Matt Luke held his first Monday press conference of the season as Ole Miss transitions into its typical game-week routine in preparation for Saturday’s season opener against Texas Tech at NRG Stadium in Houston.
Luke, along with coordinators Wesley McGriff and Phil Longo, discussed the Rebels’ fall camp as well as Texas Tech. Here are some news and notes from Monday’s presser.
Luke noted that A.J. Brown, Braylon Sanders and Damarkus Lodge all practiced on Sunday and will be available this weekend. Neither of the three were ever really seen as being in danger of being out for the season opener.
Defensive back Ken Webster will return to practice on Wednesday and is listed as probable for the game, according to Luke. Webster has been dealing with a hamstring injury.
Defensive lineman Sincere David will be available in a limited capacity against Texas Tech. David is recovering from a sprained MCL and the predominant factor in him being limited is conditioning.
Defensive back Javien Hamilton returned to practice from a hamstring injury and will be ready for Saturday’s game.
Updated Depth chart:
Here is Ole Miss’ depth chart heading into its season opener. pic.twitter.com/uWkx6pSsO5
— Brian Scott Rippee (@bsrippee) August 27, 2018
The area of Ole Miss’ depth chart that stands out the most heading into week one is the linebacker position. The Rebels will start a sophomore and a true freshman in Mohamed Sanogo and Kevontae’ Ruggs.
“I think you are looking for guys that will fly around and hit you, and that is what Sanogo and Ruggs have given us,” Luke said. “I think you will have Willie Hibbler too, who knows what he is doing and has gotten better because of this competition. I have been very impressed with the guys.”
Two more freshmen in Jacquez Jones and Zikerrion Baker also showed up on the depth chart at middle linebacker. McGriff seemed more optimistic than anxious about the lack of experience at the position going into the first game.
“I am excited to see these two linebackers we are going to start with,” McGriff said. “I am excited to see them get the defense lined up, play fast and go out and make plays. The key is that we have to make the menu small for them to allow them to play fast and play with confidence.”
McGriff acknowledged there will be mistakes that come naturally with any young player, but is confident in their ability to improve at the position. Sanogo noted last week he’s made a conscious effort to guide Ruggs on the field and make sure the entire defense is lined up properly. The Rebels are well aware of their struggles in stopping the run the last couple of seasons and are certain that is something Texas Tech will try to exploit.
“You look at our press clippings and I think they will come in trying to run the ball,” McGriff said. “I think they are going to try to line up, spread the ball and try to run the ball. Their quick screens will be runs for them too. Any good spread offense will have a 100 yard rusher at the end of the game.”
Luke noted that freshman slot receiver Elijah Moore will likely return punts with the possibility of fellow freshman Tylan Knight making an appearance at punt returner. Both guys possess tremendous quickness and speed. A.J. Brown was the Rebels’ punt returner for most of last season, but has not gotten much work there due to being limited in practice with a hamstring injury.
Redshirt freshman Ben Brown will make his first career start at right guard over senior Jordan Sims. Ole Miss has a deep offensive line comprised of guys that have played a lot of football together over the last couple of years. Sims has played in 35 games in his three years with the Rebels and will be used extensively again this season. He’s played both guard spots as well as center and has value in being able to play multiple positions.
“I think Ben is a very talented individual,” Luke said. “You will see Jordan a lot. I think of him as a sixth starter because he can play some guard and some center. Having him and the experience he brings will be huge.”
Longo’s connection with Texas Tech head coach Kliff Kingsbury:
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo comes from the Mike Leach coaching tree, as does much of his philosophy in his air raid offense. Longo is friends with Kingsbury and said they talked last week via text and will talk on the phone on Monday night. Kingsbury played under Leach at Texas Tech from 1998-2002.
“Truthfully, I think Kliff is one of the best game plan guys on offense I know and one of the best in the college game,” Longo said. “He does a great job of game planning explosive plays with touchdowns.”
Longo first met Leach in the late 90’s when Leach was on Hal Mumme’s staff at Kentucky. Longo adopted Leach’s air raid philosophy in the passing game and has molded that into his own offense ever since with a bigger emphasis on a downhill running game. McGriff even mentioned that preparing for the Red Raiders has been a bit easier due to facing Longo’s offense throughout the offseason.
“That has been what I have done ever since in the passing game,” Longo said. “People look at it and say ‘that is not air raid.’ From an X’s and O’s standpoint it is not what you expect to see. We are not doing what Washington State does. We are not doing what they did initially at Texas Tech. But philosophically, chasing space and creating separation against man coverage, attacking space in the run game and pass game, that has not changed since I met him. I have always believed in that philosophy.”