Nov. 6, 2017
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com
Oxford,Miss - The football finally bounced in Ole Miss’ favor on Saturday night. As the final seconds melted off of the clock, D.K. Metcalf’s touchdown catch in the corner of the end zone at Kroger Field helped the Rebels secure their first road win of the season.
A season in which the Rebels have had to scour hard for things to build on, Matt Luke and his staff will have some tangible momentum to take into practice this week as the Rebels prepare for a Louisiana team that is 4-4 and coming off of a win against South Alabama.
“Anytime you can go on the road in the SEC and get a win, it’s a good thing,” Luke said. “But, especially after the tough loss against Arkansas. The kids bouncing back and fighting and competing, just really happy to see them in the locker room after getting that win after everything they’ve been through.”
It came at a cost. Ole Miss lost offensive lineman Daronte Bouldin for the rest of the season with a broken foot. The fifth-year senior has played his final game in a Rebel uniform.
“He’s a special kid,” Luke said. “He came in with us five years ago. He was playing this year, already graduated. I’m just really proud of what he’s been able to accomplish. He’s a big reason we’ve had a lot of success while he’s been here.”
Defensive back Jalen Julius is in concussion protocol as well as offensive lineman Alex Givens. Their status for Saturday’s game against the Ragin’ Cajuns is uncertain.
After struggling out of the gates against Kentucky’s rushing attack, the Ole Miss defense strung together four consecutive stops in the second half to help the team get back into the game after it went down 27-17. It was a pivotal moment for a young group that has learned some hard lessons this season.
“One of the biggest adjustments is that we had a pressure package dialed up, and I felt like for some reason we weren’t blitzing with a lot of speed,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “We decided at halftime, based on the roster they were giving in the run game, that we were going to go with a certain front in coverage.”
The defense rode that coverage until the end of the game, and it resulted in a victory.
McGriff said DeMarquis Gates will see more time at middle linebacker during the final three games of the season. The reason for that is because Willie Hibbler has played well in the opportunities he has been given of late as this team tries to find a formidable linebacker rotation. Gates is the best linebacker on the team, so having him on the field is a must. Sliding him over allows for Hibbler to play on the outside where he is more comfortable.
“One of the reasons why his role is going to increase at Mike linebacker is Willie Hibbler’s done a great job,” McGriff said. “He had a great week of practice. He had some valuable snaps in the game. You can clearly see that Gates is playing phenomenal. We’re still trying to get those group of guys and the right chemistry in place, so you’ll definitely see his role increase at Mike linebacker.”
Ole Miss totaled 473 yards of offense in the win over Kentucky, largely thanks to the play of quarterback Jordan Ta’amu. The junior signal caller has stepped up the plate and then some in Shea Patterson’s absence.
“Jordan has done an outstanding job,” Longo said. “He is much further along mentally and has done a great job preparing himself behind Shea Patterson.”
He tossed four touchdown passes and did not turn the ball over, earning the junior SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors after only his second start. Ta’amu displays an uncanny sense of calmness that affects those around him. Phil Longo’s offense is rolling as a result.
“I think we are in a much better rhythm now,” Longo said. “Would I have like to have been at this point sooner? Sure. But like these kids did, we stayed the course and made improvements this week.”
Kickoff against Louisiana is set for 11 a.m. at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium.