This is the first of a 10-part position-by-position series looking back at the 2017 season, as well as previewing what lies ahead for Ole Miss football in 2018.
Top Performer: Jordan Wilkins (155 carries, 1,011 rushing yards (6.5 avg.), nine rushing TDs, 26 receptions, 241 receiving yards, one receiving TD)
Returning in 2018: D'Vaughn Pennamon [injured] (Jr., 2L), Eric Swinney (Jr., 2L), D.K. Buford (Sr., 3L), KeShun Wells (Jr., SQ)
Newcomers in 2018: Scottie Phillips (So., Jones County JC, Mid-Year Enrollee), Isaiah Woullard (Fr., Mid-Year Enrollee)
Losing from 2017 Team: Jordan Wilkins (Graduation), Eugene Brazley (Graduation)
Looking Back at 2017: Running the football was an issue for Ole Miss in the first month of the season and Phil Longo's offense struggled to gel as a result.
But as the Rebels got deeper into the season -- and got past the likes of Alabama and Auburn on their schedule -- the team found a way to resurrect the running game. Ole Miss rushed the football for 380 yards on 132 attempts in its first five games of the season last year. Over the final seven games of the season, the Rebels ran for 1,227 yards on 238 touches that was good for 5.15 yards per carry.
There were a number of factors that contributed to this. It naturally took some time for Longo to find out what calls worked best with his personnel. Some of it was simply the opposing run defenses Ole Miss faced in the back end of its schedule. Some of it was Jordan Ta'amu stepping in at quarterback when Shea Patterson went down with an injury. The offense became more cohesive with Ta'amu and it was clear his decision making in the running and passing game helped out. A lot of it was just how good Jordan Wilkins was for the Rebels down the stretch. Wilkins ran for 1,011 yards in his final season as a Rebel on 155 carries and scored nine times. He battled through a painful planter fascia injury in his foot and was key in helping Ole Miss find some semblance of balance in an offense loaded with receiving talent on the perimeter.
As a team, Ole Miss' 2017 running game as a whole could be labeled successful. The team rushed for 1607 yards, good for 4.3 yards per carry and 19 touchdowns. Wilkins was the first 1,000-yard rusher since Dexter McCluster in 2009.
Looking Ahead to 2018: It begs the question: What will the Rebels look like at this position next year? With an offense that hinges on run-pass-options, it is certainly an important one. The departure of Wilkins is a big loss. There's no getting around that given that he accounted for 41 percent of the team's carries and 62 percent of the yards. The Rebels also lose a speedy back in Eugene Brazley, who was used sparingly last year and tallied only six touches. Ole Miss does bring back D'Vaughn Pennamon and Eric Swinney-- essentially carried what was left of the rushing workload behind Wilkins. Pennamon carried the football 53 times for 227 yards while Swinney ran 41 times for 209 yards. Both were pretty highly regarded recruits coming out of high school, but have not yet been asked to shoulder much of the weight of the running game yet in their careers.
Pennamon suffered a leg injury against Texas A&M and his timeline for returning is not clear. Swinney is no stranger to injuries himself. This was his first healthy season in Oxford after enduring two catastrophic knee injuries the previous two seasons. Matt Luke and his staff were able to reel in the top junior college running back in the country in Scott Phillips, who signed in the December signing period and is expected to contribute next fall. Phillips, who is a mid-year enrollee, ran for 1,122 yards on 222 carries at Jones Country Junior College last season and Ole Miss is hoping he will get acclimated to the division one level quickly.
This trio is who Ole Miss will primarily look to replace the productions Wilkins gave them. There isn't a lot of experience between them, but Pennamon and Swinney do have 115 carries between them in their careers and have a couple years of experience in the program. Phillips is a talented, powerful back at 5-foot-9, 205 pounds. The Rebels have some intriguing options to fill the void Wilkins leaves, but it is undoubtedly a big one at that.
