Rebels staying focused on Vanderbilt game, not looking ahead to Egg Bowl
OXFORD, Miss. — Ole Miss has been preparing this week to face cross-divisional opponent Vanderbilt on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway. The Commodores are 2-8 overall and 0-6 in SEC play, while Ole Miss is 8-2, 4-2 in league play.
Not Looking Ahead
After the upcoming Vandy game, Ole Miss travels to Starkville for the much-anticipated Egg Bowl on Thanksgiving Day. But head coach Lane Kiffin is not about to let his team lose its focus.
“All you have to do is look around the country. It happens every week where an upset happens,” Kiffin said.
“Texas-Kansas, Florida-South Carolina, these big-number favorites. This is an SEC game, and we’ve had issues at all three phases at some point in the year, so there’s no looking ahead. We’re excited to be playing at home.”
Coach Kiffin on staying focused on Vandy
Defensive lineman Sam Williams echoed his coach’s sentiments on not getting caught looking ahead. “We have to respect every team,” Williams said earlier this week.
“We’re going to play them probably harder than we did Texas A&M because it’s the next game. We don’t look at their record, we look at them as they’re an opponent.”
Sam Williams on playing Vanderbilt
Ole Miss is undefeated and sits at 6-0 this season at home, and the Rebels are looking to add Vanderbilt to the list of teams leaving Oxford with a loss.
Kiffin Challenges Rebel Nation
Last weekend, the atmosphere was great in Oxford — from ESPN’s College GameDay to The Grove to the sellout crowd in the Vaught, it was a memorable day for Rebels.
Coach Kiffin, however, thought the stadium could have been even louder. “To me, it should be a challenge to our fans that Texas A&M didn’t use a silent count, which is pretty unheard of in this conference to be able to go on the road and be able to use a verbal count,” Kiffin said. “It should be a challenge to our fans to cheer louder. Senior Day (against Vandy) and probably the quarterback’s last day, so hopefully we show up,” he added.
Ole Miss quarterback Matt Corral’s likelihood of being drafted in the first-round of the upcoming NFL draft all but guarantees that Saturday will be the quarterback’s last game in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. He will be joined by his teammates who have no more eligibility left and those who also have the opportunity to play at the next level.
Outside of the players with no more eligibility remaining, the Rebels are not certain who will participate in the Senior Day ceremony. “We don’t have those (conversations) until the end of the year.” Kiffin said.
“Right after our last regular season game, we meet with those guys and we get their grades back. We say don’t make assumptions, but I’m making a pretty safe assumption that our quarterback (Matt Corral) won’t be back.”
Regardless of who participates in Senior Day, it will be the last chance many Rebels have to watch some of this year’s players compete in the Vaught.
“It’s going to get emotional Saturday because this is my last home game with them boys. We came a long way from my first year.“
Rebel defense stepping up
The Ole Miss defense stepped up against Texas A&M with a gutsy performance that led the Rebels to their eighth win overall and fourth SEC win. “Our defense rose to the occasion…You’ve got to commend those guys for playing great on defense the way that we did,” Coach Kiffin said following the win.
Kiffin specifically mentioned the importance of Jake Springer, who was ejected for targeting at the beginning of the second half against Texas A&M.
“I think [Jake] Springer has been a big part,” Kiffin said. “I know it’s crazy for it to be one player but if you look at the games and even the second half versus the first half when he’s out, he’s been a big part of it. We’ve done what we’re supposed to do. We limit explosive plays and we get turnovers.”
One of the players who stepped in for Springer is Ashanti Cistrunk. Before the A&M game, he had not seen much playing time since the season-opener versus Louisville.
But Cistrunk entered the game and made his presence felt, tallying two great plays back to back — a batted pass and an interception on a pass bobbled by an Aggie receiver.
“After Jake (Springer) had got thrown out after targeting, I just wanted to step up and play my role, fill in the spot. When the time came, I just took advantage of my opportunity.“
On the interception, Cistrunk had a bit of tussling to do with the A&M receiver but ultimately came up with the takeaway. “As soon as I got my hands on the ball, I knew it was mine. I wasn’t about to let that go, first career interception,” he said smiling.
Ashanti Cistrunk picks off Zach Calzada off of the tipped pass by the A&M receiver. Snoop Conner would score 2 plays later for Ole Miss.
TEXAS A&M 13
OLE MISS 22
— CFB Blitz (@BlitzCfb) November 14, 2021
This season, the Ole Miss defense has obviously made improvements, but there is more to it than just being more talented — it’s about having a winner’s mentality, being focused and staying together, and being a family.
Sam Williams addressed what has kept the defense together through some struggles early in the season.
“Mindset, basically,” he said. “We read the articles, we see it. People say we can’t stop the run, we take that personally. People complain about our defense, we have a really good defense, it’s just are we willing to do it and everybody made up their mind. We had a team meeting and made up our mind we are going to do it and as you see we’ve done it,” Williams explained.
Williams has played outstanding football this year, attracting the attention of NFL teams.
He was asked what has changed for him this season. “My mindset first of all,” Williams noted.
“I stopped playing for the hate of the other team and I started playing for the brother on my side, the teammates across from, behind me. When I look at those guys they deserve my all, even in practice. Sacks are fun. Saturday I didn’t get a sack but if you watch the film, I did my job every rep. I played 65 plays, 65 plays they got my all every rep because I love them boys, they’re my brothers.”
Cistrunk agrees with his fellow defensive teammate. “I would say we became closer together, it’s more of a family now.” he said. “We’ve been getting extra film in and just working harder.”
Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt this Saturday in Oxford. Kickoff is set for 6:30 p.m. (CT) and will be televised on SEC Network.
Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss senior majoring in Sports and Recreation Administration. A sports junkie with a great passion for all things Ole Miss, Nick played baseball and football in high school — which is where he discovered his love for sports. He is an avid Braves and Saints fan, and in his free time enjoys spending time with family, friends and his black lab, Dixie.