Ole Miss has a chance to improve to 4-2 this weekend against Louisiana-Monroe, following the beatdown it suffered last week against the LSU Tigers.
Louisiana-Monroe comes to Oxford as Ole Miss’ homecoming opponent. Ole Miss will be the second SEC opponent the Warhawks have faced this season, having suffered a 48-10 loss earlier in the season to the Texas A&M Aggies. Even though the Warhawks have lost three straight and boast a 2-3 record, the Rebels are expecting a fight.
“They play extremely hard,” junior offensive lineman Greg Little said. “They play ruthless, and I like defenses who get after it like that. It is going to be a tougher challenge than most people think.”
Just as Kent State did, Louisiana-Monroe offers the Rebels a chance to bounce back from a demoralizing defeat by a top-five ranked program. Ole Miss’ performance against Kent State, which took a fumble recovery in the fourth quarter to put the game away, proved to be a hangover from the Alabama game. The motivation head coach Matt Luke offers his team is a chance to put a convincing win on the board.
“This is huge,” Luke said. “We gotta go out there and play well and get better this week. (They) can’t hang (their) head(s), (they) can’t pout, (they) have to keep (their) head(s) down and work.”
As it usually happens, the Rebels are beginning to lose the war of attrition. In the game against LSU, safety C.J. Moore went down with a torn ACL. His season-ending injury is the third in four games among the Ole Miss secondary. Moore joins fellow starters Jaylon Jones and Montrell Custis on the sideline, both of whom also exited this season with torn ACLs. Moore received this season’s Chucky Mullins Award, meaning he wore the number 38 jersey, which is bestowed upon a standout defensive player. With injuries piling up, Luke has had to get creative.
Running back depth has taken a hit to patch the problem in the secondary. Backup running backs Tylan Knight and Armani Linton have both moved to the defensive side of the ball to sure up a injury-plagued secondary.
“Things change and you’ve got to be ready to adapt and use your pieces,” Luke said. “(We’ve) got a certain amount of guys on the bus and (we’ve) just got to get them into the right seat. We felt like that was best for us moving forward, because they do provide a little spark.”
During his time at Ole Miss, Linton has already transitioned from defense to offense, so this is nothing new for him. True freshman Tylan Knight was recruited as a two-star athlete. The plan has always been to get him on the field in anyway he could contribute. This move leaves breakout star Scottie Phillips and oft-injured Eric Swinney as the two members in the backfield.
“(Linton) is a good athlete,” Luke said. “He’s just gotta be willing to come down and tackle in the run game. He’s very smart, very athletic and was doing a good job at running back, but with all the injuries we felt like Armani and Tylan could give us a little shot in the arm.”
To this point of the season, the Rebels have yet to win a conference game. The win over Texas Tech looks more impressive by the week, as the Red Raiders have solidified themselves as one of the top offenses in the country. The other two wins included abysmal first halves against Kent State and Southern Illinois.
“I’m always confident in my teammates,” Linton said. “I train with those guys every day. I’m confident that each and every person in that defensive room can get it done. One thing we take pride in is one man goes down, the next man has to step up.”
ULM is the last opportunity the Rebels have left to get a win against a smaller school. Looking at how the first two games of the SEC slate have finished and at the strength of remaining SEC opponents, getting to 4-2 is imperative.