A Closer Look:
- Running Backs
- Wide Receivers
- Tight Ends
- Offensive Line
- Defensive Line
- Special Teams
Ole Miss needed a lift in the final eight minutes of Saturday's win over Mississippi State. The Rebels trailed 51-42 and were in the midst of a horrible shooting night that had them on the fast track to falling to 1-2 in the SEC.
Breein Tyree wasn't about to let that happen. The sophomore point guard poured in 16 points, all of which came in the second half and 10 in the final eight minutes of the game, providing the offensive boost the Rebels desired.
"It is always great to see shots go in," Tyree said. "I was just trying to make plays to help our team win, and that is what happened."
Tyree was explosive off of the dribble getting into the interior of the Bulldog defense and getting to the rim. His pair of contested lay-ups in the final minute helped Ole Miss salt away the game.
"I just wanted to stay in attack mode," Tyree said. "I saw Deandre doing a good job of getting downhill so I figured I could do the same."
The sophomore from Somerset, New Jersey was demonstrative with his body language on the floor. He engaged the crowd. He made plays on the defensive end that led to easy baskets while the team was struggling on offense.
"We are a defensive team," Tyree said. "We pride ourselves on locking up in practice. If shots aren't falling then we are going to step it up on the other end and try to get in transition. We stayed energetic, stayed positive and got a big win."
He was also chirping with Bulldog point guard Lamar Peters, all in competitive fun he insists. But that is part of who Tyree is. When he's good, he is exploding at the rim and playing with an edge as ferocious as the bounce in his legs.
"He's always been projected ahead of me," Tyree said. "Last year I wasn't (SEC) all-freshman team. Guys like that, he gets all the recognition, I am going for your neck. It's just competitive basketball."
Tyree has displayed a couple of things in his last two games. The first, a possible outlet for offensive production in place of a struggling Terence Davis, but also a vocal leader on a team that's spent the first two months searching for one.
"It is also his personality," head coach Andy Kennedy said. "He has a leadership quality to him. He is chatty. He talks. When you aren't playing well, it is hard for you to be boisterous. Only coaches can do that. It is good for him to put together back-to-back good games. I need his voice out there on the floor."
He may have struggled a bit with decision-making and turning the ball over early on this year, but this version of Tyree is the one his team saw last year as he recovered from ACL surgery. This version is the point guard Kennedy needs on the floor and one that is good enough to take his team to another level.
He may be an underclassman on a veteran team, but Tyree is taking it upon himself to be the leader Kennedy had hoped would emerge.
"Coach Kennedy definitely looks for me to be a leader," Tyree said. "I am the point guard of this team. I need to be a little bit more of a vocal leader. Day-by-day I am going to try to better myself in doing that. Making those shots is definitely a huge confidence boost going into Auburn. I will be looking to do the same thing."
He's tried to take a more business-like approach to practice and in shootarounds before games. He thinks this behavior is rubbing off on his teammates and that this team could soon turn a corner. If that is to be the case, Ole Miss will need this level of production from Tyree as this team enters the meat of its SEC schedule.
"The sky is the limit," Tyree said. "I think that is the potential. I don't think anyone on our schedule is a guaranteed loss. I think we can beat any of them."
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke will participate in ESPN's Coaches Film room during Monday night's national championship game between Georgia and Alabama.
The Coaches Film room is part of ESPN's MegaCast for the championship game that includes 20 different productions of the game. These alternative productions will be available across at least 10 different platforms and all will be available on the WatchEspn App. Luke will be joined by numerous head coaches from across the country including the the likes of Oklahoma State's Mike Gundy, Northwestern's Pat Fitzgerald, Colorado State's Mike Bobo, Kevin Sumlin and former Ole Miss head coach and current Duke head coach David Cutlciffe among others. Luke played his final collegiate game for Cutcliffe 1998.
It is the fifth edition of this MegaCast that includes the Coaches Film room and has been popular enough that ESPN offered the broadcast during the two playoff games for the first time. The coaches will watch the game together and discuss the various intricacies of the game like breaking down X's and O's and sharing their insight. It will be broadcast on ESPNNEWS and will feature limited commercial breaks. Luke will also be on the Coaches Film Room Pregame show on ESPN2.
