In the last three games, all of them in the SEC, Ole Miss has been about that one-possession game life and lived to tell the tale.
Against LSU and Arkansas, both opponents had the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to win or tie the game. Both times the Ole Miss defense got stops, with the LSU stop being SOMEWHAT more dramatic and anxiety-riddled.
Last Saturday night in Auburn, Ole Miss had a two-score lead with 2:30 to play, and Auburn managed to turn it into a one-score* game with less than a minute left. Fortunately, Ole Miss recovered the ensuing onside kick and ended the game before Auburn Jesus could take effect.
*The win probability math late in games says you should go for two when you’re down 14 and score to cut it to 8. Friends, as an Ole Miss -6.5 ticket holder, I was TERRIFIED Auburn would go for two and get the backdoor cover. Thankfully, Hugh Freeze ain’t here to play math.
I mention this one-score talk because Ole Miss needs to stop being in these games. First and foremost for the sake of everyone’s physical and mental health, but being in one-score games opens the door for variance to do its thing and leave you with a loss in a game you should’ve won.
Ole Miss is 3-0 in one-score games this year, but they were 3-2 last year, with the two losses being Alabama and Mississippi State, both games they should’ve won if they were better in the red zone. I don’t foresee a one-score game this weekend, but it would be useful to not be involved in one the following week against Texas A&M.
What We Know
Vaya con Dios, Vanderbilt series
Saturday’s game will be the last time Ole Miss and Vanderbilt play for the foreseeable future. The 98th matchup will be the final game in a 53-year streak of having the Commodores on the SEC schedule.
While writing a history of the rivalry back in June, I made this observation:
The series break in 2024 will mark the first time Ole Miss has not played Vanderbilt since 1969. So if you were born in 1970 or after, one day a year for your entire life has involved dealing with the Ole Miss-Vandy game.
GOOD LORD. WHY DID YOU PHRASE IT LIKE THAT.
Yet another Ole Miss-related hit to all of our life expectancies.
If Lane Kiffin thinks your offense stinks, he’ll take a service academy-lite offensive approach
Kiffin said after the game Ole Miss was more conservative than usual, and a box score of 56 runs to 17* passes confirms that statement. Outside of Jarquez Hunter’s 57-yard touchdown run in the first half, Auburn’s offense did not pose any real threat to the Ole Miss defense, which Kiffin considered when calling the game.
*Technically, it was 18 with holder Charlie Pollock’s attempt to salvage a botched field goal attempt.
While Ole Miss’ running game was not explosive overall (4.5 yards/carry minus sack yardage), it was efficient enough, and the offense in general hit a few explosive plays that led to scores.
I mention this because we may see more of the same this weekend, as Vanderbilt’s offense is ranked 18 spots lower than Auburn’s offense, according to Parker Fleming’s advanced metrics. And there’s the tiny fact that Vanderbilt has one of the worst run defenses in the country.
Lane Kiffin/Charlie Weis Jr. dialing up some ball plays
The play is designed to look like a Smash concept where an outside receiver runs a hitch, and the slot receiver runs a corner route over the top of him. But in a Snag & Go, the outside receiver breaks out of the hitch and into open space.
In this instance, Ole Miss also runs a bubble option to Ulysses Bentley IV, who goes in motion pre-snap. As you can see, the ol’ eye candy attracts the Auburn defenders.
As a result, there is just touch of space in the middle of the field, as the Auburn linebacker follows Bentley, and the safety works to take away Caden Prieskorn’s corner route.
That’s the space Franklin breaks into for the score. While Ole Miss made it look easy, this concept does take a beat or two, which means the offensive line has to hold up. CHECK.
That is an elite definition of a clean pocket.
One other thing to note on this play is Dayton Wade, who is actually staring at the sideline when Dart gets the snap.
Probably the best example of how well this worked. Ole Miss only needed four of their five eligible receivers to do anything here.
Let’s look at one more play, which is Jaxson Dart’s 29-yard touchdown run on 4th and 1 at the Auburn 29. Ole Miss runs a play basically called Toss QB G/H Counter.
This calls for right guard Jeremy James and tight end Caden Prieskorn to pull left while everyone else blocks down to the right. Dayton Wade motions across the formation for eye candy, and Dart follows James and Prieskorn after faking a pitch to Quinshon Judkins.
As we see, Dart gets the outside defender to bite on the fake toss, and Judkins throws up his hands to sell the fake.
When Dart starts running downhill, there are only three Auburn defenders who can make a play on him. As you can tell, there are also three Ole Miss blockers to account for those defenders.
James and Prieskorn get their guys to Dart’s left, and defensive lineman JJ Pegues wipes out one of the linebackers to his right to create a running lane we love to see more and more.
Great examples of well-designed plays and perfect execution by the players.
What We Kinda Know
Sometimes, Gray is kinda right
This is what I wrote last week about the possibility of Jordan Watkins playing:
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.
While there was no club, he did have a large pad on the back of his injured hand. And though he did not catch any passes, he did run a few routes, but more importantly, with 1.5 hands, he caught two punts when Dayton Wade left to get an IV (or was pulled after fumbling one of his returns).
It was an important contribution from a limited player, but it was also a little unnerving that Ole Miss’ third option at punt returner is the first option with 1.5 hands.
What We Don’t Know
Can Ole Miss hit the gas pedal and end this thing in the third quarter or sooner?
Last year, Ole Miss trailed Vanderbilt 20-17 at half before going on a 35-8 run in the second half to win 52-28. I, for one, would love to see a third and fourth quarter with a four-possession lead and lot of rotation on both sides of the ball.
Ole Miss should consider that and make our lives easier.
Can the defense dominate another struggling offense?
Prior to Auburn’s last drive of the game in garbage time that became not garbage time, the Tigers had 208 yards of offense. In fact, their last two drives, while trailing by 14, generated 115 yards of offense, meaning that with 8 minutes to go in the game, Auburn had 160 yards of offense.
The biggest stat may have been 3rd/4th down conversions, an area in which Ole Miss’ defense (and offense!) has been terrible. The Rebel defense held Auburn to 6 of 17 (35.2 percent), making it almost impossible for the Tigers to extend drives.
For the record, the Ole Miss offense went 4 of 15 (26.7 percent) on 3rd/4th down, which checks all the boxes for AGONY.