Lane Kiffin has seen this Texas A&M formula for success before, especially on defense.
No. 12 Ole Miss' coach sees a dominating defense loaded with blue-chip recruits facing his own explosive offense when the 11th-ranked Aggies (7-2, 5-2 Southeastern Conference, No. 11 CFP) visit Saturday riding a four-game winning streak.
Kiffin and Texas A&M coach Jimbo Fisher are both former Nick Saban assistants at Alabama and LSU, respectively. Both the Aggies and Rebels (7-2, 3-2, No. 15 CFP) have had designs on challenging in the SEC West.
“Jimbo figured out from coach Saban, find the best defensive players in the country and get them on your team and watch him be a really good head coach and that’s what these guys have,” Kiffin said. “Really special players that are dominant.”
Fisher has a simple message to his team about that potential title a season after the Aggies narrowly missed the College Football Playoffs: “Don't worry about it.”
“You’ve got three one-game seasons,” the Aggies coach said. “When you get to November and you’re relevant, it’s a playoff. So you forget about everything else. One week at a time, one day at a time, one practice at a time, one play at a time. And it’s that simple. Don’t worry about nothing.”
Except, this week, for the Rebels, who have won four of five since losing to the Tide.
The Aggies are 2.5-point favorites according to FanDuel Sportsbook. Ole Miss tailback Jerrion Ealy feels the offense is up to the task against the formidable defense.
“I think we're going to go out and get them," Ealy said. "It's going to be a task but one we're capable of handling.
“It should be a good game.”
The Aggies smothered Auburn’s scrambling quarterback Bo Nix. Now, they take on a Heisman Trophy candidate in Matt Corral, the only FBS player with 2,500 passing yards and 500 rushing yards this season. He’s the team’s leading rusher.
“He keeps plays alive and I’m gonna tell you what, he can shoot the ball down the field, too when he’s scrambling,” Fisher said. “So it’s going to have to be a lot of the same principles, no doubt.”
Texas A&M defensive lineman Tyree Johnson had just one sack in the team’s first five games. But since then he’s been on a tear, piling up seven sacks in the last four games combined, capped by a two-sack performance last Saturday against Auburn. His eight sacks this season rank third in the SEC.
Johnson said seeing the success of teammates like Michael Clemons and DeMarvin Leal motivated him to work harder.
“It was like kind of like: ‘I’m over there, too,’” he said. “So I’m just trying to make it noticed.”
SACK ATTACK 2
Sam Williams has thrived since returning for another season at Ole Miss. The defensive end already has set the program's modern-day single season record with 10.5 sacks, which ranks second in FBS.
Williams anchors a pass rush that has racked up 33 sacks, fourth in FBS and already the fifth-most in program history. The Rebels had nine sacks last week against Liberty.
Texas A&M’s running game has carried the offense all season, but the Aggies have gotten even better on the ground in the last three games.
Led by Isaiah Spiller and Devon Achane, the Aggies have finished with 215 yards rushing or more in three consecutive games. It’s the first time they’ve done that since 2018 and the first time they’ve had three straight such games against SEC teams since 2016.
ESPN'S College GameDay will make its second appearance in Oxford, and the Rebels are hoping for similar results. The first time Ole Miss beat No. 1 Alabama 23-17 in 2014.
"I think that reflects a lot on what these players have done throughout season to be at that point this late in the year for Gameday to be coming here,” said Kiffin, who was the Crimson Tide's offensive coordinator for that 2014 game.
——— AP Sports Writer Kristie Rieken contributed to this report.