Kickoff between Georgia and Alabama is slated for 7 p.m.
Andy Kennedy has made his team's path to success this season abundantly clear. Ole Miss has to play with a blue-collar mentality on the defensive end and needs its guards to carry most of the scoring load.
The latter was part of the issue in the team's 71-60 loss at Georgia on Wednesday. Although the Rebels got 45 of their 60 points from the five guards that played in the game, Kennedy believes more production needs to occur in order to win games.
"I have made no bones about this," Kennedy said. "If we are going to be successful, then our guards have to carry us. It is not just one guy. I have always looked at it as five guys are going to play, and they're all averaging 20 minutes per game."
Breein Tyree led the Rebels with 17 points and Devontae Shuler followed with 11 of his own. However, Ole Miss got just eight combined points from the likes of Terence Davis and senior Deandre Burnett-- the team's two leading scorers on the season.
It was around this time last year that Davis took the SEC by storm, flashing his raw athleticism and quickness in transition that made him a nightmare for opposing defenses simply because there were times he beat the defense down the court. The junior guard has struggled in his last two games partly due to foul trouble, Davis' biggest reoccurring issue, but mostly because he has struggled to find a rhythm.
Davis got into foul trouble in the Rebels' SEC opening win over South Carolina and spent most of the game on the bench. He believes that is making him think too much instead of doing what he does best-- being aggressive and attacking the rim.
"It has been very frustrating," Davis said. "The slow start to SEC play is going through my mind. Nothing I can do about it now except get better. I have been thinking too much and not thinking enough about just going and making plays."
Kennedy's message to Davis has been the same it has always been since the two met for the first time when Davis was a recruit - attack the rim.
"I tell him that daily because that is where his strength is," Kennedy said. "Obviously, now it is a completely different way in which he needs to approach the game. He played very little as a freshman. As a sophomore, he took the league by storm this time last year and really started producing. Now, as our leading scorer, if he is not the first name in our opponent's scouting report he is certainly at the top of his list. They are trying to take away what his strengths are. He cannot give in to that."
With teams trying to take Davis out of the game, he has succumbed to a little bit of it by taking more jump shots, something he must be cognizant of when he is on the floor.
"I think some of that probably is allowing the defense to prevent him from getting to his spot," Kennedy said. "Great offensive players always get to their spot."
Davis believes it is all internal.
"It's nothing other teams are doing," Davis said. "It is all me. It is changing my mindset and staying in attack mode."
Shot selection has been the route of the issue in terms of the guards not scoring. Kennedy discusses it with them almost daily. Some of it is shots simply not falling, but some of it is also preventable.
"That is kind of our style of play, volume shooting and scoring in bunches," Tyree said. "Some of our shot selection has been bad decisions. We have to tighten that up, but Coach (Kennedy) wants us to keep shooting and stay aggressive."
"I don't think misses become contagious. I think bad shot selection becomes contagious."
Ole Miss returns home Saturday to take on a Mississippi State team that is 13-1 and knocked off 23rd-ranked Arkansas earlier this week. The Bulldogs defend well and are big inside. It will be a challenge for the Rebel guards to get to the rim.
"They are athletic," Kennedy said. "I think Nick Weatherspoon, for a freshman, is as good as I have ever seen on the ball in creating ball pressure. They have length and athleticism on the wings. I think the biggest difference compared to last year is they have a true shot blocker at the rim."
The game will also feature two strong backcourts, a challenge for a backcourt that is eager to get back on track.
"Those five guys are the strength of our team and they have to play as such," Kennedy said. "Saturday is no exception."
The waiter began removing the clean plates and silverware from the three empty seats on the white cloth. There was no need for them. The only chair occupied at this four-person table at Sonny Lee's Hunan Taste restaurant in Owings Mills, Maryland, was the one Ravens' wide receiver Quincy Adeboyejo sat in.
