, nearly matched the 2021 offensive production and was better on 3rd/4th down and in the red zone. Just something to keep in mind when people forget it’s Lane Kiffin’s show and the offensive coordinator takes begin flying.

Defensive Stats

Points Per Game allowed
  • 2021: 25
  • 2022: 24.17
  • 2023: 23.83
Yards per play allowed

This helps measure their ability to limit explosive plays.

  • 2021: 5.5
  • 2022: 5.3
  • 2023: 5.2
Points per play allowed

Another explosive play limit measurement.

  • 2021: .321
  • 2022: .337
  • 2023: .319
Passing yards per attempt allowed
  • 2021: 6.9
  • 2022: 6.69
  • 2023: 7.54

It’s not great, and the passing number is alarming, but as I noted last week, the advanced stats rankings of the remaining SEC offenses the defense faces are 40th, 61st, 72nd, 81st, and 109th. And for the record, Louisiana-Monroe is 92nd.

Other than Georgia (40th), who could become scary, the defense doesn’t face an offense with the firepower to light them up like LSU did.

Total touchdowns allowed
  • 2021: 38
  • 2022: 36
  • 2023: 17 (on pace for 34)
Opponent 3rd/4th down efficiency

How frequently opponents converted on these downs.

  • 2021: 40.2 percent
  • 2022: 39.1 percent
  • 2023: 43.5 percent

It’s very Ole Miss for the offense AND defense to be bad on 3rd and 4th downs. Yet another thing that has to improve against the five SEC teams left over the next month and a half.

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
  • 2023: 57.1 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
  • 2023: 85.7 percent

While opposing offense are likely coming away with points in the red zone, the Ole Miss defense is forcing more field goal attempts, which is a win because, as we know, Field Goals Are Failures™.

Sacks
  • 2021: 39
  • 2022: 33
  • 2023: 22 (on pace for 44)

This number jumped out to me because the ol’ eyeball test says the Ole Miss defense doesn’t generate much of a pass rush. Some of that has to do with Pete Golding’s reluctance to send five or more because they do not want to open the door for potential explosive plays.

But clearly, they’re getting home more often than I assumed. In fact, they have 12 sacks in the last 3 games (Alabama, LSU, and Arkansas). That puts them on pace for 32 sacks in SEC games alone, which, yes, please and thank you.

We’ll see if they can keep that up, but it is as pleasant of a surprise as I can recall.

Turnovers
  • 2021: 20 (10 INTs, 10 fumbles)
  • 2022: 17 (7 INTs, 10 fumbles)
  • 2023: 9 (5 INTs, 4 fumbles; on pace for 18 total)

Let’s say the defense gets 18 turnovers and the offense keeps theirs under 10, a plus-9 or higher turnover margin would be enjoyable, and we would love to see it and talk about it more and more.

Last year, going into the prestigious Texas Bowl, the turnover margin was plus-one. In 2021 prior to the Sugar Bowl, it was plus-11. If Ole Miss is going to flirt with a 9- or 10-win season, they need to replicate the 2021 turnover margin.