Story Poster
Photo by Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Texas A&M Football

SEC Round-Up: Can No. 9 Ole Miss prove itself as a legit contender?

November 9, 2023
2,573

Quite a while ago Lane Kiffin proved he can coach football. He’s demonstrated he can win.

However, he hasn’t proved he can build a legitimate Power 5 championship contender.

That opportunity comes again on Saturday.

All Kiffin has to do is lead No. 9 Ole Miss (8-1, 5-1) to a win over No. 2 Georgia (9-0, 6-0). He has to do it in Athens where Georgia has not lost since falling in overtime to South Carolina in 2019.

He might ask the South Carolina coach at that time for tips on winning in Athens. Except that coach was Will Muschamp, who is now co-defensive coordinator at … wait for it … Georgia.

"We have a gigantic challenge in front of us,” Kiffin said. “We're playing the No. 1 (AP) team in the country, playing them at their place at night. I think the last time anyone has beat them there was five years ago before COVID. The last head coach that beat them there I can't ask. He is now on their staff. Not a lot of answers out there on how to beat these guys at home.”

No one ever said building a Power 5 championship-caliber team is easy. Kiffin hasn’t coached one, yet.

His only team at Tennessee finished 7-6 in 2009.

Petre Thomas-USA TODAY Sports
Through four seasons in Oxford, Lane Kiffin is 31-14 (19-12) and 92-47 all-time.

The best of his four teams at USC finished 10-2 in 2011, but both losses came before November.

His teams at Ole Miss have typically been good, but not good enough.

The Rebels were 10-3 in 2021, but like at USC both losses came before November.

Last year, Ole Miss started 7-0 against a group of mediocre-to-poor teams. Then, the Rebels lost five of their last six to finish 8-5.

This season they’ve proved stronger. They’ve beaten No. 23 Tulane and they held on to upset No. 19 LSU. But their other opponents have been mediocre at best.

They’ve often needed late-game heroics to win, too.

Ole Miss got a field goal and defensive touchdown in the final two minutes to pull away from Tulane, 37-20.

The Rebels scored with 39 seconds remaining and then had to sweat out an LSU pass into the end zone on the final play to prevail, 55-49.

They came from behind in the fourth quarter to escape Arkansas. They scored with 1:40 remaining to edge Texas A&M.

“To have so many games that go to the wire and have to come back from being behind in the fourth quarter, I don't know if I remember this many in a season, especially a full season yet,” Kiffin said. “Says a lot about (Ole Miss players).”

Yet, with a chance to prove itself to be championship caliber, Ole Miss faded in a 24-10 loss to Alabama.

Even championship teams often lose once. Ole Miss can remain in contention for the College Football Playoff and then be in the national championship picture.

All it will take is beating Georgia. In Athens. At night.

Around the SEC

This week’s games: Mississippi State at Texas A&M; Alabama at Kentucky; Vanderbilt at South Carolina; Tennessee at Missouri; Auburn at Arkansas; Ole Miss at Georgia; Florida at LSU

Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports
Prior to joining Missouri last year, Cody Schrader spent the 2018-21 seasons at Truman State.

Who’s hot: OK, in preseason, who projected Missouri graduate student Cody Schrader to lead the SEC in rushing? Liar. Yet, Schrader, a former walk-on, has rushed for an SEC-leading 919 yards. He also has 10 touchdowns. He’s been particularly productive of late. He’s exceeded 100 rushing yards in the last four games. That includes 112 yards and a touchdown last week against Georgia. In that four-game span, Schrader has rushed for 456 yards and seven touchdowns.

Who’s not: Mississippi State’s offense is in a rut without staring quarterback Will Rogers. The Bulldogs had issues offensively even with Rogers. But since he sustained a shoulder injury in a victory over Western Michigan four weeks ago, Mississippi State’s offense has been stagnant. In the three following games with Mike Wright starting at quarterback, the Bulldogs have scored 23 points, managed two touchdowns and averaged 256 yards. Somehow they managed a win in that span. They defeated Arkansas 7-3.

Keep an eye on: The LSU quarterback situation is uncertain. Heisman candidate Jayden Daniels was in concussion protocols, but reportedly was cleared to practice on Wednesday. That doesn’t necessarily mean he’ll play, though there is optimism in Baton Rouge. If Daniels is unavailable, LSU turns to Garrett Nussmeier. He’s a good backup, but LSU’s offense isn’t as threatening without Daniels, whose value is without question. He leads the nation in total offense. Although his running ability sets him apart, he’s also a strong passer. The Tigers will need that against Florida, which typically plays sound pass defense.

The pressure is on: Arkansas running back Raheim “Rocket” Sanders has been hampered by injuries all season. Last week he returned to the lineup after missing two games and promptly rushed for 103 yards as the Razorbacks upset Florida, 39-36. Arkansas had rushed just 239 yards in the previous three games combined, so Sanders’ presence certainly made a difference. Arkansas needs Sanders to be a key figure against Auburn. His return opens up the playbook and creates running opportunities for quarterback KJ Jefferson. The Tigers are 12th in the SEC in run defense. Auburn has allowed more than 200 rushing yards in three of its four losses. By the way, Arkansas (3-6) still has an outside shot to qualify for bowl eligibility.

Best matchup: The Ole Miss offensive line played extremely well in a 38-35 victory over Texas A&M last week. It allowed the Aggies just one sack, while opening holes for the running game on a victorious final drive. The Rebels, who are fourth in the SEC in rushing, need their line to pass another test against Georgia’s defensive front. Georgia is ranked third in the SEC in rushing defense. The Bulldogs have limited eight opponents to 151 rushing yards or less. That’s important because Ole Miss’ chances to pull off an upset may depend on its ability to run the football. True, the Rebels passed for 387 yards against A&M, but the Aggies were forced to start two backup cornerbacks. That won’t be the case against Georgia, which leads the SEC in pass defense.

Discussion from...

SEC Round-Up: Can No. 9 Ole Miss prove itself as a legit contender?

2,039 Views | 3 Replies | Last: 3 mo ago by sanaug
Ag Tag
How long do you want to ignore this user?
Georgia will destroy Ole Miss.
Matsui
How long do you want to ignore this user?
sanaug
How long do you want to ignore this user?
AG
"But their other opponents have been mediocre at best."

Sad.
Refresh
Page 1 of 1
 
×
subscribe Verify your student status
See Subscription Benefits
Trial only available to users who have never subscribed or participated in a previous trial.