With only two games remaining in the 2017 season, head coach Matt Luke is focused on remaining fresh and preparing mentally before facing Texas A&M on Saturday. As a result, the Rebels have shortened practice time and spent the second half of the day without pads.
“We’re just trying to get prepared and get our work done by trying to keep them fresh with two games here in this next week coming up,” Luke said. “I’m trying to take care of the guys, and I thought that work has been good.”
The Texas A&M offense enters the weekend averaging 4.39 yards per rush. While their run game may not jump off the page, the Aggies’ passing game is another story. Quarterback Nick Starkel, who started his first game last weekend against New Mexico State, threw for 416 yards and four touchdowns on 21 completions and revitalized a struggling air attack.
On defense, Texas A&M has proved strong against the pass and leads the SEC in team sacks. Opposing pass rush aside, the Rebel offense will face another obstacle, Mother Nature. Despite rain in the forecast, the Rebels are not losing sight of their mission and will be ready for the elements. Increasing focus levels, Luke has had his offense running wet ball drills in hopes of securing a win.
“The good thing is both teams have to play in the same conditions,” he said. “You just have to make sure you can execute and that your level of focus goes up.”
While wide receiver Van Jefferson will be out after dislocating his elbow during the game against Louisiana-Lafayette, running back Jordan Wilkins will start in the backfield, despite not being at 100 percent.
“He’s really played inspired football,” Luke said of his top rusher. “And he’s caught the ball well out the backfield, too.”
Adding extra depth for the Rebels, offensive tackle Alex Givens has practiced this week and is expected to play against the Aggies.
On the other side of the ball, Austrian Robinson and Ross Donelly make their returns to the defensive line Saturday, and cornerback Ken Webster will also play, despite a lingering hamstring injury.
Saturday’s battle with Texas A&M will be senior night and the final home game of the 2017 season. With only 10 days left in the season, Luke said this year and this team will be some of the most memorable he’s seen.
“We’ve been on teams with better records, but they’ll always remember this season,” he said. “The adversity and all the things they’ve battled through — they’ll be proud of this season for the rest of their lives.”
Following this weekend, Ole Miss will take on Mississippi State on Thanksgiving day. Looking ahead, Luke expects preparation to include more mental intensity and fewer padded practices.
“Part of it is it being late in the season, and you’re just trying to keep their bodies fresh through this week and next week,” he said. “I think it all kind of marries together.”
The Rebels will host their last home game at 6 p.m., and it will air on the ESPN networks.