OXFORD, Miss. — The Rebels were back on the practice field Tuesday, following a much-needed bye-week. The team is preparing to face South Carolina Saturday in the first of a four-game stretch that offers Ole Miss a chance to finish strong with a winning record.
The Rebels and Gamecocks enjoy a competitive history, with Ole Miss leading the all-time series, 8-7. This weekend’s game is pivotal for each team, as the Rebels, currently sitting at 5-3 (1-3 SEC), are looking for a bounce-back win against the Gamecocks who sit at 4-3 (3-3 SEC).
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke made clear at Monday’s press conference the importance of this stretch run for the legacy of the 2018 team.
“They remember what you do in November.“
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke
“So excited about playing four games in 19 days, and we get the first one right back here at home. It’ll be huge for us to have a big crowd for an SEC game coming back to start this stretch run,” Luke said.
Although Ole Miss played with less than 60 scholarship players two weekends ago against Auburn, the Rebels should see an increase in numbers against South Carolina as they get some players back from injury.
Safety C.J. Miller will be able to play against the Gamecocks, as well as defensive end Victor Evans (though, he will be limited to 15-20 snaps), defensive tackle Austrian Robinson, and linebacker Zikerrion Baker.
Outside linebacker Josh Clarke, who suffered a high-ankle sprain earlier this season, is progressing and was dressed out for practice Tuesday. However, he is doubtful for Saturday’s game.
Veteran cornerbacks Ken Webster and Javien Hamilton played against Auburn two weeks ago; however, they were banged up and not at full-speed. The two mainstays in the secondary should be close to one-hundred percent when the Rebels take the field against South Carolina.
Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf, who suffered a season-ending neck injury against Arkansas, was at practice Tuesday—just a week removed from surgery. Metcalf says he will begin rehabilitation in a couple of weeks, but in the meantime will continue wearing the brace that keeps his head and neck stabilized.
News and Notes from Tuesday’s practice:
Tuesday afternoon the Rebels showed high energy all over the field in a very physical practice. The defense, to start off the day, ran a classic drill from the football vault called the Oklahoma drill—one that involves a blocker, a linebacker, and a running back. The goal is simple for the defender: make the tackle no matter what. Heavy-hitters Kevontae’ Ruggs and Willie Hibbler both showed up to the drill highly enthused as they made play after play against opposing running backs.
As mentioned above, C.J. Miller will make his return this week against the Gamecocks after suffering an ankle injury against ULM. The true sophomore was a real impact player in his time on the field before his injury. On Tuesday after practice, he offered his thoughts going into the South Carolina game:
“I really feel like they are going to go with a lot of deep balls and run the ball but we’ve been working, so I feel like our game plan is super strong with Coach Crime and everything we have been working on this week and for the rest of the week. We’re definitely going to be physical, for sure.”
C.J. Miller on the South Carolina game
Video: C.J. Miller (Credit: Archie Breland, The Rebel Walk)
Defensive Coordinator Wesley McGriff mentioned Ruggs and Miller in Monday’s presser. “It’s really good to get a guy like C.J. Miller back and to get (Kevontae’) Ruggs back on task,” he said. “That will give us some more quality guys at linebacker with Ruggs coming back and being prepared with the off week.”
On the opposite side of the ball, redshirt freshman offensive lineman Ben Brown has been an integral part of a stellar offensive line tasked with carving holes for running back Scottie Phillips and protecting the pocket for senior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu.
Brown, a 2017 signee, redshirted last season and then made a big impression on the coaches in this year’s fall camp. His performance in the preseason secured a starting spot on the Rebels’ veteran offensive line.
He’s a big, strong, physical guy,” Coach Luke said of Brown.
“He’s smart. He’s a good athlete. He plays hard. When you say offensive lineman, that’s what he looks like.”
Matt Luke on OL Ben Brown
Brown addressed the media Tuesday and discussed the Rebels’ need to be physical. He also stressed the importance of taking care of the little things against a very solid and physical South Carolina group.
“So…you really have to focus on your P’s and Q’s the whole time, and you have to just finish. You have to stay on your blocks the whole time and drive them into the dirt. You have to stay full speed the whole time, until the whistle blows.”
OL Ben Brown on what the O-line needs to do against South Carolina
Brown also talked about how he believes he has grown as a player since his first start against Texas Tech:
“I think I have matured a lot, and I think mentally I am able to handle it a lot better but there is still plenty I need to work on, like with my technique and finishing blocks,” he said. “There are a whole handful of things I can do better.”
Ole Miss and South Carolina kick off at 11:00 a.m. (CT) this Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. The game will be televised on the SEC Network.