In an exclusive interview with Mississippi Scoreboard, Florida Atlantic quarterback Chris Robison spoke in detail about what it’s like to play for new Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin. He talked about his expectations and in doing so what the Rebel players should expect next season.
Robison, who originally signed with Oklahoma out of high school, found his way to Boca Raton, Fla. after being dismissed from the Sooners team. From there, he and Kiffin built a relationship around their similarities in how they go about their business.
Robison also talked about how the new Rebel head coach gave him a chance when no one else did and how that will stick with him.
“I think Coach Kiffin could relate to me. He has made some mistakes in his life and he’s learned from them as well.”
So what exactly did Robison have to say? What should Ole Miss fans expect from a Lane Kiffin team in 2020? The Owls’ signal caller gives us a crash course.
Takeaways are a priority.
In 2019, the Owls were the best team in college football at taking the football away from its opponents. They also were the best in turnover ratio.
The Owls defense was as opportunistic as it gets, thriving on chaos and havoc plays to force their opponents into third-and-longs and bad decisions. Robison spoke to the importance that Kiffin places on turnovers in the interview with Mississippi Scoreboard.
“Ball security — and I’m not just talking about the offense,” said Florida Atlantic quarterback Chris Robison, who played for Kiffin — the new Ole Miss head football coach — the past two seasons. “He expects the defense to take the ball away, too. That’s his No. 1 thing. We worked on it every day.”
Last year, Ole Miss finished tied for 58th in turnover ratio (+1). Kiffin’s Owls were +21, almost certainly being a huge part of their 10-3 season and second Conference USA title in three years. Offensively, Robison did his part, throwing for 26 touchdowns and just six interceptions. Ole Miss quarterbacks Matt Corral and John Rhys Plumlee combined for 10 touchdowns and six interceptions, two numbers that will significantly change under Kiffin’s watch.
Analytics will be a focal point.
Ole Miss football and analytics were not something that you would say in the same sentence the last three years. Unless you were being ironic. The Rebels routinely chose the conservative route, attempting field goals from inopportune locations on the field, punting from midfield, and they never threw caution to the wind.
Robison said that will not be the case under Kiffin.
“When you dive into it and spend hours studying it, it doesn’t tell you how to coach the way most coaches coach— the old school way,” Kiffin said. “There is so many more times that you’re supposed to be going for (a first down instead of punting.) You’re not supposed to be going for long field goals … a lot of coaches are afraid of the press conference afterwards, and so they do the easy and conservative thing because then (the media doesn’t) rip them. So, get ready to rip me.”
This is a refreshing turn of events. By the time Kiffin takes over the Ole Miss program it will be 2020. It’s about time that the play calling get aggressive and some progressive thinking be utilized in Oxford. The cupboard is certainly not bare on the roster and Kiffin can certainly make waves with his style of play.
Entering today’s Boca Raton Bowl against SMU, Kiffin’s former team is 11-for-20 (55 percent) on fourth-down conversions in 2019. Ole Miss, despite going for it on fourth down 32 times this year, wasn’t utilizing analytics in these scenarios.
“My first year, I remember us going for a first down on about our own 30 and it really surprised me. We didn’t get it, and I didn’t understand why he would go for it there. But then you learn that he had a reason to go for it. And it turned out, more times than not, that when he chose to go for it, we made it. He makes good decisions on when to take those chances.”
Sure you go for it late in a game when you’re losing and trying to battle back, but Kiffin is going to bring the mindset that when you’re up 14-0 and need to step on someone’s throat and you have a manageable fourth down from your own 43-yard line, you go for it because the numbers say you go for it.
Again, it’s refreshing.
The quarterback competition should be fun.
It’s no secret that Ole Miss will have a quarterback “controversy” on its hands next spring. Plumlee returns as the starter from 2019, Corral has tweeted out that he’s “ready to go back to work”, and Grant Tisdale pulled his name out of the transfer portal.
But, as Robison states, it won’t matter who takes the first snap against Baylor in Houston in 2020, the competition will be every day.
“Every year, you’re going to compete for your job, even if you were the starter the year before,” he said. “Coach Kiffin wants the best players on the field, and that competition goes on all the time.
Now, whether they are all on the roster come next fall or are all still in the quarterback room remains to be seen, but Robison talked about how it was definitely a plus to have a head coach push him and his teammates every single day, practice, meeting, and game.
“It definitely helped me because I was always competing with the other QBs. Maybe they would have a better day than me, and that made me want to come back and do better. I like that because if someone knows he has to work to get the starting job and then to keep it, it’s going to boost his play.”
All three can’t be the starter, but all three can benefit from Kiffin’s coaching and leadership. And this is also something that will almost certainly be something used on the recruiting trail. Kiffin has been adamant about “clean slates” and “playing the best player regardless of class standing”.
He’s certainly not afraid to roll the dice on fourth down and he’s definitely not going to shy away from playing a true freshman on the road if he feels he gives Ole Miss the best chance to win the game.
Adjustments, y’all remember those?
Robison was quick to praise Kiffin about his ability to make changes when things weren’t going well or the defense was beginning to sniff out a game plan.
“On a scale of 1 to 10, he’s a 9 or a 10,” Robison said. “But I think in-game adjustments, from play to play, is what he’s best at. If he sees something that will work, we’ll run plays that we haven’t even practiced before.”
Once again, this is refreshing.
Bucking the trends. Bobbing when the defense weaves. Forward thinking and such. That hasn’t been something that has been present in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium for the last three years. Definitely not at this level.
Kiffin is arguably one of the more impressive offensive minds in college football. He turned Blake Sims into a College Football Playoff quarterback, won a national title with Jake Coker, and he was one of the first to recognize Josh Jacobs’ talents.
The aforementioned not-so bare cupboard has talent like Jerrion Ealy and Jonathan Mingo and Snoop Conner in it. I mean, c’mon, how excited are you to see him work with dudes like Elijah Moore, Dannis Jackson, Miles Battle, and Grant Tisdale? The wins may not be immediate for the Rebels, but it’s sure as hell going to be fun.
“Play and have fun.”
Speaking of that, Ole Miss needs more of it. These past three years, sans a few fleeting moments, was not fun whatsoever. The fan base was teetering on the edge of apathy and was almost completely checked out. Now with Kiffin’s hiring, the town of Oxford is engaged again more than ever, fans are all the way back in, and there is legitimate buzz around the program for the first time since Laremy Tunsil ran off on the plug in the Superdome.
Kiffin’s laid back attitude and swagger has been more than on display during his stints at Alabama and FAU and now Ole Miss fans are getting a dose of it on Twitter when he’s either utilizing GIFs for recruiting or trolling Mississippi State.
Kiffin has been a godsend for Ole Miss. I personally have been advocating for him to be the head coach for over a year now, but the Rebel faithful deserve this. Folks deserve to have fun on Saturdays again. They deserve a coach that is going to do everything in his power to put the players in position to win and win big.
FAU’s tight end and John Mackey Award winner Harrison Bryant spoke with the media after Kiffin and the Owls won the 2019 Conference USA title over UAB.
“Coach Kiffin changed my life.”
He’s done the same for Rebels everywhere. He’s altered the future of the program in the best way possible and the rest of the SEC has been put on notice.
The Lane Train is coming. All aboard.