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Opponent Breakdown: Ole Miss Defense

NCAA Football: Mississippi State at Mississippi Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

The Ole Miss defense was a liabilty last season and Lane Kiffin spent the spring and summer trying to improve it. D.J. Durkin’s group was bad at just about everything last year but Lane Kiffin seems to think that the talent they brought into the program since last year will help the defense improve.

The Defensive Line was probably the worst aspect of the defense last year as they didn’t create much pressure or stop the run very well. The staff made it a priority to improve this group via recruiting. They’ve added Isaiah Iton at Defensive Tackle and he is listed as the starter. Iton was the top ranked JUCO Defensive Tackle last cycle. Tywone Malone is listed in the two-deep after being the top ranked recruit in the Ole Miss 2021 class. Add in Jamond Jordan and Demon Clowney and Durkin has to at least feel good about the young guys and newcomers he has at his disposal.

Sam Williams was a bit of a bright spot for Ole Miss last season. He finished the year with 8 tackles for loss and 4 sacks. The Rebels will have to replace Ryder Anderson at the other Defensive End spot and I’m not sure they have an upgrade available to them. Louisville could look to attack that spot with the run game on Monday.

Ole Miss lost their top tackler to Kentucky this spring and some folks around the program seem to think that they have upgraded at the spot which led to the transfer. I’m not sure if that’s the case but the Rebels need a lot more from their Linebackers than just tackles. Last season the group as a whole barely reached double digits in tackles for loss and only had a few sacks. Chase Campbell and joined the team after leading Maryland in tackles and tackles for loss last season. They are relying on him to be the key to the improvement in the defense.

Lakia Henry and MoMo Sanogo are the other players we should see at Linebacker. Both saw significant time last year and both are athletic players who should have some success shooting gaps against uofl’s zone blocking scheme. However, both were also a big part of a bad defense last season. Time will tell if experience in the system will help them out or not.

The secondary for Ole Miss looked much more impressive to me than the numbers showed. The Rebels are deep with players in the back end but they had one of the worst pass defenses in the country. I think it’s fair to wonder if the lack of pass rush factored in there. Both Cornerback positions are listed as “or” on the depth chart which can’t make you feel good as an Ole Miss fan. The group of corners have plenty of experience and size but it stands out that none of the players listed were on the initial depth chart last season. They’ve struggled at this spot and with the numbers they put up last year, there has to be some real concern here.

The Safety positions are where I think Ole Miss are much better shape. Otis Reese is the Nickel in the 4-2-5 scheme Durkin runs. Reese is a Georgia transfer and he played really well once he was cleared in November last year. In three games, he had 23 tackles, 1 interception, and one PBU. He has great size and covers a lot of ground. Jake Springer is a Navy transfer who put up 16 tackles for loss and 8 sacks in an Outside Linebacker type of role for the Midshipmen. He is listed as a starter over Keidron Smith who had a strong year at Safety last season.

A.J. Finley rounds out the Safety group for the Rebels. He was the most impressive player on defense when I watched them. He is a guy that always seems to be at or around the play and he has some athletic talent that should help him in coverage if Ole Miss chooses to play a lot of man coverage. Finley finished third on the team in tackles while leading the Rebels in interceptions and PBUs. There is real depth at Safety and Lane Kiffin has to be hopeful that the talent here will help against the run as well as giving the defense the ability to match up against an unproven group of Louisville Receivers.