Oct. 16, 2017
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
Matt Luke and his staff savored Ole Miss’ first SEC win of the season against Vanderbilt on Saturday, but also analyzed it on film and are preparing to use it to improve for a home test against No. 24 LSU this weekend led by former Rebel head coach Ed Orgeron.
“This is a huge game,” Luke said. “I think fans will be excited to be here. It’s an Ole Miss/LSU rivalry. As far as me, I only worked with him (Orgeron) for a year, but we are cordial. It’ll be a competitive game, and I’m looking forward to it. “
The Vanderbilt tape showed a balanced Rebel offense, one who activated a previously dormant running game largely thanks the efforts of running back Jordan Wilkins. The byproduct was a more fluid and productive offense that compiled its highest point total of the season. If Saturday shed light on anything, it is that Ole Miss is much more difficult to stop offensively when it runs the football effectively.
“I think the only difference is we kind of expanded, carried another run or two in each formation just to give us an opportunity to run it,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “They did a lot to try to take A.J. (Brown) and some of the throws away. It gave us an opportunity to run the ball more, and we did. I think some of the things we were doing put some players in conflict.”
The team will need a similar offensive performance this week if it wishes to beat an LSU team that completed a 20-point comeback against a top-10 Auburn team this past weekend. The Tigers had a rough opening month with losses to Mississippi State and Troy, but have rebounded with two straight SEC wins.
“Any time somebody gets written off and you can bounce back, that’s really special,” Luke said. “The biggest thing that stands out to me is their third-down production on defense and getting people off the field. Auburn 3-of-14, Florida 2-of-9 — that’s a recipe for winning football games. I’ve been impressed at how they’ve rallied.”
The LSU offense has struggled at times this year but boasts a top-tier running back in Derrius Guice who has run for 435 yards and five scores this year. Guice the on-brand, gifted, physical back that LSU always seems to have, has taken pressure off of quarterback Danny Etling this season. He’s a load to bring down and will give the Ole Miss defense all it can handle. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff referred to him as the cornerstone of the LSU offense.
“The guy’s explosive,” McGriff said. “He can hit a home run from anywhere on the field. He prides himself on getting a lot of yards after contact, does a tremendous job of catching the ball out of the backfield. He also gets a handful of rocket sweeps where he tries to capture the edge.”
McGriff’s defense played well against Vanderbilt, forcing a couple of turnovers and sacking quarterback Kyle Shurmur seven times. Four of those came from senior defensive end Marquis Haynes, who the coaching staff sat down before the game and encouraged him to have more fun and play freely. The reason? He’s their biggest defensive weapon and was needed in the win. The difference was certainly noticeable as Haynes and this young defense seemed to gain confidence.
“I think he wasn’t having fun,” Luke said. “He was wanting to make all these plays. But he looked like was having fun Saturday. He was smiling, he just cut it loose and played. He played within the scheme. It was really good to see him back out there having fun playing football.”
McGriff is also aware there were a good bit of explosive plays that led to the 417 yards Vanderbilt accumulated. He knows it must be corrected before LSU comes to town. The Tigers are running for 191 yards per game and Guice can add to the explosive play total in the blink of an eye if he isn’t accounted for on every play. One defensive miscommunication can lead to him racing to the end zone.
“They showed up again,” McGriff said. But when you look at the tackling, really improved tremendously. The most important thing that improved in this ballgame, our pre-snap communication. We were able to get properly aligned, our guys communicated and when you’re a loud defense and you’re communicating, that breeds confidence.”
The Rebels took a hit on the defensive front, however. Luke announced that defensive ends Qaadir Sheppard and Victor Evans will need surgery. Sheppard has been nursing an ankle injury that worsened, and Evans tore his meniscus against Cal.
Linebacker Jarrion Street is going through concussion protocol but is not expected to miss an extended period of time. The team is continuing to evaluate kicker Gary Wunderlich and his availability will be determined by how his hamstring feels and his ability to kick in practice.
Kickoff on Saturday is slated for 6:15 p.m.