It’s back to the drawing board for No. 24 Ole Miss, following the Rebels’ 37-24 loss to Memphis Saturday.
Ole Miss has plenty of issues to account for, but third-down plays have especially been a head scratcher for coach Hugh Freeze. Whether it’s converting a third down or trying to get a big stop to get off the field, the Rebels have had problems.
Let’s take a statistical look at these issues, starting with the defense.
When it comes to stopping opponents on third down, Ole Miss ranks 102nd nationally. The Rebels have allowed opponents a 42.97 percent conversion rate on third down.
When opponents run the ball on third down, the Rebels have given up 2.35 yard per play (41st nationally). But opponents have completed 62.8 percent of attempted passes on third down against Ole Miss (115th).
On third-and-3 or fewer, Rebels’ opponents are a perfect 3-for-3 passing, only four teams in the country have given more first downs through the air while not stopping an attempt. On third downs with between four and six yards to go, opponents have completed 63 percent of their passes (ranked 95th). On third downs with between seven and nine yards to go, opponents are completing 75 percent of passes (120th). On 3rd-and-10 or longer, Ole Miss’ opponents are completing 50 percent of passes (49th).
It’s easy to see where the problems lie. However, the real mystery comes into play when you look at the Rebels’ numbers on first and second downs.
On first down, Ole Miss has given up 3.3 rushing yards per carry, which is good enough for 17th nationally. Opponents have completed 60 percent of their passes against the Rebels on first down.
On second down, Ole Miss has allowed 3.47 yards per carry (25th nationally). Through the air, opponents have connected on 66.7 percent of their passes.
Overall, Ole Miss has allowed its opponents 4.42 yards on first down, 4.03 yards on second down and 5.43 yards on third down. That number climbs to 6.32 yards on third downs with between seven and nine yards to go.
It may not seem like much, but the Rebels are significantly worse on third down than on first and second down. This is an important focal point.
Offensively, things haven’t been much better. Overall, Ole Miss has converted 40 percent of its third downs which ranks 63rd in the country.
But the mystery here comes on third-and-short.
On third-and-3 or shorter, the Rebels have run the ball 17 times for just 27 yards. That’s 1.59 yards per carry (116th nationally). On fourth down, Ole Miss has six carries for minus-1 yard. That’s 101st in the country.
Throwing the ball, the Rebels are 9-for-15 on third-and-3 or shorter or on fourth down. But when the third down distance grows, the completion percentage has dropped.
On third downs between four and six yards to go, Ole Miss has completed just 38.9 percent of its passes. On third downs between seven and nine yards to go, it’s 58.3 percent, and on third-and-10 and longer, Ole Miss has completed 45.5 percent of its passes.
To be fair, every quarterback’s completion percentage gets worse as the situation gets tougher, but Ole Miss’ problems stem from an ineptitude on the offensive line.
Overall, Ole Miss can’t stop anyone on third down, and it can’t pick up a couple yards when it needs to offensively.
The defensive issues seem to be a schematic problem that can be tweaked and potentially easily fixed. But if you can’t block, you can’t block. And that creates problems in the run game or when you need extra time to run routes down the field.
So while everyone is frantically trying to figure out what’s different about this team over the past few weeks, there’s a glaring issue on both sides that can make any team look completely different.