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OXFORD, Miss. — As the saying goes, “It was like déjà vu all over again.” That quote is attributed to former New York Yankees’ catcher Yogi Berra, but after Ole Miss survived Arkansas 52-51 Saturday, those words could have been uttered by Lane Kiffin.
The Ole Miss defense did look eerily reminiscent of the 2020 unit that gave up both yards and points in bunches. Saturday, the Razorbacks rolled up 51 points, 676 yards and 39 first downs — with one exception, this year’s Rebels won the game.
“You know, I felt such progress in the offseason, spring, fall, through a number of games and that second half kind of had that same feeling as a year ago,” Kiffin said in his Monday press conference.
“That’s maybe why it wasn’t as great a feeling as you expected, but we can’t overlook because of one play at the end and the game goes your way that we see all the time, a last-second field goal goes in or out and all of a sudden one team’s figured everything out and programs on the rise, and the other team, you know doesn’t know how to win.”
Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin
But this year, the Rebels did find a way to win.
After Arkansas scored a touchdown as time expired to pull to within one point, Razorback coach Sam Pittman chose to go for the win instead of attempting to force overtime. The Ole Miss defense was able to regain its composure and K.J. Jefferson’s pass fell incomplete to allow Ole Miss to get away with the victory.
The Rebels (4-1, 1-1 in the SEC) rose to No. 13 in the Associated Press poll and 14th in the Coaches’ poll.
Kiffin has been asked numerous times about his team’s adoption of a 3-2-6 defensive alignment and if he has considered moving away from that set.
“Sure, we can do that,” Kiffin began, before going on to explain why it might not be the best idea to change back to last year’s scheme.
“You got ten games to watch from last year (when we were) doing it, so we saw how that worked, but we made a change. We made a change to it (3-2-6), we know it works, we’ve seen it work for us, we’ve definitely seen it work for other people. I mean Arkansas coming in the last week had given up before us, whatever, 17 points a game and 270 yards or something, so it works when you do it right.”
Coach Kiffin on defensive scheme
Defensive back A.J. Finley also doesn’t see a problem with the defensive philosophy.
“I definitely have confidence and I mean if you watch the film, there’s plays to be made,” Finley said.
“We’re there, we just got to make the play. I still have confidence in the defense.”
Ole Miss DB A.J. Finley
The plays that were not made were mostly in the form of missed tackles. And even when tackles were made, Arkansas runners were able to gain additional yards before the whistle blew. Finley knows exactly the mistakes the defense made and what needs to be done about them.
“I feel like tackling was a big thing because (Arkansas) had some pretty big guys, A.J. Finley said.
“It’s like getting those guys to the ground that were falling for a lot (of extra yards), we got to stop the guys from falling forward and getting them to the ground when we make first contact. That’ll be a big thing for us.”
A.J. Finley on what the defense needs to do
Kiffin agrees with Finley, but he also sees another problem.
“You got to get off the field on third down and play more players and we gotta tackle. You know it doesn’t matter, like last year, we were in a different scheme, but if we don’t tackle, it doesn’t matter where the people are, and that showed up (Saturday).”
Arkansas converted 7-of-13 third downs, made both its fourth down attempts and was a perfect 8-for-8 in the red zone.
The Razorbacks used that ball control to possess the ball 35:35 which kept Ole Miss defenders on the field a long time and toward the end of the game, many of the Rebels were visibly exhausted.
It is a nice problem to have, but the Ole Miss offense has contributed to the number of plays the defense is on the field in a game.
Saturday, although the Rebels did have a scoring drive of 5:42, no other Ole Miss scoring drive was longer than 3:29. Three of the Ole Miss touchdowns came on drives that lasted less than one minute – 44, 33 and 15 seconds.
Just as in games this season, the Landshark defense will have little time before getting back into action.
Ole Miss travels to Knoxville to play a suddenly potent Tennessee team. UT (4-2, 2-1) is on a two-game winning streak after beating SEC rivals Missouri and South Carolina. In those two games, the Volunteers outscored their conference foes, 107-44.
The game at Neyland Stadium kicks off at 6:30 (CDT) and will be aired on the SEC Network.
(Feature image: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)
Steve Barnes joins The Rebel Walk staff as a senior writer and brings a trifecta of journalistic experience. As a writer, he has covered college sports for Rivals.com, Football.com and SaturdayDownSouth.com as well as served as a beat writer for various traditional newspapers.
He has been a broadcaster for arena football and several national tournament events for the National Junior College Athletic Association as well as hosting various shows on radio.
A former sports information director at Albany (Ga.) State University and an assistant at Troy and West Florida, he has helped host many NCAA conference, regional and national events, including serving five years on the media committee of the NCAA Division II World Series.
Barnes, a native of Pensacola, Fla., attended Ole Miss in 1983-84, where his first journalism teacher was David Kellum. The duo has come a long way since that time.
He will bring a proven journalistic track record, along with a knack for finding the out-of-the-ordinary story angles to The Rebel Walk.
Barnes continues to reside in Pensacola a mere ten minutes from the beach because he does have taste and a brain.