How Lane Kiffin's signature day ended with Ole Miss football's signature win vs. Texas A&M

Nick Suss
Mississippi Clarion Ledger

OXFORD — After the longest day of his professional career, Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin can finally rest easy.

To steal a joke from UCLA coach Chip Kelly, Kiffin became America's first dual-threat coach Saturday. At 10 a.m., he did a guest segment on ESPN's College GameDay from The Grove. At 10:45, Kiffin became the first host coach to be College GameDay's celebrity guest picker. 

One full rock around the clock later, minutes before 10 p.m. and nearly 12 hours after Kiffin flashed his made-for-TV smile and heckled ESPN's David Pollack for picking against the No. 12 Rebels, those very same Rebels upset No. 11 Texas A&M 29-19 to give Ole Miss sole possession of second place in the SEC West.

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"That's a cool win," Kiffin said. "It's a cool day. I just kept thinking, 'Man, if we could just pull this off. I don't care if it's 2-0 or 52-51. Just to get to 8-2 and end a day of GameDay and The Grove like it was and all the energy, it would be amazing in this setting for that to happen.'"

There's a yin and a yang to this Ole Miss football team. It has two ranked wins this year. The first was, as Kiffin alluded to, a 52-51 win over Arkansas where offense was automatic and defense was nothing but an 11-point Scrabble word.

Saturday was different for Ole Miss (8-2, 4-2 SEC). The offense sputtered, stalling in the red zone three times in the first half and logging just 2.8 yards per play in the second half. But the defense was excellent. The Aggies only averaged 5.4 yards per play. They didn't score in the first half. Ole Miss' defense scored nine points on its own, on a first-half safety and a game-sealing, fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown, and set up another touchdown with a fourth-quarter interception that gave the offense the ball in scoring position.

Kiffin compared the performance to going to the movie theater. He has already seen what happens when his offense puts up 50 points and wins the day. It was refreshing to see a reboot that strayed so far from the source material. 

"I wouldn't really say it's a schematic thing," said junior safety A.J. Finley, who snagged the game-sealing pick-six. "We've been doing the same things defensively. But I think we came together closer. We took it kind of personal to improve our defense."

The reported crowd at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium was 64,425, the seventh-biggest crowd in stadium history. Not everyone stayed until the end. A few fans lined up near the gates as if to tempt the idea of storming the field, but not enough of a consensus could build up.

It's almost better that way. Saturday began with a gaggle of students sequestered behind a gate waiting for the surprise reveal that Kiffin was going to be on television sets across America. It ended with a different group of students waiting behind a different gate after Kiffin and his players pulled off a different kind of surprise for the American TV viewer.

Quarterback Matt Corral, who threw for 247 yards and a touchdown Saturday, slept through College GameDay. He didn't wake up to see his coach sell the program to viewers waiting for Penn State vs. Michigan. It was only after the show when Corral went back and watched clips. He was particularly amused by the student who put his Venmo account on a GameDay sign and made more than $2,000.

But Corral said he could feel the difference Saturday. He called it the biggest game he's ever played in. And probably the biggest game most of his teammates have ever played in.

"It was all happy," running back Jerrion Ealy added. "We were all happy to get 1-0 for the week. I don't know. This one's a little different though. With College GameDay being here? It's kind of like... (kisses fingers)."

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