OXFORD — Lane Kiffin made his own assessment clear following Ole Miss football’s Texas Bowl defeat in Houston.
An 8-5 finish and a four-game losing streak to close out the season wasn’t good enough, in his view.
The high-flying vibes of a 7-0 Ole Miss start that allowed Rebels fans to dream about the possibilities couldn’t feel more disparate from how things ended. Still, that great start did happen, even if it doesn’t feel like it at the moment.
Taking a view of the season as a whole, here’s how we graded Ole Miss in Year 3 under Kiffin:
At the microscopic level, Ole Miss’ offense was good-but-not-great. It averaged 6.4 yards per play, which ranks 27th in college football with only the national championship game to play. That mark is also sixth in the SEC, and a very slight improvement from what the Rebels did last season.
Kiffin’s attack scored 33.5 points per game ‒ also roughly the same output as last season. They did it differently this time, harboring the nation’s third-most prolific rushing attack rather than leaning on the passing game.
One major point against the 2022 offense is that it doubled its turnover rate from a year ago, averaging 1.6 giveaways per game instead of its outstanding 0.8 number last season. That’s not a disastrous outcome for the Rebels by any means, but it’s also probably one of the major reasons Ole Miss is 8-5 instead of 10-3. Another is a sub-par red zone percentage. Ole Miss ranked 99th nationally, scoring on just under 80% of its red zone trips. It’s extremely difficult to be one of the 15 best teams in college football while doing that.
Looking ahead, the Rebels are going to benefit from continuity on the offensive side of the ball with quarterback Jaxson Dart and stud running back Quinshon Judkins returning. Can they make the jump from good to great?
2022 Grade: B-
Much like the offense, many of the overall defensive statistics for Ole Miss are going to be polluted by the fact that Ole Miss played more offensive snaps than all but four teams in the country. The faster the Ole Miss offense goes – and it goes fast – the more opportunities the opposition will have to rack up yards and points.
So it’s best to boil it down to the smallest unit possible – yards against per play – for our baseline. The Rebels allowed 5.3 yards per play to the opposition this season, which is good for sixth in the SEC and a slight improvement on what they did last season.
Much like the offense, the Ole Miss defense was also pretty bad in the red zone. Its opposition managed points on 85% of its red zone trips, which is tied for the 25th-worst mark nationally.
2022 Grade: C+
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This is perhaps an overlooked problem area for Ole Miss this season. According to Football Outsiders’ special teams fremeau efficiency index, the Rebels had the third-worst special teams unit in the SEC and 33rd-worst unit in the country overall.
Jonathan Cruz was solid enough for Ole Miss as a place kicker, but the return game for the Rebels was an issue, and the punting was unspectacular. The Rebels had inferior average starting field position in every game of the four-game losing streak that Ole Miss endured to close out the season. The Egg Bowl, in particular, showcased the value of special teams. Ole Miss generated three takeaways to one for Mississippi State, and the Bulldogs still had a far better average starting field position thanks to their special teams performance.
If Ole Miss is looking for places in the margins to improve in 2023, this feels like a good place to start.
2022 Grade: D
There’s good and bad to be analyzed. It’s definitely not easy to fold 17 transfer acquisitions into a program over the course of a few months and get off to a 7-0 start. Equally, you’d expect a team with that type of influx of new faces to get better as the season progresses, and that certainly did not happen.
Kiffin deserves credit for recognizing what he had in Quinshon Judkins and Zach Evans on offense, turning what has been a pass-first offense since he arrived into Power Five football’s best rushing attack. On the negative side of things, it’s hard not to feel like the off-the-field situation connecting him to the Auburn job could have been handled better.
2022 Grade: C-
As noted, Kiffin said himself that this 8-5 outcome isn’t good enough. The Rebels lost five of their last six and got totally blown out of the water in three of those games. Still, when we apply some recent historical context it’s difficult to categorize the season as an outright failure. In the 22 seasons from 2000-2021, OIe Miss won eight or more games seven times.
Vegas had the Rebels’ preseason win total at 7.5. So, in the most objective sense, the Rebels were on the right side of expectations – but only just.
David Eckert covers Ole Miss for the Clarion Ledger. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org or reach him on Twitter @davideckert98.