Mississippi’s defense is justifiably flush with confidence heading into its biggest challenge so far.
The 16th-ranked Rebels, who have only allowed 13 points in the first three games, are set to host Tulsa and the nation’s leading passer Davis Brin on Saturday.
“This is a totally different challenge than we’ve had,” Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said.
The Rebels (3-0) are still waiting for their first real challenge after outscoring their first three opponents by a combined 129-13. That includes last weekend’s 42-0 win over Georgia Tech — the school's largest margin of victory over a non-Southeastern Conference Power Five team in 52 years.
In comes Tulsa (2-1), a three-touchdown underdog according to FanDuel Sportsbook but one that boasts the nation's most prolific passing offense.
Brin already has two 400-yard passing games this season, throwing for 1,206 yards with 11 touchdowns and just one interception. The Hurricanes also have two of the nation's top 10 receivers, No. 3 Keylon Stokes and No. 9 JuanCarlos Santana.
But the school of just 3,705 students — the fewest of any FBS program — ventures into an SEC stadium already accustomed to trying to buck the odds.
“I don’t think I have to give any more rah-rah speech this week than I had to do last week,” Tulsa coach Philip Montgomery said. “I think our guys understand each game is an important week and each game matters, but I do think they relish the opportunity to go up in a stage like this and perform well.”
SAME BUT DIFFERENT
The two teams are putting up similar offensive numbers overall, just in very different manners. Both are averaging 43.0 points per game and have converted 16 of 17 scoring chances inside the opponent’s 20. Ole Miss is averaging 496.7 yards a game, compared to Tulsa’s 523.7.
A big difference: Tulsa does it mostly with passing while the Rebels lead the SEC and rank fifth nationally in rushing (271.7 yards per game).
The Rebels have won 11 straight home games, the longest streak since winning 12 in a row from 1960-64. Ole Miss has also held eight straight opponents to 21 points or less, the longest active streak among Power Five teams.
Like other former Alabama assistants, Kiffin uses Nick Saban’s term “rat poison” to refer to external distractions, including hype.
“I don’t know where he got that from when we were there but it’s true,” Kiffin said. “Like I tell our coaches, our kids deal with this every where they go. It’s not just when you guys (the media) write about it. They go to class and everybody tells them how great they are. We have to be very careful of that, especially with so many new players.”
Tulsa’s Stokes, who has topped 3,000 career receiving yards, has 457 receiving yards and three touchdowns. JuanCarlos Santana's average of 108.6 yards a game ranks ninth and his four receiving touchdowns leads the team.
The Rebels don't have any receiver to compete with those numbers. But Jonathan Mingo leads the SEC and ranks 10th in FBS with an average of 22.6 yards per catch.
The Rebels are averaging 4.33 sacks per game, fifth-most nationally. Tulsa has allowed 10 sacks — while getting off 125 passes— which ranks in a five-way tie for 120th.
“Honestly, I do love it when we face a team that passes the ball a lot because there's more opportunities to get an interception,” Ole Miss safety AJ Finley said. So I feel like we do get a lot more excited."
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