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Around The SEC: Lane Kiffin At Full Speed Ahead In Year 2 At Ole Miss

Lane Kiffin now has a full offseason to prove he's more than a quick-hit offense

Note: All Aggies' "Around the SEC" series will feature stories on all 14 programs in preparation for the 2021 season.

All aboard the Lane "Train" Kiffin Hype Express. Get on now or get left in the dust when he exceeds expectations. 

Most coaches start with 'good morning' or 'hello everyone'. Kiffin was his genuine himself, starting off his second SEC media days with a nonchalant "Hey, guys, good to be here." 

That's just been Kiffin's persona since his time at Tennessee in 2008. His carefree demeanor and swagger have cost him opportunities in the past. 

A clinic at the Nick Saban 'coaching rehabilitation center' has made him a more mature version of the wild child from USC. 

That approach could help Ole Miss surprise folks in Year 2 under their new coach. 

"Got a lot of good players coming back on offense, led by the quarterback," Kiffin said in Birmingham. "So a challenge to get him to play. I think he played as well as anybody in the country at times." 

READ MORE: Is Texas A&M's Jimbo Fisher A Top Five Head Coach?

Kiffin is the new Steve Spurrier. When at Florida and South Carolina, Spurrier quipped jokes, always had something to say — sometimes controversial. It's what made him the 'Ol Ball Coach' the must-see event of the week. 

Imagine Spurrier on Twitter? You don't have to with Kiffin. 

He tweets left and right and gives opinions beyond what normal coaches should — you know, like telling people that calling out Saban is a terrible idea.

"Yeah, Twitter was not a plan like a long time ago," Kiffin said. "It really started -- I didn't know anything about it. It started a long time ago for recruiting, and then there was a time there where there was a rule which didn't make any sense that you could not text the kids or the parents, but you could direct message them on Twitter." 

Even he has broken the sacred rule of calling out his former boss for not being 'hip' with the young names of tomorrow. Don't worry, Saban's assistant likely forwards the comments in his weekly memo.

READ MORE: Around The SEC: Shane Beamer Brings Family Legacy In Year 1 With Gamecocks

"He's certainly not on Twitter, we know that," Kiffin said. "Now, Linda, his assistant, is -- probably prints them out, especially the ones that he may not like. So he probably does see those." 

Yep. Classic Lane. 

If there's anything Kiffin can thank Saban for, it's his newfound confidence in running an offense. Last year, the Rebels racked up an SEC-best 555.5 yards per game. They recorded 18 big plays of 40 or more yards - second-most behind the Crimson Tide in that area. 

Ole Miss has the key piece that most SEC teams are looking for: Quarterback. Matt Corral is back for another year, looking to build off what he did in 2020. 

The SEC has so many questions. Georgia is hopeful JT Daniels is the guy, right? Maybe Bo Nix rebounds under Auburn's new staff? Perhaps Bryce Young, Haynes King, and Emory Jones become the next superstars?

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They're all hoping. Corral has proved it. He's returning as the SEC's leading passer, and maybe he'll set a record with a full season outside just the conference. 

"This team, this specific team right now, is something that I've never experienced in my entire life of playing football," Corral said. "When I envisioned a team a year ago, I didn't know what this was. This is the definition of a football team. I think a lot of people aren't going to understand that until they really see us in action."

Kiffin didn't back down when asked who his first-team quarterback was. After being accused during his time at Tennessee for voting Tim Tebow off the first-team All-SEC, he wasn't bringing a ballot when he just could answer.

“I would say our own quarterback in Matt," Kiffin said. "Statistically, he played as well as anybody in the country."

Corral's return is one positive. So is the one of Jeff Lebby, the offensive coordinator who joined from UCF's No. 5 total offense in 2019. The two will need to prove last year wasn't a fluke. 

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All three played their roles as compliments and secondary. Mingo has the second-most scores behind Moore. Sanders averaged a whopping 25 yards per play. 

They won't be alone in the fight for a pass-heavy attack. Former quarterback John Rhys Plumlee can play a multitude of positions across the field. Running back Jerrion Ealy is also expected to expand his production after totaling 785 yards and nine touchdowns on the ground.

"We're excited to have a fall with him where, now that we know more about him, having a season that we could maybe move him around and do some different things," Kiffin said.

There are two things the Rebels will need to improve on to push them forward. On offense, Corral will need to limit the turnovers. He led the SEC with 14 interceptions. Eleven came against just LSU and Arkansas combined. 

The Problem on defense? The defense.

For as good as the offense was, the defense was equally atrocious. The Rebels gave up an SEC league-worst 519 yards per game, meaning that high-tempo offense? 

Yeah, it needed to be that way. 

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Kiffin changed his approach and formation to a 3-4 front, like the one he saw in Tuscaloosa. Maybe that's enough to fix the woes from fall failures. The Rebels did add 12 new rookies on that side of the ball for Chris Partridge and D.J. Durkin. 

"I do think signing a lot of kids in the offseason that were mid-years and really having our first spring," Kiffin said. "I think, if you look around the country, first-year staffs really struggled, especially on defense. So we'll look to improve there."

Kiffin said he lost 30 pounds in 'preparation' to face Clemson's Dabo Swinney in a one-on-one on the court. He's seen him ball out in Florida, and he actually is pretty good. Maybe shedding the pounds will help Kiffin cover the spread. 

Maybe the two will meet one day on the football field in the College Football Playoff? 

For sure, Kiffin will meet Saban again, praying for the media to shut up that week so he'll actually stand a chance for maybe an upset.

“He’s (Nick Saban) done it differently than anyone who has ever done it, and better than anyone who has ever done it, Kiffin said. “... Every year you guys say something that upsets him, and gives him rat poison and make him mad, and then we have to deal with that."  

If looking at the SEC champions, there's a connection of underdog quarterbacks and titles. Joe Burrow was a nobody entering 2019 with LSU. Jake Coker couldn't win the job over Blake Sims in 2014 in Tuscaloosa. 

Even last year, Mac Jones was fighting for the first-string with Bryce Young, who recently made $1 million thanks to the new NIL ruling. Good thing for companies, Jones won the job and set NCAA records. 

It happens more than you think.

Could that be a sign that Ole Miss is next? Maybe not, but Kiffin isn't going down without a fight. 

And he's earning a couple of followers both on and off the Twitterverse. 

"I do enjoy the fan part," Kiffin said. "I think it's comical when I jump on there and read things and how people react to things or the rumors that people write. So it just gives people a platform to say and do whatever they want.

"It allows me to kind of be a normal person on there." 

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