Nick’s Notes: Rebels prepping for Saturday Showdown with Vols; tackling, depth two areas of emphasis for defense
OXFORD, Miss. — It’s back to the grindstone for the Rebels with the start of another week of practice preparing for another SEC opponent, the Tennessee Volunteers.
On Monday, Coach Kiffin met with media his weekly press conference that was followed by select players, including defensive back AJ Finley.
Kiffin’s opening statement
“Back to work and reviewing the game. Really good finish on the last play, playing with great effort on the two-point play. You probably saw some of my frustration in the postgame interview, that was an accumulation of the second half and how we played on defense. We had felt so much progress in the offseason, spring and then fall through a number of games, and then that second half kind of had the same feeling as a year ago. That’s maybe why it wasn’t as great of a feeling. Maybe you expect it, but we can’t overlook it because one play at the end of the game goes your way. We see that all the time where a last second field goal goes in or out and then all of a sudden one team has figured everything out and the programs on the rise while the other team doesn’t know how to win. We have a lot of work to do, and we’re getting ready for a challenging place to play. It’s on schedule to be their first sellout in years so it’s a very loud place, especially at night, and their team’s playing extremely well with two conference blowouts in a row, lighting up on offense. This is going to be extremely challenging.”
Depth on defense: Two players played every snap
Coach Kiffin was asked about how the lack of depth on defense impacted Saturday’s game versus Arkansas as several players got little to no break.
“Well, that was not good. A lot of guys played in the 70s and some in the 80s (snaps), which is not good no matter what, especially with the tempo, and then when you’re up tempo there’s not a lot of delay between the series and we were a little bit big-little after the first couple drivers of the game on some quick scores. We got to play more guys, and guys have to give us more confidence that when they play they’ll play well because they wore down and that was evident.“
Coach Lane Kiffin
Against Arkansas the Rebel defense was on the field for a total of 95 snaps. Two players played over 70 snaps in Sam Williams (75) and Deane Leonard (74), one over 80 in Chance Campbell (86) and two played every snap, Otis Reese and AJ Finley.
“I wouldn’t say it’s difficult. AJ Finley said.
“I think it’s more of a mindset thing to finish the game out. If you know you got to go 90 something snaps you just got to go into the game expecting that, not really expecting that but you just got to give it all to your team and finish it out.”
AJ Finley on playing every single snap vs. Arkansas
The Rebels missed 22 tackles Saturday against the Razorbacks. Finley pointed to that very area in assessing the performance.
“I feel like tackling was a big thing because they had some pretty big guys, of course,” the DB explained. “Getting those guys to the ground that were falling forward a lot, we got to stop the guys from falling forward and get them to the ground when we make first contact, that’ll be a big thing for us.”
Of Arkansas’ 350 yards rushing, 168 of those yards came after contact. Finley was asking what can be done to fix the tackling woes the team has been experienced — as Arkansas had 350 yards rushing, 168 of those which came after contact.
“I think it’s more of tackling more aggressively, tackling lower on bigger guys, not tackling big guys up high, that’s just not going to work. Focusing on the tackling I feel like that’s a big thing for us.”
AJ Finley on the Rebels’ tackling
Lane Kiffin also touched on the tackling issue and the defensive scheme.
“We have to tackle,” he began. “Same as last year, we were in a different scheme but if we don’t tackle it doesn’t matter where people are and that showed up.”
Against Arkansas, Ole Miss gave up 37 points in the second half after only giving up 14 in the first half. Finley explained what went wrong after halftime.
“They made some big plays and it kind of got us away from what we had been doing. The big plays really hurt us, the penalties late in the game hurt us. I think that really took something out of us. I think we made a stop when it mattered at the end of the game but we definitely need to work on finishing the game more.”
Missing Jake Springer
Jake Springer has not played since the opening game versus Louisville in Atlanta due to a shoulder injury. His absence has caused a little bit of a shake up on the defensive side of the ball and has forced some players to play out of position.
“He’s very physical, has a great mentality about himself which I think carries off onto other guys.” Kiffin said of Springer. “When he hasn’t played, we’ve had to move people instead of it just being one-for-one. We had to move where people play, like Otis [Reese] having to play a different position than he usually plays. That’s been an issue.”
Tennessee Offense looks familiar
Lane Kiffin is no stranger to the type of offense the Volunteers run. Current Tennessee head coach Josh Heupel was the head ball coach at UCF before being hired at Tennessee.
While Lane Kiffin was at FAU, they had the chance to play Heupel’s UCF team.
Kiffin spoke on what he expects from the Volunteer offense. “(It’s) what we’ve seen for years at UCF, he said.” “They run the ball really well with tempo, and then hitting big plays outside. We’ve seen it, we’ve lived it at FAU.”
Finley also gave his thoughts on the Tennessee offense. “I know they got some speed guys outside, they’ve got a good run game. They do a lot of hurry-up tempo almost faster than our offense so we have to be prepared for that and be ready to stop them.”
Ole Miss and Tennessee kick off at 6:30 p.m. (CT) and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
(Feature image: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)