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Ole Miss Football 2023: Honesty check

Bringing back the ‘Vice Principals’ segment for the 2023 season.

COLLEGE FOOTBALL: FEB 02 Reese’s Senior Bowl Practice Photo by Michael Wade/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Given we are roughly three weeks away from the 2023 Ole Miss football season, there is no better time to bring back the words of a fictional sociopathic high school vice principal.

If you recall, I introduced this idea last year, which was born out of watching HBO’s Vice Principals* and Walton Goggins’ performance as a deranged person (Lee Russell), who is also hilariously disturbing.

*For the uninitiated, ‘Vice Principals’ is part of the Danny McBride universe, and McBride and Goggins play high school co-vice principals who want to nothing more than to be named principal after the current principal of their school retires. Oh, and they are deeply insecure people who don’t care for one another.

As the series progresses, Goggins’ character and his wife see a therapist to repair the damage he did to their relationship. The therapist encourages them to practice unconditional honesty, which leads to the Honest Check scene with his wife and mother-in-law (who lives with them).

Here, Goggins’ character practices his version of unconditional honesty.

(language warning)

Just like last year, the primary goal of this post is not to turn into Lee Russell and curse at an elderly woman who doesn’t speak English. If I can avoid that, this post is a success.

Honesty Check: An improved Jaxson Dart needs to win the quarterback job

Last year, Dart was mostly fine. There were good, mediocre, and bad times, with the good times holding an edge over the other two categories.

We saw glimpses of what he might become, but we went through times where he looked exactly like a quarterback who didn’t start his 10th career game until the fourth game of the 2022 season.

However, not all of that was his fault. He had to operate an offense featuring the following limitations:

  • An offensive line that had, AHEM, pass protection issues
  • No meaningful production from the tight end spot (more on that in a minute!)
  • No reliable deep receiving threat

He spent 2022 trying to complete passes into compressed spaces, as defenses didn’t have to worry about being beat over the top or shredded in the middle of the field. Oh, and he had to do that very quickly because he wa- [Dart sacked/hit/hurried].

Hopefully, with the addition of transfers and a line getting more experience and depth, those offensive limitations start to fade.

Regardless of things he can’t control, we do need to spend more time in the good times portion of the Jaxson Dart experience. Cutting out the bad interceptions, learning to love the checkdown, and picking his spots to use his legs (AND NOT LOWER HIS THROWING SHOULDER) would be ideal improvements to make that happen.

We know what we have in Spencer Sanders. A quarterback capable of making brilliant plays with his arm and legs, but in 42 career games, he has 49 turnovers. That, to put it mildly, is unacceptable.

If Sanders ends up winning the job, the offense will likely be pretty good in stretches but will absolutely self-destruct multiple times in key moments. A sample size of 42 games is enormous for college football, and it tells no lies.

We know where Sanders’ ceiling is, and it’s not high enough. We don’t know where Dart’s is yet, but we need him to make it higher to give this season a chance of being something other than 7-5 or 8-4.

Honesty Check: Tight end production would return a Lane Kiffin offense to the lethal category

In the abbreviated 2020 season, tight end Kenny Yeboah played in seven games. In those games, he caught 27 passes for 524 yards (19.4 yds/rec. !) and 6 touchdowns.

In 2021 and 2022, Ole Miss tight ends (6 players) combined to catch 49 passes for 426 yards (8.7 yds/rec.) and 6 touchdowns. SOMEWHAT of a drop-off.

Even more, let’s take a look at a few offensive numbers overall.

Points per game

  • 2020: 39.20
  • 2021: 33.69
  • 2022: 33.46

Yards per play (helps measure explosiveness)

  • 2020: 7.0
  • 2021: 6.3
  • 2022: 6.4

Points per play (another explosiveness measurement)

  • 2020: .492
  • 2021: .430
  • 2022: .434

Yards per pass attempt

  • 2020: 10.3
  • 2021: 8.33
  • 2022: 8.05

With as much RPO action as we run, a productive tight end is a massive factor, and if paired with receivers who can take the top off of a defense and stress them at multiple levels, things get SPICY.

Whether it’s Caden Prieskorn in a traditional tight end role or Michael Trigg (assuming he decides to grow up) operating in the slot creating matchup nightmares for a defense, my meager kingdom for a tight end giving a defensive coordinators fits.

Honesty Check: Practice some degree of load management with Quinshon Judkins

I touched on this in the spring, but our low-center-of-gravity son doesn’t need another year where he has 289 touches. I know that number was inflated because of injuries to Zach Evans and Ulysses Bentley IV, but expecting a running back to go injury-free over almost 600 career touches in two years is not a good bet.

The good news is all signs point to Bentley being fully healthy, and Oregon State transfer Jam Griffin adds another option with experience, meaning we don’t have to rely on true freshman Kedrick Reescano as a third back.

Additionally, if the passing game becomes more reliable and capable of consistently creating chunk plays, we don’t need as much production from the running game.

Honesty Check: An offensive line rotation would be super cool

Last season, Ole Miss rarely rotated players on the offensive line during a game. Some debate remains whether this was a philosophy or the coaching staff didn’t trust more than five guys.

I am in the camp of they lacked trust and belief in anyone outside the starting five because we saw some rotation in 2021. And if you, as a coach, had to watch pass protection in 2022 and didn’t try someone else, then it feels like you had no interest in other options.

A 10-man rotation would be SICK, but an 8-man rotation would be just fine. We need options, especially in the three interior line spots.

Honesty Check: The defensive front needs some dudes to emerge

Many words have been written and hollered about the 2022 Ole Miss defense, but the glaring issue was more than scheme. You may recall they played the exact same scheme in 2021, and that defense carried the team the last month of the season.

The issue with the 2022 defense was they did not have two linebackers who made 53-man NFL rosters, an elite edge rusher who was drafted in the 2nd round, and a cornerback who made a 53-man roster. For the most part, they were pretty average college players, with one player who got drafted in the 4th round.

In an ideal world this season, Cedric Johnson is healthy and resumes his path to being a problem for offenses, and Jared Ivey makes a leap. That would give the defense two solid to potentially good pass rushers, which would free up JJ Pegues on the interior with solo matchups against guards or centers he’ll have an athletic advantage against.

The same thought applies to the linebackers. Ole Miss has a handful of nice options, but they don’t have a guy (yet) who is a problem for defenses.

Stressing an offensive coordinator over how he’s going to account for one or two guys who create matchup issues would be delightful. If the front end of the defense can create havoc plays, they make the back end’s job infinitely easier.