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What we know, kinda know, and don’t know: To the Plains we go edition

Ole Miss a place where they have one three (3) times ever (EVER).

NCAA Football: Georgia at Auburn John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports

After an exercise in getting over the finish line by any means necessary against Arkansas, Ole Miss spent the following off-week doing normal Ole Miss things like having their leading receiver injure his hand.

Mercifully, Jordan Watkins is expected to play (according to Lane Kiffin), but we don’t know how limited his snaps or role on the field may be. Nothing would surprise me, including, but not limited to, Watkins attempting to play with the 2005 Patrick Willis club on his hand and catching like four passes.

Outside of that nasty bit of bad luck, what a glorious weekend last weekend was. The sun was out, temperatures were DIALED IN, and Ole Miss football was not there to inject your Saturday with one-possession-game stress and anxiety.

Plagiarizing myself:

Not only do we return to action this weekend, but it’s the first weekend of four straight that will determine if the season is of the 9- or 10-win variety. So, you know, very fun to just ease back into things.

What We Know

An elite NOT GREAT, BOB record at Auburn

The Tigers lead the overall series 35-11 (well, 35-12 if you don’t count the mall cops saying Ole Miss had to vacate the 2012 win), which is a pretty gruesome number. But if you look at games played in Auburn, it’s even more grisly, as Ole Miss’ record is 3-17, with the first win coming in 1999.

Granted, Ole Miss and Auburn didn’t start playing every year until 1990, and they only played 14 times before that, but 1999 is young enough that it can’t rent a car. Now, let’s take a short break to turn into dust as we realize 1999 is old enough to drink.

On a positive note, Ole Miss is 3-9 at Auburn since 1999. That 33.3 winning percentage is 33.3 points higher than the 0.00 percentage prior to 1999.

Of note, I am fine with an Ole Miss road game against Auburn being moved to one of the places they’ve played before:

  • Birmingham (Ole Miss with a 1-0 record)
  • Montgomery (1-1)
  • Mobile (1-0)
  • Memphis (2-0)

Stuffing our faces with Central BBQ and staying undefeated against Auburn. I, for one, am in.

Defense enjoys not facing top five offenses

A week after LSU shredded them (BUT HOW’D IT GO IN THE FOURTH QUARTER, TIGERS), the defense did the following to an Arkansas offense that was struggling:

  • 4.2 yards/play (286 total yards)
  • 1.2 yards/carry on 29 attempts (36 yards)
  • 1.8 yards/carry when you remove sack yardage
  • 6.4 yards/passing attempt

They were once again not good on 3rd/4th down (an ongoing problem!), as Arkansas went 8 for 17, but they had one of the stops of the game in the third quarter, with Ole Miss holding a 17-10 lead.

After the Ole Miss offense turned it over on downs on their own 38, the defense dug in, and Arkansas staggered through an 11-play, 31-yard drive that ended with field goal. Instead of a tie game going into the fourth (and Ole Miss potentially down a touchdown early in the fourth), the Rebels had a four-point cushion.

The whole performance wasn’t perfect, but they did what they needed to do against against a bad offense.

Receiver at Ole Miss: Most dangerous job in the world

I mentioned Jordan Watkins above, but Tre Harris suffered a groin injury against Arkansas. He too is expected to play on Saturday, but Ole Miss receivers are approaching Spinal Tap drummer territory.

Your official list of Ole Miss pass-catchers who have been injured or missed time in 2023:

  • Tre Harris
  • Jordan Watkins
  • Caden Prieskorn
  • Zakhari Franklin
  • Hudson Wolfe

If the college football scriptwriters could give us one, maybe two games, where they’re all healthy and ready to go, that would be much appreciated.

What We Kinda Know

Ole Miss offense vs. Auburn defense

We once again turn to the fine work of Parker Fleming (follow him on Twitter and become smarter), who gives a clearer picture of what we might see.