Here he sat nearly 1,400 miles away from home trying to make a living and a name for himself in the National Football League, left alone on a frigid Christmas Eve with nothing but a few somber thoughts that come naturally with being alone during the holiday season. It had been an adventurous, yet trying rookie season in which he battled a PCL injury that's prevented him from suiting up in a regular season game. Adeboyejo wasn't selected in the NFL draft. He signed as an undrafted free agent this spring.
He made a splash in training camp and regularly stood out in the eyes of the coaching staff. He tried to play through the pain of the injury during preseason games and was not as effective as a result.
"It has been a long year," Adeboyejo said. "It took a toll on me, mentally just not being able to perform."
Life on an NFL practice squad isn't necessarily a glamorous one. It is a group of ten players that practice with the team throughout the week but are not eligible to be active on gameday. They fall under a different salary threshold as well. Practice squad players are required to be paid at least $7,200 per week with most teams trying to stick near that minimum. It is all the physical rigors of playing in the NFL without the thrill of game action.
Out of the corner of his eye a few tables away, Scott Steinberg noticed the server hauling off the plates and Adeboyejo sitting alone. It was a depressing enough sight to call him into action.
"He sits down and I can see there is no one else joining him," Steingberg said. "I'm like gosh, it is Christmas Eve. No one is allowed to eat alone on Christmas Eve. That is just not acceptable."
Steinberg was dining with his wife, his son and his in-laws. He contemplated with them about inviting Adeboyejo to their table. His son Jake was a bit embarrassed at first and thought they might be bothering a man with some headphones in looking for some peace and quiet. That was not the case. Who wants to be alone on Christmas Eve? Steinberg walked over to the party of one and extended an invite.
"He was like 'Oh yes, absolutely. Thank you' and made a beeline to our table," Steinberg said.
He noticed Adeboyejo's Ravens' stitched cap with a number on it. Aside from a Google search to see who this number 16 was, Steinberg knew nothing about Adeboyejo other than he looked like a lonely soul in a new city missing his family.
"I was thinking about my kids and my life," Steinberg said. "Just out of college I moved to a city where I didn't know anyone and had a lot of meals by myself. It really does stink."
The Steinberg family is Jewish. They do not celebrate Christmas in any way. They don't have lights strung outside their home and they don't open gifts under a tree. But they respect and understand the traditions of Christmas and that comes from being around loved ones during the holiday season.
"A holiday is a holiday," Steinberg said. "We wanted him to feel like he had family even though we had just met. We just wanted him to feel like he was one of us in our family."
So here in this Chinese restaurant sat a Jewish family of mostly Penn State graduates with a 22-year-old Texas native that graduated in the heart of SEC Country. They were from different parts of the country with different backgrounds and had known Adeboyejo for all of two minutes. What did they talk about?
College football, of course.
"We believe the Big Ten is the best conference in the country," Steinberg said. "We believe Penn State is the best place to see a game. We are huge college football fans. Oxford and State College are probably very similar in terms of how a Saturday feels in terms of the excitement and the crowds in a small town."
It turns out, they quite a few things in common. Jake is a senior in high school and is a soccer player. He would like to play college soccer. Adeboyejo gave him some encouragement regarding recruiting, noting that he was a late-blooming recruit and was exploring other options until Ole Miss came into the picture towards the end of the process.
"I kind of talked to him about how I was in the same boat," Adeboyejo said. "I was not really recruited at first, but I just put my head down and kept working. I told him that is all he can do - keep working, so when the opportunity does come, you'll be ready for it."
The two also discussed their love of video games like FIFA Soccer. They discovered they can't play against one another because Adeboyejo operates the sticks on a Playstation 4 while Jake is team Xbox.
The Steinberg's peppered Adeboyejo with questions about football and life in the NFL. After they got home, they searched his highlights and realized Adeboyejo was a part of one of the more iconic college football plays of the last couple of years, a 66-yard juggling touchdown catch that bounced off two players in a win over Alabama in Bryant-Denny Stadium.
"We went home and my son googled it," Steinberg recalled. "We were like 'Oh my God. He's THAT guy. That is crazy!"
