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What We Learned from Ole Miss at SEC...

What We Learned from Ole Miss at SEC Media Days 2023

By: James Bryan Harrell - July 20, 2023

Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin speaks at 2023 SEC Media Days (Photo from Ole Miss FB Twitter)

Ole Miss Head Coach Lane Kiffin took the stage at SEC Media Days on Thursday. He spoke out on the transfer portal, NIL and touched on the quarterback situation in what is perhaps the deepest QB room the Rebels have ever seen.

Kicking off the final day of the 2023 SEC Media Days, Head Coach Lane Kiffin and his Ole Miss Rebels were front and center in Nashville. Kiffin brought with him standout Running Back Quinshon Judkins, Defensive End Cedric Johnson, and Corner Back Deantre Prince.

For the Rebels, hype continues to build around the program heading into Kiffin’s fourth season, with uncertainty mainly at who will be the Rebels’ starting Quarterback.

Here’s a look at what we learned from the Ole Miss portion of today’s media day:

The NIL/Transfer Portal discussion rages on

As we have seen throughout media days up to this point, two of the hottest topics in college football right now are the transfer portal and Name, Image, and Likeness (NIL) regulation. Coach Kiffin didn’t shy away from addressing the issues.

Kiffin was very critical of the current state of the transfer portal and NIL, despite being known as one of the best transfer recruiters in the country. The Head Coach said today’s environment in college football is a “disaster,” specifically mentioning the notion of “pay for play.”

“No other sport at any level is set up like this,” Kiffin said, going on to detail how college players can opt into “free agency” twice a year with no long-term contracts.

Kiffin added that while these roster changes have been beneficial for Ole Miss, who has twenty-five transfers joining the team this year alone, the portal might be bad for the competitive nature of college football.

Another talking point surrounding the NIL system and transfer portal was focused on how it affects the players and the organizations. One thing Coach Kiffin talked extensively about was managing players’ egos. Unlike before where players were solely focused on making it to the NFL to get paid, some are now receiving up to six or seven figure payouts as college athletes. While it has become generally agreed in the sport that players should be compensated in some manner, Kiffin said the system needs to be reworked.

Coach Kiffin relayed that it can be hard to get athletes to buy into the culture of a program and stay motivated when they have already gotten paid such large amounts. Along with that, the difference in NIL deals across a team can cause conflict in the locker room. This continues to be something Kiffin and his Ole Miss staff have to manage well this season as they continue to build on their successes in Oxford. 

Success in close games and away from home matters

Another thing that Kiffin touched on was the success he has had in the past two years as the Ole Miss Head Coach. For reference, Ole Miss won ten regular season games for the first time in school history in 2021 and started the 2022 season with an 8-1 record.

“We had a really good run for a season and nine games, but after that, I didn’t do a very good job of keeping the team together,” Kiffin told the media gathered in the Music City.

He mentioned how success last season ultimately came down to a few key drives or plays. Towards the end of the season, Ole Miss lost two one-possession ball games at Alabama and Mississippi State. Ultimately, those key drives and plays were the difference between an 8-4 season and a 10-2 season. 

Heading into this 2023 season, it seems Ole Miss will try to focus more heavily on coming out victorious in those close games. However, this will not be an easy task with road games on the schedule against Georgia, Alabama, Auburn, and Mississippi State. Kiffin said he and his staff are prioritizing preparing their team to play in these tough environments. Specifically, the Coach hopes his Rebels can remain cool under the pressure of close games and turn those heartbreaking losses into wins. 

What the offense will look like

One of the big questions for Ole Miss heading into 2023 is at the quarterback position. Last year’s starter, Jackson Dart, is returning for another season. However, Ole Miss added two quarterbacks in the transfer portal, Spencer Sanders from Oklahoma State and Walker Howard from LSU. Kiffin described this year’s QB room as the strongest he has had since arriving at Ole Miss.

Kiffin did say that Sanders wasn’t fully healthy during spring camp but is now ready to go. With that, it will be interesting to see how the quarterback competition evolves as the team gears up for training camp in August. 

Another staple of Lane Kiffin’s Ole Miss offense has been the tempo with which they play. Since Kiffin arrived in Oxford, Ole Miss has been one of the fastest offensive teams in the country. While appearing on SEC Now, Kiffin talked about how he has focused on retraining players, specifically those who are new to Ole Miss.

“We don’t have time to celebrate a big play or a first down. Instead, we need to get the ball to the right official and get set for the next play. There’s a lot of training needed to make this offense work,” Kiffin said.

And in the past, his offense has worked. Ole Miss has been one of the most prolific offenses in the SEC under Kiffin.

Along with their blazing tempo, the Rebels are returning Running Back Quinshon Judkins who led the SEC last season in carries, yards, and touchdowns. With the abundance of talent added in the portal and a productive group returning, Ole Miss figures to have another year of offensive success under Kiffin.

Defensive upgrades will be key 

On the other side of the ball, there is one more key addition to talk about – new Defensive Coordinator Pete Golding. Golding was previously the Defensive Coordinator at Alabama, where his unit finished as a top ten scoring defense in the country. While this was an interesting move, it is one that fans in Oxford are excited about. Golding is considered one of the best defensive coaches in the league. He has experience on championship level teams, and Ole Miss hopes that Golding can be the difference in turning around a struggling unit from 2022. 

Along with the new defensive coach, Ole Miss is adding 14 transfers on that side of the ball. It will be interesting to see how a new personnel group and coaching staff work together, and what changes they make from last year’s defense.

When asked about the culture within the unit, Defensive End Cedric Johnson commented that this year’s group has meshed better than previous years.

Ole Miss fans are hopeful that this cohesion can turn into a better product on the field. With Kiffin’s coaching style of often going for it 4th down, having a defense he can trust should translate into more success as a team. 

About the Author(s)
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James Bryan Harrell

James Bryan Harrell writes about Mississippi sports and culture for Magnolia Tribune. JB is a native of West Point and is a senior at Vanderbilt University, where he is majoring in communications.