Next day observations: Sam Williams has turned a corner for Ole Miss

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Sep. 12—OXFORD — No, Louisville and Austin Peay aren't going to end up among the best teams in college football this season. In fact, one of them isn't even in the FBS.

But through two games, an Ole Miss defense that couldn't stop anyone in 2020 has to be feeling pretty good about itself.

Through two games, the Rebels is surrendering 20.5 points per game. It's a small sample size, but given that the team gave up also twice that, it's a step in the right direction.

Among the leaders for the defense has been senior defensive end Sam Williams, who seems to have turned over a new leaf in 2021. Williams scored a touchdown against the Governors Saturday night, a 33-yard scoop and score following his own sack fumble on quarterback Draylen Ellis.

After bouts of inconsistency earlier in his career, Williams is settling into a role as a dependable playmaker. And that isn't a mentality that was developed overnight.

Williams credits his growth to the birth of his 10-month-old son.

"First off, I have a son that I have to go hard for," Williams said. "And my coach always told me, 'Never let a man judge your heart or your effort.' And I've seen those articles. I take it to heart. I will never let a man judge my heart or my effort anymore."

Ole Miss head coach Lane Kiffin has noticed a distinct change in Williams, too. Williams leads the Rebels with three sacks this season.

"He came back from the summer a different player. And we struggle everyday with him, blocking him in practice with our ones on both sides. So, II was just hoping that would carry over to the game," Kiffin said. "We don't do as many things defensively. I think it's helping him. Like I've said, in the system we play, if your two ends aren't very good rushers, it's not a very good system."

Walking the walk

It isn't just the Ole Miss defense that has lived up to its own lofty billing thus far. While replacing star Elijah Moore out wide was thought to potentially be a problem, it hasn't been thus far with the performances of senior Dontario Drummond and junior Jonathan Mingo.

Throughout camp, Mingo and senior Braylon Sanders were adamant the Rebels might have the best group of wide receivers in college football. So far, Drummond has had two 100-yard games and three touchdowns to start the season while Mingo had two touchdowns in Saturday night's win over Austin Peay.

Sanders hasn't been as heavily targeted as expected thus far in 2021, though he did score a touchdown against the Governors. Teams have played back to guard against Sanders' speed, which has opened things up underneath, Kiffin said.

"In the opener, especially, and this game, they stayed deep for the most part on the outside," Kiffin said. "I'm sure they read reports of Braylon running by everybody every scrimmage we have. Plus, when we open practice to you guys, you guys report how great Braylon is and so now they cover him. So, Braylon thanks you guys."

Tough task ahead

As nice as two big wins are for Kiffin and the Rebels, they're well aware things are about to get a lot more difficult.

Up next weekend is Tulane, who almost defeated then-No. 2 Oklahoma in their opener and blew out Morgan State 69-20 in Week 2. After a bye week, Ole Miss heads to Tuscaloosa to take on top-ranked Alabama.

"We have work to do. It sounds like Tulane played really well, I guess, in the first half. Keith (Carter) gave me an update before. I was going out, I was all excited The Walk and he was like, 'Oh by the way, Tulane scored like 50 points in the first half,'" Kiffin said. "I said, 'OK, we're just trying to win this one.'

"The Walk was really cool, the energy was amazing that early, to be out there. I know our players and staff appreciated that and felt the support. So, we have to keep playing better so we can fill the stadium."

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