Amid turmoil, Rebel football turns to younger players for leadership

Posted on Oct 11 2017 - 8:00am by Ben Miller

Matt Luke “locks the Vaught” with the team before running out on the field before Saturday’s game against UT Martin earlier this season. Photo by Wilson Benton

The Rebels are in trouble. After winning two so-called “cupcake” games at home, their record quickly dropped to an ugly 2-3, courtesy of a brutal three-game road trip. In the past 120 minutes of gameplay, the Ole Miss defense has allowed 110 points. That’s the kind of stat line only a basketball coach would be proud of. And while Auburn’s win rocked Oxford, the Rebels found a hint of solace in their improved second-half performance. 

“It’s obviously not a positive note,” quarterback Shea Patterson said. “But it’s better than we did versus Alabama.”

At the forefront of last weekend’s second-half resurgence, a young star stepped onto the main stage. Sophomore defensive tackle Josiah Coatney is taking a position of leadership and respect on the Mississippi defense, and he has the numbers to back up that role. Coatney said he’s motivated by the embarrassment his team has endured and that it’s time to do what he can to win games.

“I have to get into my mindset, as the season goes on, that I have to make as many plays as I can, because I do want to win games,” Coatney said. “I still have to kick it up a notch. Even if I feel like I’m playing good, I have to kick it up a notch. The will to win is burning deep. I don’t like not winning games. Everything I can do, I’m doing.”

Coatney’s numbers continue to exceed what’s traditionally expected of an interior defensive lineman. He recorded eight tackles, including three for a loss against Auburn, even as the defensive unit allowed the opposition 44 points. Those numbers are more likely to come from linebackers and defensive ends, and opposing teams are quickly taking notice.

“The last couple of games, I’ve been getting a lot of double teams. Actually, I’ve been getting mostly double teams,” Coatney said. “But when I get a single block, I take advantage of it. Even if I get a double team, I’ll find a way to take advantage of it.”

Opposing teams are not the only ones noticing Coatney’s production. His teammates have begun looking to the young tackle for inspiration as the group looks to rebound from recent struggles. Coatney is ready to accept the role.

“It’s at that point where somebody has to drop the hammer,” Coatney said. “We really have to get things turned around. I know I’m only a sophomore, but I really want to win, and I want to get everybody else in the same mindset. Everybody came here to win. Nobody came to lose games.”

As the Rebels prepare for further conference matchups, including their upcoming homecoming game against Vanderbilt on Saturday, Coatney’s leadership on the field could inject some life into a dead-and-gone Ole Miss season.

“We emphasize positivity on the sideline,” Patterson said. “There’s lot of guys that took last week and (said) enough is enough.”