HomeHealthMedicineHas Ole Miss football answered preseason questions before SEC play?

Has Ole Miss football answered preseason questions before SEC play?

OXFORD Ole Miss football was always intended to start the 2022 season 4-0. So it did.

It had been clear for months that September would be a cinch for the rebels. Tulsa gave Ole Miss a bit of a challenge in the second half of Saturday 35-27 victory, but the Rebels are still entering the SEC game after outdoing their opponents 164-40. Only five FBS teams have outperformed their opponents by a greater margin this season, and that just happens to be No. 1 Georgia, No. 2 Alabama, No. 3 Ohio State, No. 4 Michigan and Minnesota.

This dominance was inevitable. Due to the vagaries of a schedule set half a decade ago, Ole Miss opened the season with an FCS cupcake, two middle-class Group of Five schools, and arguably the worst Power 5 opponent out there. Any start other than 4-0 would have been a disaster and any outcome not to have won these four games by more than 100 points would have been a red flag.

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So what can one learn from the inevitable? Ole Miss has No. 9 Kentucky (4-0, 1-0 SEC) coming to Oxford on Saturday (11am, ESPN) for a top-15 showdown that elevates the quality of the competition, such as starting a medical school two days after dissecting a frog in seventh grade biology class. Are the Rebels up for the challenge, or are the same questions that dominated preseason still pressing issues?

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Let’s revisit some of the Clarion Ledger’s burning questions and debunked stories of August to determine if Ole Miss has grown despite playing inferior competition.

What’s going on at quarterback?

Rebel coach Lane Kiffin announced USC transfer Jaxson Dart as his starting quarterback moving forward after beating Tulsa. Having an announced starter is progress, but Ole Miss’s passing game is still a question mark. Dart is ranked number 11 in the SEC in passing yards per game, number 9 in passer efficiency, number 10 in percentage completion and number 5 in yards per attempt.

Dart ran 116 yards against Tulsa and added an extra dimension to his game besides passing. But the rebels have staged one of the least effective airstrikes in the SEC to date, a trend that will have to reverse itself if Ole Miss is to battle the SEC’s defense.

Are the transfers acclimated?

This has not been a problem at all. Between transfers and actual freshmen, new faces accounted for 97% of the Rebel’s rushing yards, 62% of their receiving yards, 87% of their touchdowns, 39% of their tackles, 67% of their takeaways and 46% of their tackles for loss. Put the worries about chemistry and schedule fit to rest.

Has the play call been adjusted?

Last year’s play-callers Jeff Lebby and DJ Durkin are gone. In their place are Co-Offensive Coordinator Charlie Weis Jr. and co-defensive coordinator Chris Partridge. Partridge’s defense played just as well, if not better, than Durkin’s in 2021. Weis’ offense is among the best in the country at rushing, but also saw periods of inefficiency against Troy and Tulsa.

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There’s plenty of reason to be confident in the defensive play moving forward, but let’s rate Weis as inconclusive.

Has the rest of the SEC caught up with West Ole Miss?

It’s hard to say. Alabama is still clearly at the top. Texas A&M and LSU seem to be getting better after a horrific start. Arkansas has played a much more difficult program than Ole Miss. Mississippi State has looked dominant three out of four games. Except Alabama at the top and Auburn at the bottom, it’s hard to gauge too much about the SEC West.

The good news is there’s no reason why Ole Miss can’t finish in the top two again. The bad news is that there is also a plausible path to the sixth. There isn’t much separation anywhere.

Can Ole Miss win with depth instead of winning with stars like last year?

This was the biggest preseason question, and it looks like the answer is yes. No one has become more important than quarterback Matt Corral, edge rusher Sam Williams and linebacker Chance Campbell last year. The rebels play just about every role by commission and it works.

Star Power wanted the Rebels to 10 wins last year. If Ole Miss has any hope of achieving that success again, it will have to win just the opposite way. Barring injuries, the roster seems set up for that to happen.

Contact Nick Suss at nsuss@gannett.com. Follow Nick on Twitter @nicksuss.

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