Matt Luke Weekly Press Conference
Aug. 28, 2017

Ole Miss Football Head Coach Matt Luke met with the media on Monday recapping the preseason, and looking forward to Saturday's season opener versus South Alabama (6:30 p.m., ESPNU).

Opening statement...
"Appreciate all you guys coming out this morning. I'm excited about our first game week. A lot of energy in the building. We had a great mock scrimmage on Saturday, got a chance to go out in Vaught-Hemingway with the lights on. All the players are really excited. They're ready to hit someone else other than themselves. (I've got) a lot of respect for Joey Jones and South Alabama. I've been very impressed with them. Big wins last year over Mississippi State and San Diego State. I've worked with Kane Wommack and Tyler Siskey, and both of those guys have worked here and both are very good football coaches. We're excited to get this thing cranked off."

On the two-deep depth chart...
"I think we're pretty set. There's a pretty good battle going on at safety. We moved Jaylon Jones over there with C.J. Moore and Zedrick Woods, but Jaylon is making a big push late, so we'll see. I think Jaylon gives us some really good depth there, and he's pushing for playing time."

On starting fast against a dangerous South Alabama team...
"Fast starts are always very important. The guys will have watched that game on tape and understand it. It was also the first game of the season, and those are always tough, because you never know really where you are or what to expect because of the changes you made in the offseason. It's very important that we're sound in what we do and can make the proper adjustments."

On having a more manageable early-season schedule as opposed to last season...
"Every team is different. Really, in first games, you're really focusing on yourself and getting better and making sure you're sound. First games are very unpredictable, and you usually make your most mistakes in that first game. It's really important to focus on yourself and make sure you're prepared."

On Dawson Knox and the team's health...
"Dawson Knox and Garrald McDowell are going to be out. The rest will have an opportunity to play in the game. Qaadir Sheppard is going to practice tomorrow, and we'll see where he's at, but he's probable for the game."

On his first game as the Ole Miss head coach...
"It's going to be emotional. This is something I've been thinking about for a long time. I'm just excited about the opportunity, excited about walking through The Grove, and excited about locking the Vaught and representing my University and trying to put a team on the field that everybody's proud of. I'm very, very excited. That's going to be one of my biggest challenges this game is controlling my emotions. To be a very efficient and organized head coach and not let my emotions getting to me. But, I'm excited and prepared for it."

On Dawson Knox's injury...
"He'll have a chance for next week, but I'm hoping Cal for sure. I'll know more about that in practice next week. We'll give him the rest of this week to heal and try to get him back for next week."

On Van Jefferson's conditioning and if he and A.J. Brown will play on the field together...
"Absolutely. In some of our 10-personnel stuff, you'll see Van and A.J. in there together at the same time. The good thing is you have Van, A.J. and Markell Pack who can play inside, so I think that'll help Van's conditioning and getting him to game-shape. Our depth will help Van for sure."

On which coaches will be on the field and which will be in the box on gameday...
"On defense, all the full-time guys are going to be on the field. That was important to Coach Wesley McGriff, that he's down there with those guys and that the full-time coaches are down there making the in-game adjustments. I agree with them, and I'm excited about the way they've handled their defense. They have a really good feel, and Coach McGriff feels really strongly about making the calls from the field and in the action. I feel really good about where we are there. Coach Maurice Harris will be up for the offense and the rest of them down. Zach Brown will be up top for the defense. He's our defensive graduate assistant, he's very sharp. We went through it Saturday at the mock game, and the communication was good. I was on the defensive side listening and was very impressed with how they handled everything."

On what his role will be on gameday...
"You have to manage the clock, you have to manage timeouts, field goals and when to go for it. If I am going to go for it, I need to be able to let Phil Longo know that on second down if he's got two downs. Just being able to manage the clock and be an efficient head coach and making good gameday decisions. I think you have to be in the game to do that, and I don't think you can be all emotional and running around. I think I can be into the game and be a motivator, but I want to make sure I'm making good decisions, helping out the defense, helping out special teams--do we want to go for a block, or do we want to be punt safe? Just the little things that make you a very efficient and good head coach."

On who will call the plays...
"That's their job. Coach Longo will call the plays on offense, Coach McGriff is going to call the plays on defense. I'll certainly interject if I feel like I can help in anyway, but I'm going to let those guys do their jobs."

