Rebels Return Home to Face Vanderbilt
Oct. 9, 2017
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
Vaught-Hemingway Stadium will be a soothing sight for an Ole Miss team that has spent the last month on the road. The Rebels return home to face Vanderbilt after a turbulent road trip that saw them go across the country as well as visit the two best teams on their schedule in Alabama and Auburn.
"We’re excited to get back in front of our fans,” Luke said. “I think our players are excited about that. We’re going to build on the second half of Auburn. That’s going to be the turning point of our season. We’re excited to get back home three weeks in a row. We’re looking forward to this challenge.”
Luke said after the loss to Auburn on Saturday he thought the second half was a turning point in their season. The Tigers ambushed Ole Miss and pushed the team into a 35-3 hole at the half. The Rebels responded with three second-half touchdowns as the offense found its footing.
“I really challenged them,” Luke said. “I wanted to see a difference. I saw some young guys growing up. I saw Sean Rawlings and Shea Patterson come to the defensive huddle. When guys made tackles, I saw the sideline look like it’s supposed to look. It was probably the best half of football we’ve played since Texas A&M last year. I think they started to see what it can be. We’ve just got to build on that.”
Patterson threw for 346 yards and two scores against Auburn and the offense moved the football up-and-down the field pretty well for most of the game. The Ole Miss defense just couldn’t get off of the field against a balanced attack led by the Tigers’ ground game that rushed for over 300 yards in the contest.
“You can’t give up explosive plays,” Luke said. “You’ve got to make them earn it all the way down the field.”
The entire defense watched every snap of the film together, going through the good and the bad things that happened, hoping to garner something to build off of going into a winnable game at Vanderbilt.
“The second half was a lot better,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “The fits were better, the demeanor was better and we are going to build off of that going into this week.”
McGriff cited linebacking play as the sorest spot of the defense and offered the possibility of shifting some fronts and alignments to protect the linebackers better and give them a better chance to get to the right spot on the field. The Rebels will have to deal with Commodore running back Ralph Webb this week. He is one of the best backs in the SEC. He is the centerpiece of Vanderbilt’s offense and takes the pressure off of quarterback Kyle Shurmur. Stopping him will be a challenge that Ole Miss will have to complete in order to win the game.
“The best compliment you can give anyone is consistency and he’s been a consistently good player for a long, long time,” Luke said. “To take the physical pounding in this league and to keep going, I’ve got a lot of respect for him as a player and a person.”
Offensively, Ole Miss is facing one of the best defensive schemers in the SEC in Vanderbilt head coach Derek Mason. He neutralized Patterson and the offense a year ago in a game that the Commodores ran away with in the second half.
“They cover the field well,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “They are one of the better schematic defenses. They have their own struggles right now and have some weaknesses. I think we are looking forward to trying to expose some of them.”
This is a pivotal game in Ole Miss’ season. It survived a lengthy, grueling road trip and now have a stretch of home games they can use as a tool to alter the trajectory of their season. Luke and the staff challenged the team inside the halftime locker room at Auburn and ventured back out onto the field to see if they would fold or respond. They played their best half of football of the season as a result, and now it will be about sustaining it.
“If there was ever a time to quit, it was right then, and they didn’t,” Luke said. “They didn’t throw in the towel, they didn’t go in the corner and cover up, they came out and they fought. I’m excited to build on that moving forward and finally get back home in front of our home crowd. I saw them having fun playing football.”
It starts this Saturday at 2:30 p.m. against Vanderbilt.
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