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What we know, kinda know, and don’t know: Surviving NOLA edition

Despite a lot of not good times rolling, 2-0 is 2-0.

Ole Miss v Tulane Photo by Jonathan Bachman/Getty Images

Who among us has not gone to New Orleans with a plan, only to see that plan unravel spectacularly, and the new goal becoming to get home with credit cards and a driver’s license in your wallet and anything else is a bonus?

Like many a trip to the Big Easy, Ole Miss’ started off about as well as it could. Jaxson Dart and company began with a surgically destructive three-play, 75-yard touchdown drive that took 48 seconds. After that, things trended sideways.

At one point in the first half, it looked as though Ole Miss was going to end the night in a depressing scene at the Krystal on Bourbon Street. Mercifully, they got themselves together and avoided an ocean of regrets.

More importantly, while those of us with Ole Miss tickets laying the points did significant sweating, there was never any doubt (THERE WAS DOUBT), knowing we’d eventually get there. That is of note because, as we know, good teams win but great teams cover.

What We Know

Offensive line, BUDDY

I’ll get more into potential reasons why in the next section, but it did not take a WHEN I TURN ON THE THE TAPE, BOB wizard to see how bad they were. Whether it was pass protection or in the run game, they couldn’t keep Tulane defenders from creating havoc.

While it was as dreadful of a performance most of us can recall, questions about the offensive line in the coming weeks aren’t as clear. But it was bad enough I wanted to acknowledge it twice, maybe even three times if it keeps grinding my gears as I write.

Jaxson Dart summoning the spirit of Matt Corral

While Dart’s performance didn’t match Corral’s legendary showing at Tennessee in 2021 (426 total yards, which included 30 carries for 195 yards), it was similar in that he was called upon to make plays with his legs, either by design or freelancing, while the offensive vibes were not great.

Take away the sack yardage,* and Dart was Ole Miss’ leading rusher (10 for 58), which included an angry fourth-quarter run on 2nd and 19 from the Tulane 29 that gave Ole Miss a first and goal. Granted, they farted away the opportunity and had to kick a field goal, but he put them in a position to score.

*College football, get rid of this dumb stats rule.

One possession later, he did it again. On 3rd and 13 from the Tulane 30, he ran for 9 yards to give the offense a fourth and manageable distance (4 yards). Then, on said fourth down, he avoided a blitzing linebacker, and found Michael Trigg for a 21-yard touchdown pass to give Ole Miss a two-score lead with 4:28 to play.

Even on his interception, he made the right read and delivered a ball on time, but his receiver stumbled out of his break. This is the play Ole Miss ran, with Dayton Wade outside at the bottom of the screen.

In his read (and I am assuming he’s taught Wade is his first option based on the read), Dart can see two things:

  • Safety is getting depth and has his back to Wade
  • One linebacker rushes and the other is trying to track Ulysses Bentley out of the backfield

What that means is he has a giant window to throw into:

Unfortunately, as mentioned, Wade stumbled, and the ball arrived where Wade should’ve been, with a defender at his back. Alas.

But the point is he was right and delivered a throw on time, even with a linebacker coming free and closing down on him. If he keeps doing that, all will be well.

It’s Lane Kiffin’s offense: Part MMXXIII

As I’ve said before, I have no emotional attachment to offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr.,* but him catching most of the wailing and gnashing of teeth about the offensive performance on Saturday is laughable. Lane Kiffin runs the show.

*If he were to leave or be forced to leave, nothing would change. We would run the same offense.

Whether Kiffin is outright calling plays or Weis Jr. does so with Kiffin in his ear,* Kiffin either calls it or signs off on it. Weis Jr. is not operating independently, so if there are complaints to be had, those belong primarily in Kiffin’s direction.

*He doesn’t have his call sheet and isn’t constantly covering his mouth while talking in the headset for fun!

Kiffin has called plays every year he’s been in football since 2005. He didn’t decide to give that up when he came to Ole Miss.

So please cc: Lane Kiffin on all future complaints about the offense stuck in the mud.

Kicker goes boom

Of the four Cadens on Ole Miss’ roster, two are kickers, all of which has to be some kind of record. Caden Davis, the transfer from Texas A&M, had never made a field goal longer than 40 yards in a game, but he has hit from crazy distances in practice and warm-ups.

Davis told the media this week he hit a 67-yarder (!!!) in pre-game activities and let Kiffin know if the offense got to the 50 (going in that direction), he was good to go. He also said, and this is outrageous, he once made a wind-aided 76-yard kick in practice at A&M.

The 56-yarder he hit against Tulane was impressive, but let us not sleep on the increase in difficulty due to the kicking team having to speed up because the play clock was running down. As Davis said, they barely got set before the snap, and he didn’t go through his full routine.

