Riding a solid two-game win streak, the Rebels look to continue momentum as they take on the Texas A&M Aggies under the lights in Oxford this Saturday evening.
OXFORD, Miss. – Ole Miss steamrolled over Louisiana-Lafayette last Saturday, defeating the Ragin’ Cajuns 50-22 in Oxford. On Monday at the Rebels’ weekly press conference, head coach Matt Luke and his coordinators talked about last weekend’s victory, the team’s recent success, and Saturday’s game versus the Aggies.
Who: Texas A&M Aggies (6-4, 3-3 SEC) vs Ole Miss Rebels (5-5, 2-4 SEC)
What: Senior Night
When: Saturday November 18th at 6PM CT
Where: Vaught-Hemingway Stadium
Ole Miss defense
Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff discussed the Rebels’ run defense Monday, including the effects of injuries.
“The biggest thing when you talk about the run defense is we have some guys injured. Qaadir Sheppard, Victor Evans and those guys, that puts a big dent in your front,” he explained.
“I think our effort is there. I think the guys are doing a great job of being physical, but we’ve got to make sure now when we get a ballcarrier in our grasp, that we come up with a body part and not give up any leaky yardage.”
More sacks by the Rebels’ defense: The Ole Miss defense has been placing much more pressure on opposing QBs as of late. Through the first 5 games of the season, the Rebels had 4 sacks. In the last 5 games, the Rebels have notched 21 sacks.
Two key components of the defensive line’s success are consistency and chemistry. The core group of Marquis Haynes, Benito Jones, Josiah Coatney, Breeland Speaks, and DeMarquis Gates has remained together for the majority of the season. They’ve all battled injury, but they have managed to all start at least 8 games this season.
On a team with so much young talent, veteran leadership and consistency are huge.
Improvement on third downs: The last few weeks, the Rebels have done a better job of stopping their opponents’ third-down conversions. Ole Miss held the Ragin’ Cajuns to only three 3rd down conversions out of 13 attempts.
“We’ve struggled stopping the run, but if we can get teams into 3rd and long situations, I think our 3rd down package is really, really good. Our issue has been getting to that situation.“
Coach Matt Luke
To maintain defensive pressure against the Aggies, the Rebels will need a big game from senior DeMarquis Gates. In his last three games, Gates has recorded 33 tackles, 25 of which have been solo. He has been battling injuries to both of his shoulders this season–but in spite of the pain, is leaving it all out on the field for his team. If Ole Miss defeats A&M this Saturday, it will likely be due, in part, to a big game from Gates.
The Ole Miss offense is as good as any in the country. It might not always be the most balanced, but it can put up a bevy of points and do so in a hurry. Against ULL, the Rebels had a huge day, marching into halftime with 35 points and 441 yards. When the game was over, Ole Miss had tallied 641 yards of total offense, fourth most in a game in school history.
The Rebels had three scoring drives that took two minutes or less, giving them 30 such drives on the season, and against ULL, Ole Miss was a perfect 4-for-4 in the red zone.
Quarterback: Rebels’ quarterback Jordan Ta’amu completed 28-of-36 passes for 418 yards, 3 TDs, and 1 INT against ULL. While filling in for the injured Shea Patterson, Ta’amu has thrown for 1,168 yards, seven touchdowns, and two interceptions. He’s also rushed for four touchdowns.
Running Back: Senior running back Jordan Wilkins rushed for 124 yards and 1 touchdown Saturday, marking his 4th 100-yard game this season. He has gone over 100 yards rushing in two of his last three games, which has been an important part of keeping a respectable balance to the offensive attack.
Wide Receivers: A new receiver seems to step up each week for the Rebels and take over the starring role. Last week against Kentucky, it was D.K. Metcalf who hauled in five catches for 83 yards and 2 TDs, including the game-winner with only seconds to go.
Saturday against the Ragin’ Cajuns, it was A.J. Brown with the monstrous day. He tied the single-game, school record with 14 receptions and finished with 185 yards and touchdowns on the day.
Offensive line: The offensive line has been banged up this year, with injuries to Daronte Bouldin, Sean Rawlings, and Alex Givens.
Bouldin is out with a foot injury that, as a fifth-year senior, effectively ends his career as a Rebel. Rawlings is fighting multiple injuries right now, but continues to start and play like the warrior he is. Givens missed last week’s game going through the concussion protocol, but Coach Luke suggested his status for the game against A&M is “probable.”
Tight end: The emergence of Dawson Knox has been another important aspect of the Rebels’ offense. We all know how powerful the air attack was when former Ole Miss tight end Evan Engram was on the field. Having an athletic playmaker the likes of Knox and Engram is a huge weapon in an offense like the Rebels’.
A player who can put his hand in the dirt and dig out a defensive end, then split out and catch a post is a matchup nightmare. Knox has filled that role nicely this season, as he has stormed onto the scene these last four weeks. In his last four starts, Knox has caught 16 passes for 225 yards. Look for Knox to cause problems for the Aggies Saturday.
Ole Miss will recognize its seniors Saturday night against Texas A&M. This senior class has been a part of some of the best successes in school history. They’ve seen two New Year’s Six Bowls and beaten an AP No.1-ranked team.
Through no fault of their own, however, they’ve also lost a head coach, withstood the constant pressure of a seemingly never-ending NCAA investigation, and faced their senior season with no possible bowl game, following the Rebels’ self-imposed sanctions.
Yet, they’ve still given all they’ve had, every time they’ve stepped on the field. They deserve to be recognized for all they’ve accomplished–as well as all they’ve been through.
Coach Luke noted the added importance of this year’s Senior Night:
“The adversity and all the things they’ve battled through — they’ll be proud of this season for the rest of their lives.”
Coach Matt Luke
6 p.m. (CT) Saturday night–Aggies vs Rebels. Senior Night in the SEC West under the lights! Doesn’t get much better than that.
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)