Finley on Football: Rebels’ Safety AJ Finley Looking Forward to Challenge of Facing Tulsa’s Passing Attack
OXFORD, Miss. – In this week’s “Finley on Football” feature, we talk with Ole Miss safety AJ Finley about the Rebels’ upcoming game against Tulsa.
(The Rebel Walk has an NIL arrangement with AJ and visits with him each week to get his thoughts on the season.)
The Golden Hurricane has the nation’s No. 1-ranked passing attack in QB Davis Brin who has thrown for 1,206 yards in the first three games, recording 11 touchdowns and only one interception.
They’re going to throw the ball a lot,” Finley said.
“So I feel like if the DBs, if we have a good game, the defense is going to do well. And when the D-line does well, it’s going to be a long game for them if they can’t throw the ball. I haven’t seen much of their run game, but they pass the ball a pretty good bit. So if we come out and stop the passing game, it is going to be a long game for them.”
Safety AJ Finley on defending against Tulsa’s passing game
It’s interesting to note Tulsa has only surrendered four sacks in three games, while across the same number of games, Ole Miss has notched 13, placing the Rebs in the top five in the nation in that category.
Finley appreciates the work the Rebels’ defensive line has been doing putting pressure on opposing quarterbacks. When we asked him what particular player on defense he sees who is standing out, Finley, instead, singled out the entire line.
“I don’t know about a specific person, but our D-line has been outstanding so far this year. I feel like they’ve approached the game with a different attitude than they have in the previous years, but they have definitely been very, very dominant through the three games we played.“
Safety AJ Finley
With so many newcomers on the team and players adjusting to their roles on the unit, we wondered how everyone is doing with their keys and assignments.
“I feel like we’ve been pretty good,” Finley said. We haven’t had, I don’t think, a bust at all last game. So I think everybody’s been technically sound, so that’s really good to see.”
One area in which Finley does believe the secondary can improve is notching turnovers. The Rebels have recorded three interceptions and three fumble recoveries through the first three games.
“I feel like we’ve been we’ve been pretty good, but I think we need to force a few more turnovers than we have, because I don’t know how many interceptions we have, but I feel like that is something big — going into this week especially. We need to force more turnovers.”
With Chris Partridge taking over the defensive calls after the departure of DJ Durkin to A&M, AJ says he notices a bit of a different style of play from this year’s defense.
“I feel like as a unit, like we’ve been we’ve been all just flying around to the ball having fun,” he said. “The mindset has just changed from last year to this year.”
Part of that mindset is to “play violently,” which is something that can be seen in the defense’s physical, aggressive style of play.
“I feel like the ‘violent’ thing is one of our keys to victory…So, we go into every week thinking, ‘We’ve got to be violent and put fear in people’s heart.’”
The defense is more apt this season to be able to play with its ears pinned back, in part, because of the depth the unit enjoys. That will certainly help them against a pass-happy team like Tulsa.
“I feel like we’ve been doing pretty good with the rotation every game,” Finley explained. “So, probably yeah, even more in this game, we probably will rotate a little bit more to keep guys fresh. But play to depth has been really good and we hope to keep that going throughout the year.”
The Rebels look to keep their undefeated record intact, too. Kickoff Saturday against the Golden Hurricane is set for 3:00 p.m. and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.
Evelyn has covered sports for over two decades, beginning her journalism career as a sports writer for a newspaper in Austin, Texas. She attended Texas A&M and majored in English. Evelyn’s love for Ole Miss began when her daughter Katie attended the university on a volleyball scholarship. Evelyn created the Rebel Walk in 2013 and has served as publisher and managing editor since its inception.