If you’re going to be proven wrong, one of the best ways for it to happen is a dramatic six-point win over a rival that reignites optimism about your season and brings delicious amounts of wailing and gnashing of teeth to their season.
One week after a deflating performance in Tuscaloosa, Ole Miss showed they were not the team that lost to Alabama by two touchdowns, but a team with enough firepower and a dash of defense to make a run through an SEC schedule lacking its usual bite. It remains to be seen if they can, at the very least, continue to be that team or see their powers grow stronger.
They’re almost fully healthy across all skill positions on offense, and the offensive line showed they are capable of elevating their play after bottoming out. Obviously, Ole Miss can’t have defensive showings like the LSU game again, but the defense did find ways to get stops late in a game where they were getting zero stops.
While last Saturday was a significant step forward in the 2023 season (and potentially Lane Kiffin’s tenure in Oxford), we shall see whether Ole Miss can build on the LSU win when they take on Arkansas in what should be a totally normal, nothing to see here, and this is fine game.
What We Know
Apologies to the offensive line
After spending the first four weeks of the season getting crushed by Ole Miss fans (including this one right here), they delivered their best performance of the season. And let’s go full TELL THE TRUTH THURSDAY,* it was a display of which I didn’t think they were capable.
*Almost positive a FOOTBALL GUY somewhere uses this.
Some offensive numbers of note:
- 0 sacks allowed
- 6.5 yards/carry
- 8 yards/play
- 11 of 19 on third/fourth down (57.9 percent)
The zero sacks number jumps out, but the third/fourth down number is a massive departure from the first four games where the offense achieved the rank of BUTT (43 percent conversion rate) in being able to stay on the field.
Again, it’s one game out of five and maybe this game is an anomaly, but we got a look at what the offense can do when the quarterback and running backs aren’t dodging defenders in the backfield. If they have a similar showing on Saturday, the ceiling for the 2023 season gets an elevation change.
Defense showing up at the right time
If Houston Nutt had a “they remember November” saying that applied to the fourth quarter only, I would use it here. After three quarters in which they gave up 42 points, 508 yards, and 8.76 yards/play, they did this in the fourth quarter:
- 7 points allowed (14 per quarter through 3)
- 129 total yards (169.3)
- 7.59 yards/play (8.76)
Not great numbers, but they got stops they had to get. Behold! LSU’s drive chart in the fourth quarter:
- 3 plays, -5 yards, punt
- 4 plays, 55 yards, touchdown
- 4 plays, 30 yards, punt
- 6 plays, 49 yards, Ole Miss wins
Seven of LSU’s first nine drives ended in points, but only one of their last four did. Depending on fourth-quarter stops when they haven’t gotten stops since the first quarter is not sustainable, but their effort was rising to the occasion at its finest.
Many are saying a healthy-ish receiving corps is fun
Last week, I wrote these super insightful sentences about Tre Harris, Zakhari Franklin, and Caden Prieskorn, which were based on comments Kiffin made during his media time:
Kiffin implied this week that when the transfer trio gets healthy and up to speed, he expects things to look much differently. That tells me he was banking on significant production from those three, and that he knows what he has in them.
While Franklin is still working his way back, Harris and Prieskorn are nearly 100 percent and that was enough to inject life into the passing game. Harris looked the part of a dominant number one receiver (8 rec. for 153 yards, TD), and Prieskorn provided meaningful possession production at the tight end spot (3 for 41).
As a result, Jordan Watkins (5 for 103 yards, TD) and Dayton Wade (7 for 64, TD) found life to be much easier when they’re not called upon to be the top two options. If Franklin joins the mix and Watkins and Wade are the third and fourth options, with a tight end doing some damage, the passing game goes from average to dynamic.
What We Kinda Know
Probably not facing an offense on the same planet as LSU’s the rest of the year
Not exactly a terrifying group. Obviously, teams can and will improve, but that’s one offense inside the top 40, which is good news for a defense that gave up 8.5 yards/play against the best offense in the conference.
I don’t expect Ole Miss to be lights out defensively versus any of these offenses, but I think it’s safe to assume they’re not going to give up LSU numbers again.
Probably not facing a defense as bad as LSU’s the rest of the year
As previously mentioned, we saw close to the completely healthy version of the Ole Miss offense that did DAMAGE to a bad LSU defense.
- 55 points
- 8 yards/play
- 6.5 yards/carry
- 706 total yards
- 6 for 6 red zone scoring
- 5.86 points/possession inside LSU’s 40
Unfortunately, only two teams left on the schedule join LSU in the rankings above 100.
Like the offensive rankings, these will change as the year goes on, but the challenges will likely increase.
We love dodging bullets
Down two with just over 3:30 to play, Ole Miss needed to stop LSU on a 3rd and 5 from their 48-yard line. LSU ran a version of a play they ran earlier in the drive (22-yard completion to tight end Mason Taylor).
Receiver Malik Nabers comes across the formation, and the two outside receivers will essentially run a pick play (at least try to look like you’re running a route), which creates space for Nabers in the flat, as Ole Miss safety Trey Washington has to get over the top of the pick.
Nabers is open, but for whatever reason quarterback Jayden Daniels doesn’t throw it, despite looking like he’s ready to fire.
Maybe Washington can close it down and hit him at the marker or just short of it, but this likely should’ve been a first down or a fourth and short that LSU would’ve gone for. Instead, Daniels holds on to it, and the rest of the defense closes him down for a sack.
A special shout-out to indecision and second thoughts.
What We Don’t Know
An offensive sequel-ish?
Arkansas’ defense is statistically better than LSU’s by a large margin, but it’s still average. While Ole Miss’ offense will likely not repeat those LSU numbers, will we see some version of what we saw against the Tigers?
Defensive performance based on the level of their competition?
Arkansas’ offense trails LSU’s by another wide margin, so does the defense turn in a performance that looks about right against a below-average offense? Or do they just look somewhat the same against everyone?
Another Taoism lesson?
This parable was posted on doors all over the Manning Center today. Lane Kiffin said it was directed at some players who were disappointed in their Alabama performances. Hopes the message helps them move on. pic.twitter.com/bvecKQOqoc— David Eckert (@davideckert98) September 25, 2023
Keep the balance with the universe heater going IMO.