OXFORD, Miss. — The Ole Miss football team hit the practice field Tuesday afternoon in preparation for the upcoming game against A&M in College Station.
In their second trip of the season to Texas (the first coming against Texas Tech in NRG Stadium in Houston in September), the Rebels (5-4, 1-4 SEC) will face an Aggies’ team that sits at 5-4, overall, and 3-3 in league play. Head coach Jimbo Fisher’s team traveled to the plains last weekend and suffered a 28-24 loss to the Auburn Tigers—the same four-point deficit in Ole Miss’ 48-44 loss to South Carolina Saturday. (You can find more info on that game here.)
Regardless of their record, the Rebels possess what is still one of the most impressive offenses in the country. Against A&M, Ole Miss will look to repeat their recent successes in College Station, as they won both of their last two visits to Kyle Field in 2014 and 2016.
Ta’amu’s action limited in Tuesday’s practice
Head coach Matt Luke’s Rebels take with them into the game the top-ranked passing offense in the league (352.8 yards per game) led by signal-caller Jordan Ta’amu as well as the second-ranked overall offense (546.6 ypg) and scoring offense (39.0 points per game) in the SEC.
Ta’amu’s health has been of concern to many following a foot injury he suffered against South Carolina. He is being limited in practice throughout the week to allow him to heal; however, he is expected to play against the Aggies. On Tuesday, during the part of practice open to the media, the senior QB was dressed out but did not participate in offensive action. True freshman Matt Corral took all the snaps with the first and second teams while media was present.
At Monday’s press conference, Coach Luke indicated Ta’amu would be limited in practice for precautionary reasons. “We will limit him some this week just to get him healthy, but it’s not an injury that we think will keep him out of the game,” he said.
Nasty Wide Outs
At Tuesday’s practice, the younger faces of the Ole Miss receiving corps, known as the Nasty Wide Outs (NWO), were getting their fair share of snaps and receptions from the quarterbacks. One of those is true freshman Elijah Moore.
Moore, a wide receiver from St. Thomas Aquinas High School in Florida, has secured a key role in the Ole Miss offense for the rest of the season and beyond. He did so by not only having a massive outing against South Carolina this past weekend — racking up an impressive 129 yards on 11 receptions— but also by having some of the most consistent hands in the receiving room.
He is making the most of his game time which comes as a result of the season-ending neck injury wide receiver D.K. Metcalf suffered against Arkansas.
“I knew I had to pick up where D.K. left off,” Moore said after Tuesday’s practice.
“At times like that, you know, people go down and everybody has to step up, so I felt comfortable that I could do that too.“
Freshman WR Elijah Moore
With Moore able to play the slot, that makes it possible for A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge to play on the outside. “Those big-time guys take pressure off me,” Moore said. “Teams are going to try to take them out, and that will hopefully open me up.”
On Monday, offensive coordinator Phil Longo talked about Moore’s role on the team, whether the freshman is in the slot or out wide.
“I think he’s going to be a matchup issue out there for us for the remainder of the season, Longo said. “He makes plays when we have some matchups and I think that’ll continue to be the plan for us.”
Freshman receiver Miles Battle also took reps Tuesday at wideout, working with both the first and second string offenses. Sophomore Braylon Sanders, who had taken D.K. Metcalf’s spot on the outside, injured his ankle in the Rebels’ loss to South Carolina and did not practice on Tuesday. The coaches indicate Sanders will be a game-time decision in College Station.
Qaadir Sheppard making a name for himself
Junior defensive end Qaadir Sheppard, a Bronx native, is making a solid name for himself as a disruptive pass rusher and effective run-stopper on the Landshark defense.
Thus far this season, Sheppard has accrued 38 total tackles and an impressive 8.5 tackles for loss. On top of that, he has also forced two fumbles, proving his ability to change a game in one snap.
This week Sheppard is coming off one of his most productive games of the year, tallying six tackles, one tackle for loss, and two quarterback hurries against a solid South Carolina front.
The 6-foot-3, 240-pound Sheppard looks to continue his success this week in College Station against a Texas A&M team that has one of the top running backs in the SEC in Trayveon Williams. The junior RB has carried the ball for an impressive 931 yards and 10 touchdowns this season for the Aggies.
Sheppard says he and his defensive teammates are working on being more vocal and communicating more in order to stop opponents’ explosive plays.
“We are just trying to focus on the little things,” Sheppard said. “Sometimes dudes are out of position and miss calls. We are trying to focus on that with everyone communicating and get this thing rolling,” he added.
Ole Miss and Texas A&M will kick off at 11:00 a.m. at Kyle Field in College Station Saturday. The game will be televised on CBS.