On talking with coaching mentors leading up to his HC debut...
"I talk to coach (David) Cutcliffe pretty regularly, I talk to Mike McIntyre as well. But I think what you do is pull the best from all the guys you've been around. You pull all the good stuff you saw from them, and that's how you're built as a coach, and I think that's very important. You also learn some things that you didn't quite like and you put your own spin on it, and that's your coaching philosophy. I think drawing from those experiences I've had from all of those successful head coaches will all help me."

On which freshman are likely to play against South Alabama...
"For sure Braylon Sanders could get on the field some at receiver. There's a chance Ben Brown could provide some depth on the offensive line. Those are the two guys on offense that stick out. I think you'll see D.D. Bowie in there at corner, C.J. Miller will have a chance to play some at safety. Ryder Anderson and potentially Breon Dixon -- those are the six that jump out to me."

On how many running backs will play Saturday...
"Jordan Wilkins will be the starter, and D'Vaughn Pennamon has had a really good fall camp. In both the scrimmages he has been in, when Jordan has been out, he has really stepped up and done a good job. You could see for sure Eric Swinney and Eugene Brazley, and potentially D.K. Buford, but Wilkins and Pennamon are leading the way there."

On the team's defensive leaders...
"Marquis Haynes comes to my mind. Breeland Speaks is a leader. Donta Evans is a guy who has emerged to me. He's a guy at mike linebacker who is calling out all the defensive plays, so that puts him in a leadership role. I've been very impressed with him and the role he has taken, especially after the spring. I wasn't quite sure where he was at, but I feel really good about where he is. Zedrick Woods has become a leader in the secondary. Myles Hartsfield, I like where he is and how he communicates. You're starting to see some guys emerge, and I think early in the season will tell a lot about those guys. What we're all waiting for is, the first time those guys go through adversity, who is going to step up and be those leaders? I think early in the season we'll find that out."

On the progress of A.J. Brown and D.K. Metcalf...
"Last year, those guys were freshmen, and obviously with D.K. getting hurt early, I've been very impressed with Coach Jacob Peeler and the way he has developed those guys. Those guys are very talented, and they have a huge upside, but I've been impressed with the way he has developed them. Just their technique and the way they use their hands and the different techniques in their routes, they've both been very much improved from the spring, and we're looking for big things out of both of them."

On his biggest concern about South Alabama...
"They didn't give up any points in the second half. Obviously that was very impressive. I have a tremendous amount of respect for Kane and the job he does on defense. No. 1, Jeremy Reaves, he's their best player on defense. He's a very good player and very talented. He can show up at corner and safety. Their leading tackler is back, Darrell Songy. They do a lot of movement and they aren't going to stay still. They're going to move around and do a lot of blitzing. So we definitely have a challenge there. On offense, they have a really good running back and both of their quarterbacks coming back. It's going to be a challenge on both sides of the ball."

On the depth of the offensive and defensive lines and substitution plans...
"I think you'll see substitutions freely on the defensive line in the middle of the series. O-Line, you're going to see a three-way tackle rotation with Alex Givens, Rod Taylor, and Greg Little, trying to keep those guys fresh. And with Jordan Sims, Daronte Bouldin and Javon Patterson, you'll see those guys rotate in as well."

On rotating on the defensive line...
"I think Victor Evans, Markel Winters, Ross Donelly, Austrian Robinson will all be in at some point to keep guys fresh and rotate. I feel really good about Josiah Coatney, Benito Jones and Breeland (Speaks) there inside with Qaadir and Victor and then Marquis, you feel where you've got guys who have been in there and played some, so we're excited about that."

On the kick and punt return depth chart...
"I've been very impressed with D.D. Bowie. He's shown flashes back there. Then also Jaylon Jones has shown some flashes on kickoff return. So you're going to see D.D. and Jaylon back there on kickoff, and you'll see A.J. on the punt return. You could see Tre Nixon at both. He has worked both punt and kickoff return just because of his speed. He's pretty dynamic with the ball in his hands."

On A.J. Brown at punt return...
"A.J. has a lot of moxie to him. So making good decisions on when to fair catch and when not to, I think he has that. His physical ability to break tackles, that brings a little more to the table than just catching the ball and always fair catching it. He has that ability to break a tackle and change field position and get that hidden yardage. Even 10 yards after a punt is a huge deal, and I think he'll be able to do that for us."

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