Being regulars at Sonny Lee's, they helped him order and gave him food recommendations around town as they passed around egg rolls. The two parties told stories of their backgrounds and their life paths. Scott is a Philadelphia native and works in finance. His wife Amy is a contractor in cybersecurity for the federal government.
"It was great," Adeboyejo said. "We talked about a lot of different things. We got to know each other. We learned about the type of things we do."
Adeboyejo talked about his family and how they haven't been able to come visit much being so far away and with him being sidelined with an injury for most of the year.
As they got up to go their separate ways at the end of the nearly 90-minute meal, they felt like old friends.
There's a tradition at Sonny Lee's. Towards the front door of the restaurant there's a bowl of uncooked rice. On the way out, a guest grabs a handful of rice and tosses it over their shoulder for good luck. The Steinbergs did so and insisted Quincy follow suit. He didn't think much about it.
The new friends took a couple of photos and went their separate ways. Quincy returned to the grind of being on the practice squad in the NFL.
Two days later, the day after Christmas, Adeboyejo was asleep when his phone buzzed. He recognized number. It was Ravens general manager Ozzie Newsome. Adeboyejo was about to get a late Christmas present. He was being promoted to the 53-man roster. Adeboyejo is going to suit up for his first official NFL game this Sunday.
"I just had to be patient. I know it's a numbers thing at times," Adeboyejo said. "I got the call. It was a dream come true."
Adeboyejo's newest fans were pretty excited at the news a well.
"We are taking full credit," Steinberg joked, referencing the rice tossing. "We were just thrilled for him. He is just such a nice person and so friendly. We were just really happy for him."
Adeboyejo has certainly had quite an eventful week. It all began with a random act of kindness from a stranger he previously knew nothing about. It was a small offering, but certainly one that lifted Adeboyejo's spirits when being alone during the holiday season can easily dampen them. He realized a dream and made a couple new friends in the process.
"It was a very small gesture," Steinberg said. "It is not like it put us out of our way. The most important thing is we found out how nice of a kid he is. He has a big heart. We met a nice person and whether he plays for the Ravens or not, it doesn't really matter. It was great for us to have that opportunity."
Ole Miss begins a new segment of its season on Sunday and arguably its most important one as South Carolina comes to The Pavilion to tip off SEC play.
It was an up-and-down non-conference season for the Rebels who lost three games at home, all of which came in overtime. Andy Kennedy has seen flashes of what he thinks this team can be, but the consistency has not been there at times. He's implored his group to play with a sense of urgency and not dig itself in difficult holes to climb out of early in games.
"I'm certainly not pleased with the fact that we lost three home games," Kennedy said. "I have said since 2006 when I got this job, that those are just no-no's. You can't do that because it is so difficult to win on the road."
There is reason to believe things could trend upward for Ole Miss in SEC play. It won its final two games before Christmas, concluding with the Rebels' most complete performance of the season in an 82-59 thrashing of a Bradley team that came into the game 10-2. The Rebels have shot the basketball better in their recent stretch of games. The team has made 26 three-pointers in its last two games and are shooting 45 percent from deep during that stretch.
Offense hasn't been the issue for the Rebels. Kennedy has said multiple times this team shares the ball better than any team he's been a part of in his tenure here. Ole Miss has 214 assists on 344 made baskets through 12 games. Decision making from the guards troubled the team early on. Kennedy saw signs of that improving of late.
"Deandre (Burnett) and Breein (Tyree) are making better decisions with the ball," Kennedy said. "Those are things we are going to have to do to win SEC games."
The majority of the team's struggles have stemmed from the defensive end, but even that appeared to be getting better during the final two games before the Christmas break. Bradley shot a pedestrian 32 percent from the field and Texas A&M-Corpus Christi shot 42 percent.
"I am encouraged that the guys are understanding who we are and that we have to be blue-collar," Kennedy said. "Sometimes it is hard to be blue-collar because it is hard. It is not easy. That is just the way we have to play. I think offensively we are finding a rhythm."
