BY DUDLEY E. DAWSON
After his team’s thrilling 55-49 win over LSU before the most fans (66,703) to ever watch a football game in Oxford last Saturday, Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin is trying to bring his team back down to earth.
Kiffin was warning his team on Monday that the Rebels (4-1, 1-1) had plenty of things to clean up before taking on Arkansas (2-3, 0-2) in a 6:30 p.m. game that will be televised by the SEC Network.
The Razorbacks, who have lost three straight this season, topped the Rebels 42-27 last year in Fayetteville with Rocket Sanders rushing for 232 yards and three touchdowns.
“I’m excited about playing at home again,” Kiffin said. “Hopefully, we’ll have the same type of crowd that we did last week. Similar game time. This is a very challenging opponent.
“I know that they’ve lost a few in a row, but they took LSU down to the wire at LSU (34-31) and they’ve given us a lot of problems. They were up 42-7 or something at half last year.”
Arkansas downed Ole Miss 33-21 in a Fayetteville battle of unranked teams in 2020 and the No. 17 Rebels edged the No. 17 Razorbacks 52-51 in Oxford in 2021.
“This is a really big challenge for us to play really well and contain these guys. You saw what they did to us last year, what they did to us three years ago. Excited for this challenge before we get into the bye week.”
Ole Miss fans will Stripe the Vaught, this time with alternating red and powder blue sections.
Kiffin brought up Arkansas suffering a humbling home loss to Liberty – albeit ranked 23rd nationally at the time – and another to visiting LSU (13-10) before routing Ole Miss last season.
“It doesn’t matter with Arkansas playing against Ole Miss what they’ve done before,” Kiffin said. “If I remember right, the week before us, they lost to Liberty and didn’t move the ball very well. Then, they come out with us and look like a top-five team in the country. I did use that game as evidence how these guys come to play against us.”
Kiffin knows that his players have been celebrated by their fellow Ole Miss classmates, who set a record by having over 10,000 fans in student section last Saturday.
The Rebels rolled up as whopping 706 yards total, but gave up 637 to the Tigers.
“I’m sure for two days they heard how great they were outside of here,” Kiffin said, “so I made sure they saw we made a lot of mistakes in that game in all three phases. Way too many penalties. That can’t happen. We have a lot to work on.”
He is hoping the Rebels’ defense can make as much improvement this week as the offense did from the previous week when it was shut down in a 24-10 loss at Alabama.
“That’s what we did this morning,” Kiffin said. “Offense didn’t play very well two weeks ago, had a really good week of practice, and played a lot better. Just did the same thing for the defense today.”
Kiffin lived in Fayetteville from ages 1-3 when his dad Monte was the Arkansas defensive coordinator under Frank Broyles.
He is wary of Arkansas senior quarterback KJ Jefferson (6-3, 245), a Mississippi native who will be playing near his home town of Sardis.
He is 85 of 125 passing (68 percent) for 1,050 yards with 10 touchdowns and four interceptions this season and also has rushed for 125 yards.
In the past two games against Ole Miss, Jefferson is 42 of 51 passing for 494 yards and 6 touchdowns and rushed for 125 yard and three scores while Sanders has 41 carries for 371 yards and a trio of TDs.
Kiffin drew laughter when he answered a question about Jefferson’s growth – as is development as a quarterback.
“Growth? I mean, he gets bigger every year,” Kiffin said. “This guy, he’s so hard to bring down and so challenging to play against. He always brings his A-game against us, also.
“So, you know, we gotta tackle really well. We’ve gotta cover, because he makes so many plays out of rhythm via scrambling. He has really good vision down the field and very good accuracy.”
“Not really bulletin board material,”Kiffin said. “I just use it as saying, ‘It doesn’t matter what happened last year.’ With Arkansas playing against Ole Miss, it doesn’t matter what they’ve done before…So, I did use that game as evidence of how these guys come to play against us.”
With Sanders getting healthier, Kiffin expects Arkansas to run the ball better and be more of a physical team Pittman has been known for in his career.
That’s even though its offensive line has not been so this season and Arkansas a paltry 174 yards total offense last week.
“Very tough, very physical,’ Kiffin said of Pittman teams. “They run the ball well for the most part. They’ve got their running back now, so I’m sure they’ll have more success running it now than they did earlier in the year. To me, his team usually plays like how he is. O-line coach mentality, really tough and physical.”
Photo courtesy of LSU athletics