OXFORD, Miss. — After practice on Wednesday, Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke addressed the media as the Rebels prepare to kick off the season against Memphis on Saturday.
Does he think his team will be ready by Saturday?
“Ready or not, right? It’s game one and we’re excited about getting started,” Luke said smiling. “As a coach, you try and go over every situation, third down and red zone, special teams, and cover every situation. You find out a lot about your team when the ball is kicked off and we’ll be no different,” he added.
Luke knows the Tigers, who are favored, will present a stiff test for his young team, but he also believes they’ll learn a lot from the experience. “I’m excited to watch these guys go out and play and find out where we’re at,” he noted.
“Obviously, Memphis is a great football team, and it is a tremendous challenge. We’ll find out a lot about ourselves right off the bat.”
Coach Luke enters this season without the cloud of the NCAA hanging over this program. He was asked if this season feels any different than the previous two?
“Just this whole offseason has been refreshing, just to have a sense of normalcy and the opportunity to have a postseason,” he said. “It’s fun to just focus on football and that makes it special…I just think the energy around the building has been different.”
Heading into Memphis, this team has been labeled as underdogs by just about every media outlet in the country. The betting lines for this game have hovered around the Tigers being a 5 to 6.5 point favorite.
But from all accounts, it looks like this Ole Miss team has their eyes focused on Memphis and will use their underdog status to their advantage.
“You look for anything you can to motivate your team, and obviously that (underdog status) can be used,” Luke continued.
“But, again, in first games nobody really knows. You just gotta go out there and play your best. I just want our guys to play loose and play hard and lay it all out there on the field and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. If we do that, the score will take care of itself.”
Head coach Matt Luke
Givens will play against Memphis
Yesterday, we found out that right tackle Alex Givens, who had back surgery in July, was allowed to participate in drills at practice. Coach Luke reiterated the fact that Givens will be limited, but he will see playing time against the Tigers.
“Alex has practiced full speed both days in pads,” he said. “Obviously, he’s not going to be like he’s been practicing the whole time, but, again, like we said earlier, his experience gives him a chance. He obviously won’t be able to play the full game, but just having him out there from a morale standpoint and with the team, he means so much to those guys, I just think it will be very positive and whatever he can give us will be a big boost.”
One advantage Coach Luke and the Rebels take with them going into the Memphis game are very experienced offensive and defensive coordinators.
Coordinators up in the box
In order for DC Mike MacIntyre and OC Rich Rodriguez to have the biggest impact on the game, the two coordinators will sit up in the coaching box during the game, overseeing the entire field.
Coach Luke believes this will be an advantage for the team. “Again, when you’re on the sideline, you’re not talking face to face, you’re talking to the microphone, anyway,” he began. “But you can see much better up there. You remove yourself from the emotion of it all, and it’s more of a mental game up there,” he added.
The old coaching adage goes, ‘the next game is the most important game,’ but in all honesty, Saturday’s contest against Memphis truly might be the biggest game on the Rebels’ schedule this season.
From an outsider’s perspective this season opener is the most critical start to a season in recent memory for Ole Miss. By all accounts, the team and coaches appear ready for the challenge.
(Video credit: Derrell Hart, The Rebel Walk)