OXFORD, Miss. — What a difference a week can make. After a season-opening loss against Memphis, Ole Miss (1-1, 1-0 SEC ) rebounded to defeat Arkansas, 31-17, Saturday night at Vaught-Hemingway. (Click here for box score.)
After his team won its SEC opener, head coach Matt Luke addressed the media and offered his assessment on the team’s performance. But, first, he expressed appreciation for the Ole Miss fans and students who were in attendance.
(Click here for video of Coach Luke’s postgame press conference.)
“I’m really proud. I want to thank our fans and students for coming out,” Luke began. “I thought the atmosphere was incredible. I thought the energy in the stadium was the best it’s been for a long, long time. I just want to thank our fans for showing up. I think we really fed off that, especially in the second half,” he added.
“It was just a really tremendous SEC atmosphere. I think that was the difference in the game. I’m proud of our players and our staff. I think both sides of the ball had really good plans and I thought our players played really, really hard. It’s something really good to build on.”
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke
Luke was asked how important the victory was after the Rebels began the season with a loss.
“This was a big game,” he noted. “People started saying ‘Is this a must-win?’ on Monday, and I don’t necessarily think that. But I’m proud that these guys continued to battle out of this cloud we’ve been under and keep fighting. I think it’s good for our fans to have something good, to have an exciting night in our stadium to try to build on and move forward.”
Return of the Landsharks
The Rebels beat Arkansas (1-1, 0-1 SEC) in convincing fashion by shutting down the Hogs’ potent rushing attack and consistently keeping pressure on quarterbacks Ben Hicks and Nick Starkel in the pocket.
The coaches put in a lot of time last week preparing the defense to limit the Arkansas ground game–and it worked. Ole Miss held Arkansas to a total of 61 yards rushing on 26 attempts–a meager 2.3 yards per carry.
“That was a huge deal for us and a big emphasis all week–trying to stop the run,” Coach Luke said.
“We had a good game plan to execute there. You don’t want to give up a cheap one late, but the thing was, whenever they were making plays there were people right there. We’ve just got to make it on the deep balls. We had guys there. It looks our guys were confident, communicating and flying around,” noted Luke.
Throughout the night, the Landsharks were able to get in the backfield and cause negative plays for the Razorbacks. With Ole Miss generating a ton of pressure up front, ten different Rebels registered tackles for loss against a strong Arkansas offensive line.
“Sam (Williams) and Qaadir (Sheppard) are a handful coming off that edge, and we’ve got a veteran defensive line,” Coach Luke said. “That’s one of the older parts of our team. Those are older, experienced guys, and they stepped up and brought a lot of pressure tonight. “
Coach Luke on the Rebels’ defensive pressure
Rebels lose MoMo Sanogo to injury
Unfortunately, in the first quarter the Rebels lost inside linebacker MoMo Sanogo for the season after the junior suffered a broken right fibula and torn ligament while playing on special teams.
“MoMo….it’s heartbreaking,” Luke commented. “But I really liked the team coming off the sidelines and saying, ‘Hey, we’re going to play for you.’ My heart goes out to him because he’s put a lot into this. He’s one of our leaders.”
Linebackers Jacquez Jones and Donta Evans stepped in and helped fill the void from the loss of Sanogo in the important SEC contest. Jones, a 6-foot-0, 232-pound sophomore out of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, not only responded to his team’s need—he did so in a big way, leading the team with 9 tackles, 1.5 tackles for loss, and a half sack on the night.
“It was big,” Coach Luke said of Jones’ play. “I think he did well. That’s another young player having to play a bunch but continuing to get better.”
Defensive coordinator Mike MacIntyre’s coaching philosophy is one of reasons Evans and Jones were able to step in to help fill MoMo’s shoes. “It’s Coach MacIntyre being a very good teacher and creating some confidence in the way those guys communicate,” Coach Luke said of his DC.
“They believe in the system, and they’re playing really, really hard. Coach Mac and the staff have done a great job of not only teaching, but building confidence.”
Coach Luke on the Ole Miss defense
Luke on LBs: "It just reiterates what we're always talking about. Take Jacquez (Jones). He wasn't getting that many steps but he kept preparing. He was prepared and stepped in there and was our leading tackler in the game."
— The Rebel Walk (@TheRebelWalk) September 9, 2019
Coach MacIntyre was asked if he expected to have so much defensive success this early in the season.
“I didn’t know exactly what to expect, to be honest,” Coach MacIntyre said, smiling. “But as I think I’ve told you all, the kids are listening. They’re buying in and they’re doing what we ask. Our staff is very cohesive on defense. It’s a whole staff group. It’s not just me by any stretch of imagination,” he added.
“The players have bought into it and they’re playing hard. You know, we have tackled every day. We have pursued every day. We did walk-throughs till they can’t see straight, so we can at least line up right and not have some problems. And, so far, we’ve been—a high percentage of the time—in the right place.”
Coach MacIntyre on the Rebels’ defense
As long as the Landsharks can stay healthy, they’re going to be able to compete with everyone on their schedule this season.
Next up, Ole Miss will take on FCS opponent Southeastern Louisiana in Oxford Saturday. Kickoff is set for 3:00 pm CT, and the game will be televised on the SEC Network.