The SEC is deeper than it has been in a decade and has three teams in the top 25 and seven KenPom top 50 teams. The road will not be easy, and the team knows that but thinks they are beginning to play better basketball.
"We have a lot of things we need to work on," Terence Davis said. "But I think our mindset is now where it needs to be as a whole."
A deeper league means a tougher path, but also one with more opportunities to notch resumé-building wins. Ole Miss will have a number of chances to strengthen its postseason case. The non-conference season brought some tough moments, but the Rebels are feeling better about themselves heading into their SEC schedule.
"I do think we are beginning to understand the thin line between winning and misery," Kennedy said. "Unfortunately for us, I think we have been on the wrong side of that too many times to this point in the season. It really is a thin line, a play here or there. As we approach the holiday break, which is needed, we will come back and it is now SEC play. These guys will be excited about the opportunities."
JACKSON, Miss. -Days after playing his final game in an Ole Miss uniform, Gates made his way to down to Jackson to be presented with the Jackson Touchdown Club's Most Valuable Senior Award Monday night.
The award is exhibited to the most outstanding leader on each team and is selected by the coaching staff. Gates accepted the award at the River Hills Tennis Club.
The senior linebacker played this year through a slew of injuries including two battered shoulders. He compiled 114 total tackles and was the first Ole Miss player to record 100 tackles in a season since Patrick Willis.
He finished his decorated career with 282 total tackles and six sacks. Gates played in at least 11 games every year he was on the team. He has led the team in tackles each of the last three seasons.
OXFORD, Miss. - Matt Luke gripped the podium and grinned toward a crowd of media after being introduced by Vice Chancellor for Intercollegiate Athletics Ross Bjork as Ole Miss' next head football coach. With tears in his eyes, the 41-year-old turned to his right to thank his wife and two kids. He also turned to his left to thank Bjork and Chancellor Dr. Jeff Vitter for an opportunity that fulfilled his dream.
At some point after Ole Miss' 31-28 win in the Egg Bowl last Thursday night, some time during the more than five-hour long window Bjork sat in a room with Luke - a period that spanned from Friday to Saturday night - Bjork decided that the head coach he'd been searching for since late July was sitting in front of him and had been for the last five months.
"I really saw the beginning of a culture change," Bjork said. "That was pretty impressive. And the fact, ultimately, that he stuck in there and won in the end and never gave up is a huge sign that this coach is pretty special."
His Ole Miss connections aside, Luke sold Bjork on a plan, a vision for his alma mater's football program that is trying to navigate through a period of NCAA-infused turmoil, something made a search for a coach even murkier than it already was.
"It is impossible to quantify how much angst and uncertainty that our NCAA case has impacted our fans, let alone a coaching change in July," Bjork said. "I take ownership in everything that happens in our program, good and bad. I am sorry that our great University and the Ole Miss family have endured so much. This is a first step towards moving forward and the next step is one day closer."
Bjork seemed set that Luke was the man to help Ole Miss find more stable ground. He made it clear on Monday that Luke's plan was the most detailed, impressive and plausible of the eight candidates he engaged with. Bjork said the search was extensive and exhausted all reasonable options.
Luke had the benefit of a four-month long interview on the field, but he wasn't selected because it felt like the safe choice. It was what was said in that room on campus between them in those two days, the plan Luke outlined to Bjork on Friday night and reinforced after a night of sleep on Saturday, is what earned him the keys to his dream job at 41-years-old and just 12 games of experience under his belt. By Sunday morning, Bjork consulted with Vitter and went through the other possible avenues. By the early hours of that afternoon it was clear to them they'd found their man.
"I talked about my vision for this program," Luke said. "To me, building and changing this culture, the NCAA is not going to affect that. We've been through a lot of adversity, and we're going to come through this no matter what. But it's going to take hard work, discipline and toughness."
It is a hire that may be perceived as a gamble by some, but after months of instability, Luke sold Bjork on his workman-like mentality and a desire to rebuild this program from the ground up, including its battered image.
