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The plays of the Peach Bowl

A look at the heaters from an Ole Miss offense that was COOKIN’.

NCAA Football: Peach Bowl-Mississippi at Penn State Brett Davis-USA TODAY Sports

Today marks the fifth day since Ole Miss defeated Penn State in the Peach Bowl, which may cause some to wonder why we’re still talking about it.

The answer is very simple. When Ole Miss football, a perpetual natural resource of wailing and gnashing of teeth (dressing in sackcloth and rubbing ashes in your hair optional), wins 11 games for the first time in school history, WE GONE KEEP TALKING ABOUT IT.

For the record, after watching the first two series on both sides of the ball last Saturday, I was emotionally preparing for not a real good time. Yet despite the red flags everywhere early in the first quarter, Ole Miss didn’t get rattled, settled in, and took control of the game, which is maybe the most staggering part of it all (?).

What we saw was a mostly healthy Ole Miss offense (minus Jaxson Dart getting hurt on the first play because OF COURSE) finally being able to engage full-on attack mode and kicking conservative tendencies* to the curb. And shockingly, when the offense is healthy, it’s a lot easier to execute plays.

*The conservative approaches in games against bad SEC offenses were probably the right call, but they were great sources of ANGST.

After the game, there was significant deserved praise for Lane Kiffin and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis Jr for dialing up winning ball plays. However, as you’re about to see, they weren’t reinventing the wheel, but they dabbled in recycling and trusting guys to make plays they’ve made when healthy.

Before we dive into these plays, let us not ignore the defensive performance. Barring two fluke plays when the game was competitive, Pete Golding’s crew did what was asked of them. Once the Ole Miss offense found its stride, Penn State was done.

Now, to the offensive plays of note.

We’ll have the Philly special

One their first touchdown drive, Ole Miss called the play the Eagles made famous in their Super Bowl win over the Patriots. While this play has spread throughout all levels of football, I would like to note the blocking execution of Caden Prieskorn and the offensive line, which bought wide receiver Jordan Watkins enough time to throw to Jaxson Dart.

Prieskorn has to block one of the two guys who can blow the play up, which he does. And the offensive line makes sure no one else can ruin the play. Note the one guy unblocked who is caught in no-man’s land. He, at this moment, cannot make a correct choice.

We love man coverage that isn’t going to work

Two plays later, Ole Miss gets the look they will thank little tiny baby Jesus over and over again for giving them. Tre Harris faces press-man coverage with a safety inside the hash marks, meaning, unless that safety breaks at the snap in the direction of Harris, he has no chance to help a corner who is going to lose a one-on-one matchup, especially with Harris getting an outside release.

The play-action look holds the safety for a beat, Harris has already won the play, and this is a 100 percent throw it every time from Jaxson Dart.

[extreme Joe Tessitore voice]

FOLKS, THE BALLET IS IN TOWN.

Penn State, for whatever reason, kept choosing to deal with Harris in this manner and roll with man coverage.

Cayden/Caden overload

The next play, Ole Miss went to one of their core low red zone plays. Cayden Lee motions across the formation pre-snap, and Caden Prieskorn comes across the formation post-snap.

BEHOLD THE POWER OF CAYDEN-CADEN PLAY DESIGN:

If this play looks familiar, there are two reasons for that. One, Ole Miss has run it multiple times under Lane Kiffin, and two, Michigan ran a version of it on Monday night to tie Alabama.

Speaking of a Caden walking into the end zone

Late in the second quarter, Kiffin and Weis Jr. reached into the recycling bin to call a play they used against Georgia, as well as in the Auburn game. This play runs a clear out for Prieskorn on a wheel route, with a fake toss to Quinshon Judkins.

The Nittany Lions reacted poorly.

Prieskorn was so open and alone that he carried the ball like a DAGGUM LOAF OF BREAD (to the chagrin of every BALL SECURITY sermon).

Back to the recycling bin

Ole Miss kicked field goal on this drive, but I want to acknowledge Kiffin bringing back a play he ran with former tight end Kenny Yeboah in 2020 against Kentucky.

Instead of releasing outside the right tackle, as tight ends usually do, Prieskorn releases through the B-gap (between the right guard and tackle). To a linebacker, this seems like he’s coming to block them, but not so much on this play.

The Penn State linebacker gets sucked in on the run fake, and buddy, there is space.

This same play went for a touchdown in 2020 against Kentucky.

Play Cover 0 at your own peril

Late in the third quarter, Ole Miss had a third and 9 at the Penn State 14-yard line. Using the same aggressive choices that hadn’t really worked since the first quarter, Penn State called a Cover 0 blitz.

For the uninitiated on aggressive pressures, that means they were playing man coverage across the board with no safety help for anyone and no one in the middle of the field.

Penn State brings 7 rushers, while Ole Miss only has 6 blockers (5 offensive linemen and Judkins). Usually, a defense has a check that says if the running back bails outside as a release valve, a selected defender needs to follow him.

I assume Penn State had that, but Judkins, like Prieskorn on the play above, doesn’t release outside and to defenders, he looks like he’s staying in pass protection. Instead, he also releases through the B-gap, and no one is there on defense.

He is so alone that he catches the ball on the 5-yard line and falls backwards into the end zone.

Of note, Ole Miss went for two and called the same winning two-point play they ran against Kentucky in 2020. However, Penn State covered Cayden Lee playing Elijah Moore, and Dart found Prieskorn after some freelancing. And it was the same play Kiffin ran in 2011 against Oregon when he was at USC (check that link above for more details).

The exclamation point

The final act in the burial of Penn State was a Jaxson Dart two-yard touchdown run. Once again, Kiffin and Weis go recycling, as this is the same QB G/H Counter Ole Miss ran versus Auburn for a touchdown.

And it was the same result.

As I mentioned, it’s nice when you’re healthy enough on offense that you can be the offense envisioned in August. Kiffin and Weis were great, but they stuck to the classics with a healthy group that could win matchups.