Like 29 of the 31 Ole Miss teams before it, the 2023 collection experienced what it’s like to go to Tuscaloosa and have their plans go sideways to quite sideways.
After a first half in which Ole Miss had opportunities to take control of the game but didn’t, their flaws eventually found the surface, and Alabama punished them accordingly. While it wasn’t the worst trip to Tuscaloosa, it was one of the more frustrating, as it became painfully obvious the team did not have enough to pick off a shockingly normal Alabama group.
LSU and its disruptive defensive front come to Oxford this weekend (foreshadowing!), and it feels like consecutive crap offensive showings would rage-melt people’s faces. Not to mention, if Ole Miss wants to avoid bowls with mayonnaise or the Shreveport-Memphis-Birmingham-Nashville circuit, they need to win.
Very little of what they did on offense against Alabama suggests they can, but my brain will activate empty dumb dog brain by Thursday or Friday and convince me they can do enough. Maybe.
What We Know
Offensive line: Lord, have mercy
Let’s skip the introductory sentence and get to where they are bad versus elevated competition. They are, right now, possibly the worst group Kiffin has had at Ole Miss (another discussion down below!).
The offense currently ranks 118th in sack percentage, with Jaxson Dart getting sacked on 10.75 percent of pass plays (note: that site only counts FBS vs FBS games). Against Alabama, that number was over 12 percent.
For comparison, here’s where they finished in previous seasons in sack percentage:
- 2022: 20th - 3.79 percent
- 2021: 87th - 7.40 percent
- 2020: 42nd - 5.37 percent
How about some yards per rushing attempt numbers? Let’s take a gander* there:
- 2023: 4.4 yards/att
- 2022: 5.4 yards/att
- 2021: 4.8 yards/att
- 2020: 4.6 yards/att
*Gander is a GREAT word.
Obviously, numbers from previous season include more games, so there is time to turn the 2023 stats around. But the current situation is, to steal from the title of this post, NOT GREAT, BOB.
That brings us to the most troublesome part about Lane Kiffin’s offense* in his fourth year. The offensive line returned every player but Nick Broeker and added two transfers (who start), yet the product is SUBOPTIMAL when not playing Mercer and Georgia Tech.
Despite the struggles, the same 5-7 guys play. I suppose that is some combination of belief they will figure it out, stubbornness, and zero belief in anyone outside the top 7. Whatever the combination is, it is very much not ideal right now.
The general narrative about the offense I find immeasurably lazy is PLAY CALLING HARRUMPH**, but even if it were true, it doesn’t matter when you’re a mess up front. Now, the talent up front is entirely on Lane Kiffin, but shrieks about calls are pointless when there is no time to attempt to execute.
*Lane Kiffin is the owner/operator of the offense. Offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. is there to assist and maybe Kiffin listens to what he has to say. Kiffin doesn’t want an equal or someone else in charge, he wants a helper. If Weis Jr. got fired tomorrow, nothing would change. Please commit this paragraph to memory and tell your friends.
**An unsuccessful play doesn’t mean it was a bad call. Any number of things could’ve gone wrong. One person misses a block while the other 10 players execute it perfectly. Miscommunication with one player and the call, a player doesn’t read a defender properly, a player slips or tips, or a quarterback decides to LEEEEEEROYYYYYYYY JENNNNNNNNNKINS a play. Endless possibilities! Unless you are Iowa. Then all the calls are bad.
Lack of a true number one wide receiver: 0 stars
As I wrote last week, Jordan Watkins and Dayton Wade are terrific complimentary wide receivers. Ideally, they would be the third- and fourth-best receivers, but maybe the offense can get away with one of them being the number two.
However, without Tre Harris last Saturday, Watkins and Wade were essentially numbers one and two. Against a secondary as good as Alabama’s, that’s not going to lead to sustained success because they can’t generate enough explosive plays, especially when attracting way more attention than they normally would.
This problem was more evident in the first half when the offensive line, to their credit, held up fairly well, but receivers had problems creating separation. Watkins (9 for 57) and Wade (5 for 88) ended up with solid numbers for their increased roles, but as Texas showed against the Tide, you have to hit explosive pass plays to move the ball, and Ole Miss couldn’t do it.
Like the offensive line discussion in the fourth year of Lane Kiffin, this is what the receiving corps is, which boggles the mind. No high school recruits can get on the field and all of the top options are transfers.