"He will evaluate our current program and make the necessary changes," Bjork said. "He will bring accountability, structure and continue to change the culture in the program. His tough-minded, no-nonsense attitude, his blue-collar approach, his non-stop year round work ethic is exactly what we need for our program. Coach Luke improved our team from last year, despite only having one week to prepare for the job."
Luke realized a dream on Monday. He can permanently move into to the office a few doors down from where he stood grasping the podium with excitement. It will come with challenges. He is coaching in the toughest division in college football against the best coaches in the profession. The looming NCAA sanctions, no matter how light or severe, will serve as one as well. That hasn't deterred him from believing in the plan he sold Bjork on.
"Ole Miss sells itself, and there are people who want to be at Ole miss," Luke said. "There is some uncertainty. People are waiting to see what happens. But there is a lot of interest and we're going to be right there either way. We only have 12 seniors. We only have 14-17 scholarships based on attrition for this class. We're going to be fine in this class."
It also hasn't intimidated him into trying to be someone he is not.
Luke's final days as a player at Ole Miss in 1998 saw him play the role as a translator between David Cutcliffe's new staff and his team in preparation for a bowl game after Tommy Tuberville's abrupt departure following the Egg Bowl.
He played with a severe MCL injury and stood in the offensive and defensive huddles trying to foster communication between his team and the unfamiliar staff. It was those three weeks of bowl practice that forged his desire to become a coach.
Luke has spoken with Cutcliffe, Tuberville and many of his other mentors in the recent days as he's tried to process what has been handed to him. They all had a similar message. They told him to be himself and that it was good enough because he was ready. That's all Luke has tried to do from the beginning when he stepped to the plate with his university in a tight spot. It was good enough to be the glue that held the program together despite a season that was set up for failure. It was good enough to give him a fair shot at landing the job. Ultimately, it was good enough to earn it.
"From the very beginning of this on July 20th to right now, I've held true to that and I've been myself," Luke said. "The beauty of it is that I've been raised under a lot of good head coaches and I've had a lot of great experiences. I've tried to take the best from every single person I've been around, put that in with my love for Ole Miss, and you have your own coaching style."
Bjork bought into Luke's vision and the two will be seen as steering this ship together. For the last six months, he's searched all over to find the right fit for the Rebels. He thinks he has found one in Luke's four-month long interview.
"The players believe in him," Bjork said. "Envision, with a full offseason to recruit, make the right adjustments, we can see that his plan will translate to success."
STARKVILLE, Miss. - A.J. Brown gathered his teammates in the visitors tunnel in the moments before Ole Miss took the field on Saturday night at Davis-Wade Stadium in the Egg Bowl. He swatted their shoulder pads and told them to lock in. He took his helmet off so they could see his face and delivered a message to his team that portrayed how he felt about the next 60 minutes.
This game meant more to him. Brown grew up miles from the stadium. He chose Ole Miss over his hometown Bulldogs, a decision that spurned criticism and chiseled a chip on his shoulder.
"I knew there were a lot of eyes on me," Brown said. "I just wanted to keep my cool, avoid the pushing and shoving and play my game.
His coach knew this would be a unique day for him.
"I knew he was going to be emotional coming back home," Matt Luke said. "I told him let's go out and enjoy this. We have 60 minutes left together, let's just go out and enjoy this."
The sophomore wide receiver made his presence felt from the time the clock began to run. He caught a 50-yard pass on the second play from scrimmage that set up an Ole Miss touchdown a play later. He caught a 77-yard deep ball for a score from Jordan Ta'amu that gave the Rebels a boost in momentum after Mississippi State narrowed the gap. The sophomore wide receiver caught six passes for 167 yards and the one touchdown in an emotional return to Starkville. He helped Ole Miss reclaim the Golden Egg Trophy.
"It was really huge," Brown said. "This wasn't just me. This was for the seniors."
Brown didn't practice this week while dealing with a hamstring issue. He wanted to be ready for this game.
"I was really antsy all week," Brown said. "I just wanted to do something."
