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Three & Out: A deeper stats look at this Ole Miss defensive tenure

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OXFORD | Ole Miss and Kent State meet at 11 a.m. Saturday in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, as the Rebels look to get rid of the stench from the past two first halves.

That's where we start this week's Three & Out, looking at a plethora of defensive numbers that show Ole Miss in the national rankings since Wesley McGriff coached his first game as defensive coordinator. We follow that up with the prevailing baseball thought as fall ball nears, and we close with a mascot success story I personally witnessed.

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USA Today Sports

The Ole Miss defense has been the topic of dissection for two weeks now for obvious reasons. The embarrassing first half against Southern Illinois and then the inept first two quarters versus Alabama have caused fans to seek out answers and causes while hovering between anger and apathy.

The Rebels will almost assuredly be 3-1 after Saturday, winners of six of their last eight headed to Baton Rouge. But an explosive offense has mostly masked these defensive issues that aren’t new to 2018.

The chart below is a wealth of defensive statistics from the start of 2017 through today, and it includes Ole Miss’ national ranking in each category for that time period. Sure, the past two weeks haven’t helped the totals, but this season is only 20 percent of the sample size used to show how the defensive issues are a continuation and are multi-faceted.

It was pointed out on Twitter by Tucker Italiano how little recruiting firepower is currently on the Ole Miss defense, and these numbers show that it can’t be pinpointed to one area, one unit or one category.

Again, the following is a list of defensive statistics and Ole Miss rankings from the beginning of last season through three weeks of the current season. With such widespread deficiencies, improvement in any area could produce a tangible difference on the field.

DEFENSIVE STATS SINCE START OF 2017
Category Statistic National Rank

Yards per game

476.3

123

Yards per play

6.2

108

Rushing yards per game

237.3

125

Yards per rush

5.3

119

Passing yards per game

239

90

Third down defense

41.6

105

First downs

14.3

123

Passing touchdowns

27

93

Interceptions

11

77

20+ yard passes

55

96

10+ yard pass percentage

50.5

105

Blitz Percentage

33.2

100

Yards per attempt

7.5

90

First downs per attempt

35.2

116

Third down pass defense

61.6

118

Rush yards

3,559

126

Yards per rush

5.3

119

Rushing touchdowns

35

107

Rushing fumbles

4

125

Fumbles per rush

0.6

130

Stuff percentage

20.1

102

10+ yard rushes

106

117

5+ yard rush percentage

41.6

110

Yards after contact

1,232

116

Yards before contact

2,327

129

Three and out percentage

26.1

105

Average yards per drive

36.1

115

60-yard drives

61

118

10-play drives

36

123

Points per drive

2.6

115

Score percentage

44.2

124

Punt percentage

32.2

115

Inside 40 score percentage

76.4

124

No first down percentage

26.1

105

Percent of possible yards

51.5

116

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Josh McCoy

'MEANINGLESS BASEBALL REGULAR SEASON' STILL SEEMS LIKELY

As much as possible in the offseason, this is the news week for Ole Miss baseball.

The 2019 schedule was official released, showing a competitive slate that features good fan road trips to Tulane and Louisville, an SEC schedule that misses Vanderbilt and South Carolina and nonconference home dates with Long Beach and East Carolina, among others.

Fall baseball begins Friday, and it should be one of the more entertaining years with actual games (that don't count) against Little Rock and Delta State and the first look at a pitching staff that must replace all three weekend starters from 2018. To the best of my knowledge, there's not a pitcher scheduled to be shutdown for the fall which isn't the norm.

However, storylines and travel experiences still remain on the backburner because of the way last season ended. There's a lot of fan scar tissue from there being only one super regional appearance in the last nine seasons and how the best regular season in school history floundered in a home regional against Tennessee Tech.

It's going to be a top-10 team in the spring, and the stadium will be packed on most weekends. In-season excitement always takes over to some degree once the moment arrives. But if it's as I expect, a somewhat meaningless regular season is about to begin.

With the clock ticking on the tenure of the No. 1 recruiting class and with the ever-increasing investments into the program, a lot of loyal supporters are in show-me mode as it pertains to emotional capital. Maybe as much as any season other than 2014 -- because that was a hot-seat season for Mike Bianco, whereas he just had his contract pushed back out to four years -- this one is trending toward a bottom-line deal.

Ole Miss is 2-7 in the NCAA Tournament since it eliminated TCU from the College World Series in June 2014. The Rebels missed a regional in 2017, and there have been two home regionals in a row without advancement. There have also been an SEC West title and an SEC Tournament championship, but, fair or not, because of the postseason failures, that's been a further point of exasperation for fans instead of an increase in capital.

Ole Miss is going to have a good team. The attendance will finish in the top three nationally. But if current moods persist, there's also a healthy bit of stubborn cynicism that will last for a while. And by a while, I mean sometime in June. When the season -- and the program to some degree -- are evaluated on the destination instead of the ride along the way.

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Her mood following the first-half defensive performance against SIU.

LANDSHARK HAS WORKED IN AT LEAST ONE HOUSEHOLD

I told a version of this on the Oxford Exxon Podcast earlier this week, but since not everyone listens to the show (blasphemous, I know), this seems like a good space to give some credit.

I've been consistent in that mascots are about nothing but children and connecting young fans with the school. It's a vehicle to pull on some heartstrings early and perhaps form a connection with little ones that could last into adulthood, growing from a love for a costumed figure into actual fandom.

Sure, I would have just put a big fluffy shark out there that looked more cuddly, but I understood the rationale behind a more athletic figure, and it's all opinion. None of us have advanced degrees in mascot relations.

But, if my house is any evidence, Tony is working as far as the job assignment I detailed above.

My two-year-old daughter, Carly Ann, went to the Southern Illinois game and quickly spotted the shark on the sideline. She associates him with that Baby Shark song (1.7 billion views on YouTube) and immediately starts singing it, so maybe that's part of the attraction, but nonetheless it's made an impact.

The Alabama game started too late for Carly Ann to attend so when I sat down to watch the Saints and Browns on Sunday, it had been eight days since he'd stared at the shark for four hours. It was the first quarter and while I was complaining and throwing my hands up at the TV, she sat down tugged on my arm.

"Where did the shark go?"

She asked the first time and then the second, and at first I thought she had misplaced a stuffed animal, but throughout the day she had the same question and it clicked. She can't recognize Ole Miss football or anything like that. But she associates football in general with the Ole Miss mascot. She expected to see Tony on the TV screen, no matter who was playing in front of her.

That's the goal of this thing. Who cares how attractive or ugly the thing is? Who cares if he reminds me of a can opener if the fin isn't visible? It's not about me or anyone else who is old enough to pay his or her own bills.

The thing is for kids, and it's successfully enamored at least one two-year-old after one game. For Ole Miss, that's a win and a good sign that the rollout is serving its main purpose.