The transfer path is fine if everyone stays healthy, but that hasn’t happened for Ole Miss, and the lack of depth has been exposed. Hopefully, Tre Harris gets healthy and is a true number one, and Zakhari Franklin and Caden Preiskorn also get up to speed and contribute.
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.
Suntarine Perkins all gas, no brakes
I know Pete Golding and company aren’t quite there yet to send him out as an every-down linebacker because he isn’t ready, but our true freshman son turned himself into a TERROR when he’s a part of a third-down package.
That type of speed from a linebacker is freakish, and offenses do not want to see it. For the record, Perkins, in his limited role, leads the team in sacks with 3 and tackles for a loss with 3.5. That means, of his 9 solo tackles, 33 percent have been sacks.
Hopefully, his role grows as the season goes on and opposing fans curse his name more and more.
Defense is checking boxes
The Alabama offense is not the Alabama offense of Bryce Young and Tua Tagovailoa, but the defense did enough work that Ole Miss didn’t need to score 30+ points to win in Tuscaloosa. They are far from dominant, but they don’t give up many explosive plays and make offenses grind it out.
Of note, they have allowed opponents to get into the red zone 12 times this year, but they have given up only 5 touchdowns, which ranks them 20th in red zone touchdown percentage. However, they are ranked 74th in red zone scoring percentage, as they’ve conceded 5 field goals along with those 5 touchdowns.
Third and fourth down conversions allowed are also an issue (about 42 percent total), which has them hovering in the 80s to 90s. But the good news-ish is, they are pretty good on first and second down as noted here:
Inside the green box is telling us they don’t give up much on first and second downs.
The point being, they’re in a position to clean up their 3rd and 4th down mess. Obviously, they still have to do it, but it’s better than having no chance to do it.
If you had told any of us over the summer that this would be the defensive performance thus far in 2023, I think all of us would’ve said yes and thank you.
Offense on third down: Unsubscribe pls
- 3rd down: 17-48 (35.41 percent)
- 4th down: 8-10 (80 percent; LMAO)
- Total: 25-58 (43 percent; VOMIT)
To put it mildly, the third down garbage has to get fixed ASAP.
What We Kinda Know
A glimpse of future tight end production
Literally, the second play of the game:
Prieskorn was limited in what he could do (and I assume on a snap count) as he is coming back from injury, but we haven’t seen a play like that since Kenny Yeboah parachuted into the 2020 season.
Giving linebackers and safeties something to think about other than getting to Quinshon Judkins would be a welcomed development.
Offense unable to reach the gas pedal
Last week, I noted how the Ole Miss offense scored 20 points in the second half (13 in the fourth quarter) against Tulane and 38 (24 in the fourth quarter) against Georgia Tech. That was a departure from last season in the second half of games.
Against Alabama, they scored three (3) points. So after trending toward maybe that is a problem of 2022, we are back to trending toward maybe this problem will continue in 2023.
What We Don’t Know
Harris, Prieskorn, and Franklin: Part II
As the slogan says, a law firm you can trust!
One would expect them to see more of the field this week, but of those three, Tre Harris is likely the one to see the fewest number of snaps. What that increase or contribution looks like, we do not know.
The good news is, unlike last week, Prieskorn and Franklin’s second game action will be at home, rather than getting thrown into a fire of fires.
Response to getting your face shoved in an oscillating fan
The first dose of things did not (DID NOT) go their way has arrived, and we have no idea how they will react. As Kiffin noted this week, the 2021 team started out 3-0 and got annihilated in Tuscaloosa, and they went on to finish 10-2, which was the first time Ole Miss ever won 10 games in the regular season.
While I think LSU’s defensive front is a nightmare matchup for this offensive line and will ultimately be the reason Ole Miss doesn’t win, there would be some degree of satisfaction if the offense turned in an overall good performance because it would bode well against the rest of the schedule (minus Georgia).
Lane Kiffin cuLtuRaL MaRxIsT
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
Does that move the needle for guys who needed to hear the message? Sweet mercy, who was in charge of formatting that? Can we get some paragraph breaks? Are those like 1.5-inch margins on the top and bottom?
If this story sounds familiar, you probably saw it in Charlie Wilson’s War. But Philip Seymour Hoffman (RIP) has a slightly stronger delivery: