Why Lane Kiffin, Ole Miss football are treating Tulane like an SEC opponent

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD — Lane Kiffin and the Ole Miss football team are going to be treating this weekend like it's 1966 again.

It's been more than 50 years since Tulane participated in the SEC. But with the Green Wave (1-1) coming to Oxford on Saturday (7 p.m., ESPN2) armed with the nation's No. 3 scoring offense, the Rebels (2-0) are preparing for a game that has a conference-like feel to it.

"I told our team today if you don't know about conferences and you just watch film and watch them play, you think this is an SEC opponent," Kiffin said Monday.

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Ole Miss has reasons to overlook the Green Wave. Namely, there's a different two-named, singular mascot looming on the schedule after Tulane in the form of the No. 1 Alabama Crimson Tide. 

But Tulane has made itself hard to ignore two weeks into the 2021 season. The Green Wave opened the season with a 40-35 loss at No. 3 Oklahoma, taking the Sooners to their last play with a shot at winning. Then Tulane followed with a 69-20 dismantling of Morgan State in which the Green Wave led 52-7 at halftime and averaged more than seven yards per play while putting up 584 yards of total offense.

Tulane quarterback Michael Pratt (7) runs against Oklahoma during a NCAA college football game Saturday, Sept. 4, 2021, in Norman, Okla. (AP Photo/Alonzo Adams)

In a lot of ways, Tulane's offense is like Ole Miss' offense. The Green Wave have run the ball on 50.6% of snaps compared to throwing on 49.4%. They've run the 10th-most plays per game of any FBS team at 80. They try a lot of fourth downs, they get to the red zone a lot and they average 19.5 plays per game that go 10 yards or longer.

The most striking similarity, though, is the way Tulane coach Willie Fritz adjusts his plan to attack a team's weaknesses. Instead of having one defined scheme, he alters his plan to do what works against specific defenses. That's how Tulane ended up throwing 45 times against Oklahoma and running 49 times against Morgan State.

"They cause you issues," Kiffin said. "It looks like (Fritz) has done it at a number of places but he can change week-to-week and look what you do and give you problems. He's not just running plays like a lot of people do."

Following the Sooners' escape against Tulane, quarterback Spencer Rattler described the Green Wave as one of the most physical teams he's ever played against. Kiffin says that physicality translates on film, especially when watching Tulane's defense.

By Kiffin's estimation, Fritz has between 22 and 24 defensive players he trusts. That allows for plenty of rotation and keeps defenders fresh late into games, a big reason why Tulane outscored Oklahoma 21-3 in the second half. 

Oklahoma may have overlooked Tulane, but now Ole Miss doesn't have that option. Plenty of teams have played cupcakes to start the year. But the only team that's scored more than the 69 points Tulane did against Morgan State was Oklahoma in a 76-0 win over Western Carolina.

The fact that Tulane held that same Oklahoma team to three points in the second half while consistently putting up big numbers passing and running makes this a challenge Kiffin isn't letting his players look past.

"You can't go on the past," Kiffin said. "Different years, different games don't mean anything. Sometimes the week before doesn't mean a whole lot. You look at what these guys have done, they've played really well. They've got some really good players."

Contact Nick Suss at 601-408-2674 or nsuss@gannett.com. Follow @nicksuss on Twitter.