Watching at home, the distance, rushed nature of everything, and situation in the game all had me expecting a blistering duck hook that would threaten one of the pylons on the left side of the end zone. Instead, it was the sweetest of 9-iron draws through the uprights.

What We Kinda Know

Is this who the offensive line is or was it an all-time garbage performance?

We’ll start with the running game. If you subtract the sack yardage and attempts, Ole Miss averaged 3.4 yards/carry, which, for a team that was essentially a service academy at running the ball last year, was terrible.

Tulane was hyper-aggressive against the run, almost always adding a player late to the box, which meant Ole Miss saw a lot of 7- and 8-man boxes. Why Ole Miss continued to run into the teeth of that, I do not know.

Whether it was arrogance or a genuine belief they could block the right people despite lacking enough blockers (5 or 6 vs. 7 or 8 is not winnable), it was a poor choice. I realize Quinshon Judkins’ specialty is not getting outside, but even he does not possess the ability to make multiple people miss before he gets across the line of scrimmage.

Here’s an example of Ole Miss using Judkins as a decoy and COOKING them on the perimeter. Jordan Watkins does some jet motion, Dart fakes the handoff to Judkins, and Watkins continues on a wheel route, with zero defenders in sight.

Tulane sent a fifth guy late and then got confused about their responsibilities. The next play, Ole Miss used tempo and went empty, with Judkins lined up out wide on the sideline.

Tulane was again confused, sent a linebacker to pressure, and left Judkins wide open. Ole Miss went tempo again, and Tulane essentially made a base call that the offensive line (and Jordan Watkins), to their credit, destroyed, and Judkins had a 9-yard TD run.

The point of all that was to show Kiffin recognized they could take advantage of Tulane’s aggressiveness, but they didn’t do it repeatedly for whatever reason.

In the passing game, by my count, Tulane sent 5 or more rushers on 11 of Ole Miss’ 28 pass attempts. That is dialing it up, but it does not reach the threshold of Joe Lee Dunn (RIP) dialing it up.

However, even when Tulane rushed four, it wasn’t hard for them to get pressure. The Ole Miss offensive line yet again struggled with twists and passing defenders off.

There were moments where everything was fine (see: first drive and Dart’s pass to Wade, who made a ridiculous catch; pocket was super clean), so there is a glimmer of hope this was an all-time bed-shitting rather than a taste of what’s to come.

By that I mean, it’s entirely possible Saturday was a perfect blend of Tulane showing new looks Ole Miss hadn’t seen before, and everyone had a bad day, which happens to all of us. That is the preferred timeline.

If it’s the other timeline, candles and prayer circles to limp into the Birmingham Bowl.

Michael Trigg, hello?

Trigg caught his first touchdown against meaningful competition and did so in an enormous spot. He saw Dart scramble on fourth down and bent his route toward the end zone, away from his defender and into space.

Whether that was taught or instinct, he knew what to do. I know injuries are involved, but Trigg, who didn’t start, was on the field for the most important plays.

Not to mention, there were several instances of him mixing it up in run blocking, which has been a weakness. Hopefully, things are trending in the right direction for him.

Tre Harris injury

I, for one, hate it. While we know he won’t play this weekend, his return date is unknown. Ideally, it would be for the Alabama game, but the LSU or Arkansas game could be more likely.

Defense maybe who they are?

Yes, Tulane starting quarterback Michael Pratt missed the game due to injury, but that was out of Ole Miss’ control. Given what Ole Miss faced, the defense wasn’t spectacular, but they did enough.

Removing sack yardage (4 for 41 yards), they held the Green Wave to 3.7 yards/carry and gave up three explosive pass plays of 57 (led to a TD), 41 (was a TD), and 17 yards. It wasn’t great, but they mostly took away Tulane’s explosive ability and kept them at 4.2 yards/play (Ole Miss hit 5.8 yards/play).

There’s nothing dominant in those numbers, but they gave the offense a chance to overcome their first-half garbage. It’s possible this is who they are. You’re not going to torch them, but they’re not going to shut you down.

What We Don’t Know

Was this game a hiccup or a sign of things to come?

Ole Miss was able to rally because they have better players than Tulane (who has plenty of good players!), and they didn’t freak out when it was not going great. As noted earlier about the offensive line, does this team have too many flaws or was it a case of everyone (EVERYONE) scoring a PFF rating of BUTT?

Georgia Tech’s level of improvement

Last year, Ole Miss dominated the Yellow Jackets to begin a season that saw their coach being fired. They opened this season with a strong effort against Louisville before being outscored 26-6 in the second half and losing 39-34.

They looked to have a pulse on offense, which is a big change, but obviously, there are talent issues everywhere. They’re less talented than Tulane by a wide margin, but if they have a spicy defensive front, who knows, that may be enough to keep them hanging around.