After allowing 21 unanswered points and surrendering a go-ahead field goal with less than five seconds on the clock, Ole Miss fell to Arkansas 38-37 Saturday. While the hurt from such a heart-breaking loss can often carry over into the following week, head coach Matt Luke is proud of how his team responded the next day.
“I was really impressed with our kids on Sunday,” Luke said. “They came in here after a tough loss, and they are a very resilient group of kids. After watching the tape, I’m pleased that they continued to fight and kept battling.”
Despite the successful attempt to hold a single back to less than 100 yards, Ole Miss again struggled defensively and let the Razorbacks’ backfield run rampant.
“I challenged them not to allow another 100-yard rusher, and they didn’t,” Luke said. “We took a step in the right direction, but we have to keep building and getting better.”
Coming down to an inability to fill gaps and execute, the Rebels allowed 260 total yards on the ground, and following the game, questions were raised about whether the right personnel was on the field. Luke pushed those accusations aside and attributed the poor play to a lack of focus.
“We have to be consistent all the time,” he said. “If we aren’t in the right place and we aren’t doing the right thing every time, we aren’t good enough to overcome. When you make a mistake, it gets magnified, and the margin for error is very small. We have to focus on being right all the time.”
Though the stat line and outcome were negative, Luke is focused on the positives and wants to be sure everyone in the locker room is on the same page.
“There is improvement,” Luke said. “Unfortunately, you get judged on wins and losses, but we are going to keep fighting and getting better, and the ball is going to bounce our way, and we are going to go to Kentucky with the mindset that we are going to get one game better.”
Looking ahead to Saturday’s matchup with Kentucky, the coaching staff is trying to prepare for an opponent Ole Miss doesn’t see every year. Outside of typical game week preparation, the emphasis continues to be on showing the players that things did go right and keeping their heads held high.
“You come in, and you point out the positives,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “You always want to feed off the positives and show the team the good plays and let them know that that is what you expect to see, but at the same time, you have to show the players that you aren’t satisfied with it, but then you have to shift your focus to the next opponent.”
Facing yet another dynamic rusher in Kentucky’s Benny Snell Jr. on Saturday, the defensive staff will continue to look for ways to shut down the run. Through eight games the defense has been unable to stop opponent rushers, but McGriff knows that his guys stand up to the task.
“Coach Stoops is doing a great job of utilizing all his weapons,” McGriff said. “They make you play in space, and they run the ball, so we have to account for one-on-one matchups against a running back that has the skillset to pull off a chunk play. We have guys that will go win us football games. We have them on the bus. Now, we just have to make sure they are in the right seat.”
The Rebels will march into Lexington with their guns blazing for the 3 p.m. kickoff against the Wildcats on Saturday.