A week ago, and even during his team's open date the previous week, Lane Kiffin repeatedly and openly discussed Nick Saban as the greatest college football coach of all time.
This week, as Kiffin's No. 17 Rebels (3-1) are set to host No. 13 Arkansas (4-1), Ole Miss' second-year coach is talking about Razorbacks defensive coordinator Barry Odom.
“Sam's done an unbelievable job,” Kiffin said of Arkansas head man Sam Pittman, before he quickly switched to the Hogs' defensive coordinator. “Barry should be the Broyles Award winner for what he's done compared to where they were a few years ago.”
Arkansas' defense dots the NCAA's top 10 in virtually all the key defensive metrics. Consider:
The Razorbacks are No. 9 nationally in yards per game, at 280.
The Razorbacks are tied for No. 7 nationally in fewest touchdowns allowed on the season, with 11.
The Razorbacks are No. 7 nationally in yards-allowed-per-play at 4.28.
And with five games already under their tusks, the Hogs' defense also is excelling through a significant sample size; their 19 points-per-game also is a 16-point improvement from 2020, the staff's first year in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
Kiffin earlier said he was so impressed with Odom's Arkansas defense – remember, the group picked off Rebels quarterback Matt Corral six times a year ago – that Kiffin had Ole Miss adapt some of Arkansas' defensive philosophies.
Likewise, a year following the 10-game, Southeastern Conference-only 2020 season that featured record scoring across the league, Kiffin said defenses again have surged to prominence in the league.
“We're back to SEC defenses in the SEC,” Kiffin said during Wednesday's SEC coaches' teleconference. “There's all these teams giving up 14-15-16-17 points per game. Last year was a strange year with the (defensive) numbers.
“When you go play an Alabama or Georgia defense, they can really throw you off. I think that happened to both of us (Ole Miss and Arkansa) last week.”
Like Arkansas, Ole Miss is much improved this season on the defensive side of the ball. A year after allowing 38.3 ppg, the Rebels are yielding just 26 ppg through the season's first third.