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A final check under the hood before bowl season begins

Let’s compare Lane Kiffin’s 2023 team with his last two groups.

NCAA Football: Mississippi at Mississippi State Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports

After a regular season in which Ole Miss won 10 games again, as so many (some) (few) (very few) predicted, we must drink in the statistics before portal and bowl seasons take over.

Specifically, we need to compare this year’s numbers to those of 2021 and 2022. I did something similar at the end of last season, and I also composed a midseason version in October.

The check under the hood in October showed the 2023 team was outpacing the two previous teams, but those numbers didn’t have the full SEC schedule baked and were likely to decline.

So how did the 2023 team finish stacked up against the last two? Let’s dig in.

Offensive Stats

Points Per Game
  • 2021: 35.92
  • 2022: 34.17
  • 2023: 34.83
Yards per play

This helps measure how explosive the offense is.

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

Another explosive play measurement.

  • 2021: .464
  • 2022: .447
  • 2023: .497
Passing yards per attempt
  • 2021: 8.58
  • 2022: 7.97
  • 2023: 9.40
Total touchdowns
  • 2021: 55
  • 2022: 52
  • 2023: 53

The 2023 offense was the most explosive of the three and, had they turned a few more possessions into touchdowns, they would’ve surpassed the 2021 scoring numbers.

What’s really surprising in those numbers is the 2023 team averaging .82 more yards per pass attempt than the offense led by passing downs god Matt Corral. And that’s not a knock against Corral, it’s genuine surprise his numbers were topped to that degree.

3rd/4th down efficiency

How frequently Ole Miss converted on these downs.

  • 2021: 44.1 percent
  • 2022: 48.5 percent
  • 2023: 41.9 percent

I, for one, hate it. What’s even more agonizing is that they only got that high because they were good on fourth down.

  • 3rd down: 58 of 158 (36.71 percent)

Shoot me in the face.

  • 4th down: 22 of 33 (66.67 percent)

For everyone’s sanity, we need the combined number to go up in 2024, mostly thanks to a boost in third-down numbers.

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: 65.6 percent

It’s not great, but it’s ahead of 2022 and notably ahead of 2021.

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: 87.2 percent

Kiffin was slightly more conservative (for who he is) this year than he was in the previous two seasons. Ole Miss attempted 21 field goals in 2023 versus 17 in 2022 and 20 in 2021.

Oh, and while we’re here, tell me more about how the Jeff Lebby/Lane Kiffin offense was so much better than the Kiffin/Charlie Weis Jr. offense. And please show your work.

Sacks allowed
  • 2021: 24
  • 2022: 14
  • 2023: 26

It was not great up front, and we should, in my humble opinion, spend Texas A&M buyout money on getting better offensive linemen for 2024.

Turnovers
  • 2021: 9 (4 INTs, 5 fumbles)
  • 2022: 16 (9 INTs, 7 fumbles)
  • 2023: 7 (6 INTs, 1 fumble)

Kinda wild what happens when you don’t turn it over!

Speaking of wild, Ole Miss fumbled 10 times and only lost one. As I’ve said, that’s not a sustainable stat. Fumble recovery is luck and should be closer to 50 percent and not 90.

I wrote something similar at the end of the 2022 regular season, and Ole Miss fumbled twice against Texas Tech in the Texas Bowl and lost both.

Even more bizarre, Ole Miss’ opponents fumbled 15 times this season, and the Rebels only recovered 4, for a recovery rate of 26.7 percent.

So the most important takeaway from the 2023 season is when Ole Miss took the field against anyone, neither defense was going to recover fumbles.

Defensive Stats

Points Per Game allowed
  • 2021: 25
  • 2022: 24.17
  • 2023: 22.33
Yards per play allowed

This helps measure their ability to limit explosive plays.

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

Another explosive play limit measurement.

  • 2021: .321
  • 2022: .337
  • 2023: .318
Passing yards per attempt allowed
  • 2021: 6.9
  • 2022: 6.69
  • 2023: 7.06

Since 2021, when Kiffin bought into the 3-2-6 lifestyle, the goal of the defense was to limit explosive plays. Pete Golding’s defense, while not running a base 3-2-6 personnel grouping, shared the philosophy and improved upon those anti-explosive numbers.

Total touchdowns allowed
  • 2021: 38
  • 2022: 36
  • 2023: 34
Opponent 3rd/4th down efficiency

How frequently opponents converted on these downs.

  • 2021: 40.2 percent
  • 2022: 39.1 percent
  • 2023: 38.8 percent

What’s interesting about the 2023 number is, after six games, the Ole Miss defense was at 43.5 percent, which is, uh, BAD. Thanks in part to some bad offenses, they got a lot better in the back half of the season.

But that tracks with who they were this season. If an offense was below average to bad, they would hold them in place. If an offense was above average to good, Ole Miss’ offense needed to score like 55 points, which they did against LSU. Many people forget this.

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: 63.2 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: 84.2 percent

Not ideal numbers, but they started the correction of the horrific numbers from 2022.

Sacks
  • 2021: 39
  • 2022: 33
  • 2023: 34

At the midway point of the season, they were on pace for 44, so this number tailed off. Again, some of it has to do with Golding’s reluctance to send five or more knowing that creates openings for explosive plays from the opposing offense.

It also indicates Ole Miss has a nice collection of guys in the front six/seven, but they do not have an elite pass rusher or even a good one. That is another area in which portal monies should be spent.

Turnovers
  • 2021: 20 (10 INTs, 10 fumbles)
  • 2022: 17 (7 INTs, 10 fumbles)
  • 2023: 16 (12 INTs, 4 fumbles)

The defense had four fumble recoveries after six games and finished with four, which is another bizarre stat. Even more importantly, I wrote this about turnover margin during the midseason checkup:

...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.

They didn’t get to plus-11 this year, but they did get to plus-9 and 10 wins. As always, when I’m right, you’re gonna hear about it.