The 77-yard touchdown looked like a sure overthrow out of the hand of Ta'amu. Brown jolted forward with a burst of speed, somehow caught up to the football and raced to the end zone.
"I thought he overthrew me," Brown said. "I didn't know what to think. I just knew I had to run. I don't know how I caught the ball."
Luke shared the same viewpoint while the football was in the air. He did not think there was any way Brown was going to be able to catch up to it.
"I thought it was overthrown with me me standing on the sideline," Luke said. "He wanted it and he just went and got it."
He relished the silence of the stadium after his touchdown catch and acknowledged this was something he'd been thinking about for two years, a return to Starkville where he made his decision to come to Ole Miss.
"I knew I was going to come back here," Brown said. "I thought about it a lot and it felt great."
Brown was overjoyed in the mob of players trying to put their hands on the Golden Egg trophy.
"We were really excited about this win," Brown said. "We had to get the Egg Bowl back."
The proverbial chip on Brown's was fueled by some of the things he heard from people back home. It motivated him to muster the performance he had. It's one he will remember for some time to come.
"I had a chip on my shoulder coming into this game being from Starkville," Brown said. "It felt great. It really did."
By Alex Sims for OleMissSports.com
The list of Ole Miss women's golf representatives on the U.S. Open circuit grew once again on Monday.
Incoming freshman Conner Beth Ball qualified for the 117th U.S. Women's Amateur Championship. The Madison, Mississippi native is excited to represent her state and Rebel Nation in Chula Vista, Calif. next month.
Ball put together a brilliant day at Lawrence Country Club in Lawrence, Kan. to punch her ticket. She stacked up three birdies on the front nine and strung together nine pars down the stretch to finish in first place at even par (70).
The Jackson Academy product bested a stacked field during the 18-hole qualifier, finishing ahead of eight players ranked in Golfweek's Girls Top 100.
Ball will represent the Rebels in the 2017 U.S. Women's Amateur at San Diego Country Club on August 7-13.
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Tiffany J. Moore said:
This is amazing with what he have done so far! Hope that he'll achieve more in the future! in post Evan Engram Hauls in Midseason Accolades
Fiftyyears fan said:
How can you have five straight top 25 recruiting classes and look as bad as Ole Miss has this year. Easy lack of coaching fundamentals. Look at Mason at Vandy, nothing but 2 and 3 star recruits out of high school and he developers players that want to win. Hugh freeze has 3, 4 & 5 recruits and he expects them to win because of what they were in High School. Mr. Freeze you have not been teaching the fundamentals of football or winning in life. Mr. Freeze you have quit on your players because you have some false expectations of what they are instead of what you can develop in them. Either do your job or quit. Oh yea, please quit running your smoke and mirrors offense, everyone has figured it out. Run a physical offense that can open up holes for your running backs and then your pass attack want require 12 are 14 four and five star receivers. Mr. Freeze you have problems and you need to know that you are not smarter than the rest of the coaches in the SEC. in post Rebels Unable to Send Senior Class Out on a High Note
Karen Holden said:
Not every pass can be caught. Too low, too short whatever. Not every Kelly pass is perfect. Records were broken by receivers also. But they sre not going to catch every ball thrown. The loss to Auburn was not one players fault. You win or lose as a team. in post Late Mistake Spoils Chad Kelly's Historic Performance
Trent browning said:
Hey I was just wandering if these are the only 2 olemiss players signing. If there are more signing please respond to me ASAP. Also wondering if neil everett will sign any autographs. Thank you very much in post Heisman House Tour Heads to Oxford for Ole Miss-Georgia
I like what you guys are up too. Such smart work and reporting! Keep up the superb works guys I have incorporated you guys to my blogroll. I think it will improve the value of my site in post Madden 17 Ratings for Former Rebels
Jamie laverty said:
Bulmer I love you and ole Miss in post Fast Runner From Down Under
Sharon Hamlin said:
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Sharon Hamlin said:
Hi! Really motivating post & outstanding job did Bulmer .Loved it... :-) in post Fast Runner From Down Under