Kiffin's Assessment

Chris Kiffin doesn’t have quite as much on his mind this week as last.

That doesn’t have anything to do with football. And yet it has everything to do with it.

Last week the entire Kiffin family was involved in Ole Miss’ 23-17 win against Alabama in Oxford.

Chris is the defensive line coach for the Rebels. His brother, Lane, is the offensive coordinator for the Crimson Tide. Their father, Monte, is a longtime veteran defensive coach of college football and the NFL.

“Yeah, it was a different feeling. It really was,” said Chris, in his third season at Ole Miss. “Growing up with our dad, you just live and die with every play for a family member. It was definitely a different feeling last week.”

Was there interaction during game week? Or was it a “let’s keep quiet” until the week had passed?

“We have a group message going in our family. It really never stopped the whole week,” Chris said. “It was kind of out of control. We were just having fun.”

Chris said Lane mentioned in one of those moments prior to the contest that the Rebels’ defense would be quite the challenge for the Alabama offense.

“(Lane) did tell us leading up to the game – because they had a bye week – that they thought our defense was really, really good, and that they were a little nervous about playing our defense,” Chris said. “I guess it turned out good for us.”

And so it did, vaulting the Rebels to a place among the top three ranked teams in America.

Now it’s back to another serious Southeastern Conference football game, this time at Texas A&M Saturday night. Chris said A&M’s offense is for real and a real challenge.

“Basically they’re just going to play a numbers game on you with a spread, four-wide receiver offense,” he said. “If you take away the receivers, they’re going to make you pay for it in the run. As soon as you load the box, then they’re going to throw the ball. You have to find ways to be able to defend both. That has a lot to do with winning first down as always and getting them into certain situations.”

Just a couple of weeks ago, Arkansas was able to score 28 points in a seven-point overtime loss to the Aggies.

“Arkansas that first half, they just continued to run the football and they had some success with it,” Kiffin said. “The first thing we have to do is stop the run, just like always, even though they are a passing team.”

Kiffin said Texas A&M is strong up front offensively, just like they always are every season.

“They are a good offensive line. No doubt about it,” he said. “They’ve recruited well for a while in that position. It seems like they lose first-round picks and then replace them the next year. Both tackles are very solid, their center (Mike Matthews) obviously has great blood lines, and they’re mixing in some guards now because (Jarvis) Harrison is just now coming back. Overall they play well together, and they do a lot of things in their offense that helps their O-Line be that way.”

All in all, the Rebels understand the magnitude of yet another moment in what has been a successful season so far. This time, yet again, it’s against a very good football team.

“I think our guys have a good idea of what they’re facing now,” Kiffin said.

More from Chris Kiffin:

* On Robert Nkemdiche being as good as it appears this season: “Yes. I would have thought you guys would have thought that he was not, because his stats are not up. He does really do so many good things in there. But his numbers are not up. As far as technique and all that, he’s constantly getting better like I’ve always said about him. His desire to get better . . . he absolutely loves defensive tackle now. Before, he didn’t know if he even wanted to play that. He’s playing very well for us. You don’t really notice it until all of a sudden you realize you’re in the top five in total defense. Something’s happening up front, and against Alabama he played really well to control what they did.”

* On the progress of Marquis Haynes: “Watching film, I was telling my guys how Marquis Haynes is becoming, for being a true freshman with zero game experience, he’s just constantly getting better. The sky’s the limit for him. He’s so athletic. I see him getting better and better every week.”

* On if his defensive line has had a “dominant” performance so far this season: “I wouldn’t say we’ve seen a complete dominant performance. I do think we’re playing at a high level with a bunch of guys. Playing a team like Texas A&M, it’s good that we have eight to ten guys that are playing. They’ll be tempo and get 80 plays a game. We can rotate guys in and feel like we’re not missing a beat. So overall as a group, I’m very pleased with the way they’re playing. I wouldn’t say we’ve had a dominating performance. As a defense, you would say Memphis was (a dominant performance) statistically. But we can get better.”

* On the depth and the experience factor: “It’s just a great experience for everybody that we have eight to ten guys that have all played a lot, besides Marquis who is a true freshman. So much experience combined for the whole group. It goes a long way. This will be the most hostile environment these guys have played in. We tell them all the time our environment changes but we don’t. We play our football and do our thing. There’s not a guy I don’t mind putting in in this game.”

* On C.J. Johnson getting back to his former self: “He’s constantly getting better. He’s constantly getting back to the old C.J. I don’t think he’s there yet, like the way he played in that first Mississippi State game our first year here. But he’s constantly trying to get there. You feel horrible for the kid that he had to go through that type of injury. But he’s putting in the work and he had an unbelievable game against Alabama. That’s part of the reason we won the game.”

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