While there’s a lot going on there, let’s focus on one area where Ole Miss has a noticeable advantage. Look in the green box here (Ole Miss offense on the left, Auburn defense on the right):

The first two categories essentially measure explosiveness. If you’re the offense, it attemtps to show how explosive you are and, if you’re the defense, how many explosive plays you give up.

As you can see, Ole Miss is explosive through the pass and run. Auburn is below average against the pass and just above average against the run.

The next two categories involve Eckel, which is Fleming’s way of measuring quality possessions and creating scoring opportunities. Ole Miss is excellent at having quality possessions, but they do tail off when it comes to scoring on those possessions.

However, the Auburn defense is not good at preventing quality possessions or keeping those possessions from turning into points. But I should note that Auburn’s numbers are primarily the result of playing bad to average offenses, with LSU (elite) and Georgia (above average) being the exceptions.

The TL;DR is if Ole Miss doesn’t turn it over, they should have plenty of opportunities to score.

Ole Miss defense vs. Auburn offense

Looking at those same numbers on the other side of the ball:

Ole Miss is above average in not giving up explosive plays, but they do give up quality possessions (Eckel Rate) and are around average in allowing points on those possessions.

Obviously, Auburn’s passing offense is not explosive, and they’re around average in quality possessions and scoring on those possessions. Basically, if the Ole Miss keeps doing what they’re doing, the Auburn offense will keep looking like it looks, which is to say, not good!

But the really interesting numbers are just below those, as we could witness a clash of titans on 3rd/4th downs.

First, and this may seem nuts, the Ole Miss defense is really good on 1st/2nd downs. As you can see, the Auburn offense stinks on those downs.

That, of course, brings us to 3rd/4th downs where GOODNESS. Ole Miss’ defense is bad, and Auburn’s offense is worse.

I have no idea what will happen, but if there were ever a time in the season for the Ole Miss defense to put a dent in its bad 3rd/4th down numbers, Saturday is that time.

What We Don’t Know

Receiving corps’ health and performance?

We covered Jordan Watkins and Tre Harris above, which are both unknowns, but will we finally see a healthy Zakhari Franklin? I bring this up because, in Ole Miss’ last trip to Auburn, the top two and most healthy receivers were Jahcour Pearson and Casey Kelly.

Both fine players in their roles, but the guys deeper in the depth chart cannot be the top two options because it will not go well.

Does the Auburn offense have anything else?

Given they are six games into the season and are rotating quarterbacks based on the situation in an effort to scratch out success, they may have reached Bill Parcells “you are who you are” territory. In his media time earlier this week, Hugh Freeze was asked about the offense.

On potential changes to the offense:

“No real earthshaking personnel changes to try and get the best plan our kids understand, and they can execute with who we have. It’s one thing to walk out there and say, ‘Hey, I know we can throw a post route.’ Well, great. Who is going to run that route? Is he able to correctly? Is he able to beat that corner matchup there? Who is going to throw it? Are we good enough to do that and win the game? If we are, we need to figure out who those people are. We are having a lot of discussions that go into certain plays that truthfully, I haven’t had a lot of.”

Not exactly brimming with hope.

Okay, well, what about using more tempo.

“I probably wouldn’t be sitting here today if it wasn’t for tempo offense and RPO world. So, it’s a very uncomfortable feeling for me to not be in that world. But yes, we are very, very thin. You get in that kind of game with that game last week, LSU, this week with Ole Miss, they want that kind of game. I mean they thrive in that kind of game. It’s not working right now the other way either so it’s a struggle. If you say, “Hey man, let’s just go fast” with them and see if we can do that then you are asking Marcus Harris to play 80 snaps a game. Depth issues are… not just Marcus but other defensive linemen, and I’m not sure that’s smart either, so we are still kind of debating on what’s the right approach.”

If you missed the point, that’s the head coach, who now calls plays,* saying they’re not good at tempo or standard pace offense going into the seventh game of the season.

But again, we don’t know if Freeze will be able to reinvent the Auburn offense into another version of itself for at least one week.

*I had him taking over calling plays at some point in his third year when things started going downhill.