Penn State’s coaching changes affect Ole Miss’ Peach Bowl prep

Published 4:02 pm Thursday, December 28, 2023

ATLANTA (AP) — No. 11 Ole Miss is having to do extra work to prepare for Saturday’s Peach Bowl against No. 10 Penn State with the Nittany Lions welcoming new coordinators on both sides of the ball.

Ole Miss coach Lane Kiffin said Tuesday before his team’s first practice in Atlanta that “We don’t have any idea what they’re going to do.”

Penn State leads the nation in total defense and ranks third with its average of 11.42 points allowed. Those credentials helped defensive coordinator Manny Diaz get hired as Duke’s head coach.

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On Dec. 19, Penn State coach James Franklin hired former Indiana coach Tom Allen as the Nittany Lions’ new defensive coordinator. Allen is with the team in Atlanta, but assistants Anthony Poindexter and Robb Smith are leading the defense for the bowl game.

Allen was an assistant at Ole Miss from 2012-14 and, coincidentally, part of its staff for the 2014 Peach Bowl.

Meanwhile, Andy Kotelnicki has been hired as Penn State’s new offensive coordinator, but assistants Ja’Quan Seider and Ty Howle will continue to serve as co-coordinators for the bowl game. Penn State was 2-0 with Seider and Howle directing the offense after Franklin fired Mike Yurcich.

With the new full-time coordinators having the opportunity to possibly provide input this week, Kiffin is leery of encountering new looks he can’t add to his game plan.

“People would think, well, that’s in our favor with Manny leaving, but that presents challenges, too,” Kiffin said. “… It’s like opening the season with no preseason games or being someone’s second game. That’s actually a really big challenge.”

Penn State (10-2) scored a combined 69 points in wins over Rutgers and Michigan State to close the regular season and now have had extra practice time with the new offensive play-callers.

“It’s just more that we’re going to have to be ready for,” Kiffin said.

Penn State tight end Tyler Warren said his time with Kotelnicki thus far has been limited to “getting to know him. It’s not really football stuff yet. I think he’s fit well with the guys. We’re starting to get to know him more and more … so when it is time to do football stuff, we’ll be working well together.”

Franklin said the addition of new coordinators created “a little bit different situation” and their presence in bowl practice will create a smooth transition for 2024.

“Obviously you’d prefer not to have to have changes be made, but if they are made, I think there’s a ton of value in doing what we’re doing,” Franklin said. “Tom’s ability to be around the staff. Andy’s ability to be around the staff. Staff meetings, game planning, watching film, watching the players, how we do things.”

As a result, Franklin said the new coordinators won’t have to use spring practice “still trying to get a feel for how we practice and how we go about our business.”

Kiffin confirmed that senior defensive end Cedric Johnson is the only Rebels player to opt out of the bowl game to prepare for the NFL draft. Johnson had five sacks this season and 19 in his career.

When Ole Miss (10-2) accepted the Peach bowl bid, Kiffin said he didn’t anticipate having any players skip the game.

“I probably jinxed myself by saying that,” Kiffin said, adding Johnson’s decision was “kind of a surprise to us. So we wish him the best of luck.”

Penn State defensive end Chop Robinson also opted out to prepare for the draft.

Franklin said cornerback Kalen King, who is expected to enter the draft, agreed to a plan “to have him here and be part of the program for one more game.”

Among the Ole Miss players who are playing are quarterback Jaxson Dart and running back Quinshon Judkins.

The Rebels’ offense rankes 15th in the nation with their average of 455.4 yards per game. Dart has passed for 2,985 yards with 20 touchdowns and rushed for 377 yards with seven TDs. Judkins has rushed for 1,052 yards and 15 TDs. They’ll provide a powerful counterpoint to Penn State’s excellent defense.

“All I’ve been hearing all week is Penn State defense versus Ole Miss offense,” Penn State linebacker Curtis Jacobs said. “So I feel like when that’s been hyped up so much, you’ve got to pretty much give the people what they want.”

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