Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said he learned his lesson the past two times his Rebels went on the road in marquee games, both against Alabama, and he’s not making that mistake again.
The No. 9 Rebels travel to face No. 2 Georgia on Saturday at Sanford Stadium and are 10.5-point underdogs. The Bulldogs have won 26 straight games overall and haven’t lost at home since falling 20-17 in two overtimes to South Carolina in 2019.
“I think you’ve got to watch that you don’t give off a tight, nervous vibe to your team,” Kiffin told ESPN on Wednesday. “As I’ve looked back at the two road trips like this with elite teams, the two times we went to Alabama, the players could feel me get uptight and we played that way.
“I don’t feel like that this week.”
Ole Miss (8-1, 5-1 in the SEC) lost 24-10 to Alabama earlier this season in Tuscaloosa. The Rebels led 7-6 at the half but managed only a field goal in the second half in what was the lowest-scoring output for Ole Miss against an SEC opponent since Kiffin arrived in Oxford in 2020.
“I do think sometimes with age and doing it longer, and obviously I think differently now, but you’re much more like, ‘Oh gosh, we’ve got to cover every situation. What about this? What about that?’ And that’s a good thing,” Kiffin said. “But you never want your team to pick up on any of that.”
“I remember going to Alabama when I was at Tennessee in 2009,” Kiffin added, referring to a 12-10 loss to No. 2 Alabama, “and I didn’t think one time about losing or care about, ‘Man, if we lose, I’m going to have to say this or say that.’ I was like, ‘We’re going to go there and win. Who cares?'”
Kiffin coached alongside Georgia coach Kirby Smart on Alabama’s 2015 national championship team under Nick Saban when Kiffin was the offensive coordinator and Smart was the defensive coordinator. Kiffin said the two-time defending national champion Bulldogs, in some ways, have a more complete makeup than some of those Alabama teams under Saban.
“What Kirby has done from a recruiting standpoint and the consistency on offense and defense is really amazing,” Kiffin said. “Everybody thinks defense when they think about Georgia, and they’re great on defense. But they’ve put up really good offensive numbers the last few years and that wasn’t always necessarily the case in Saban’s run where it initially was great defense and some really good offensive players, but not a system where a lot of points were being scored. Georgia has done all of it.”
Georgia and Ole Miss are both among the top 15 nationally in scoring. The Bulldogs are averaging 39.3 points per game and the Rebels 38.8 points per game. Georgia is also seventh nationally in scoring defense and allowing just 15.4 points per game.
Ole Miss has a chance to win 10 games in the regular season for the second time in the past three seasons. Before the 2021 season, Ole Miss had never had a 10-win regular season. The only other SEC teams with a chance to do that over the past three years are Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee.
Kiffin suggested that his team was playing with house money this weekend.
“I say that because this game has a different feel,” Kiffin said. “Georgia is the No. 1 team in the country [in the AP poll]. They haven’t lost at home in four years. We’re little ol’ Ole Miss. We’re double-digit underdogs going there at night. I mean, what is there to lose? If everyone expects you to lose and all the analytics and stats say you’re supposed to lose, then there’s nothing to lose. As I said, I have a much different feeling, and it’s much different what I’m telling these guys versus the Alabama game.”
Kiffin points out that Alabama was coming off a subpar 17-3 win over South Florida and had yet to settle on a quarterback, and the whole narrative was different leading into that game back in September.
“People were all of a sudden, ‘Whoa, Alabama’s struggling. They can’t figure out their quarterback. Maybe little ol’ Ole Miss should win this game,'” Kiffin said. “I feel now a lot like I did when we got here and played Alabama the first year [a 63-48 Alabama win] and they were No. 1, he went on to win the national championship, and everybody thought there’s no way we were going to win, so there’s no pressure.
“That’s what I’m saying to our players. There shouldn’t be any pressure. Just go play.”
The pressure, Kiffin said, is on Georgia, which is chasing history and trying to win three straight national titles.
“I’ve been on the other side of these streaks,” Kiffin said. “When you’re on one of these streaks, the pressure is on you because you’ve got to keep those streaks going. And if you don’t win by this many, everybody’s like, ‘Well, you’re really not that good.’
“The only thing that matters for us is playing the way we can and not worrying about anything else.”