This week’s SEC Media Days marks the event’s first year in Atlanta and also head coach Matt Luke’s first year in attendance in his 18 seasons as an SEC player or coach.
In Luke’s opening statements, he beat the media to the punch and answered many of the questions he knew were going to be asked. One of the main issues Ole Miss faces this year is a weaker defense, specifically when defending against the run game. A defense that gave up an average of 245 yards per game last year is looking to improve greatly.
“We have to find creative ways to load the box and make people throw it over the top to beat us,” Luke said. “That will obviously be a point of emphasis for us.”
Many SEC schools are facing changes in the head coaching positions this off-season or are having to focus on competitions for the quarterback position, but Ole Miss doesn’t have to focus on any of that. If there is one thing Luke emphasized Tuesday, it’s that experience on the field is going to be key for this team. The Rebels have eight returning starters on offense and seven on defense. From the returning offensive line group, the Rebels will have 103 starts under their belt, a big help against the especially strong defensive lines in the SEC.
The Rebels are looking to have one of the top offenses in the SEC this season. Two key components to the
offense are receiver A.J. Brown and lineman Greg Little, both top-ten NFL draft prospects. Many teams will have their focus on defending Brown, but quarterback Jordan Ta’amu will have several other strong options to throw to, including D.K. Metcalf and Damarkus Lodge.
Ta’amu, Sean Rawlings and Josiah Coatney joined Coach Luke in Atlanta this week. The main points these three spoke about were their confidence in new leader Ta’amu, the whole offense in general and on the impact Coach Luke has already made on this team.
“Jordan’s Team,” as many people call it, is excited to look up to its new quarterback. Ta’amu, a traditionally more quiet player, has taken on a new role as a leader on this team. On Tuesday, Coatney expressed his excitement to have Ta’amu as his starting quarterback this season.
“We always knew what type of guy he was, but it just shows on the field now, and everyone can trust that he can make the right decisions, the right reads, and lead us to victory,” Coatney said.
Besides helping Ta’amu take on his important role within the offense, Luke has already impacted the team in ways no one thought would be possible. The Rebels have openly taken pride in playing for Coach Luke, even from day one. From talking with players during Tuesday’s media day, it’s clear that Luke’s impact on the team last season as interim coach has grown now that he is official head coach.
“I always say he changed the culture in less than a month,” Rawlings said. “So, imagine how far we have come and progressed over a year and really adopted his mentality.”
Coach Luke said he looks forward to further motivating his team this season, despite the NCAA-sanctioned bowl ban.
“I think the motivation comes from really working and playing for each other and trying to prove everybody wrong, going out there each week and trying to find a way to win that game,” Luke said. “I think that’s the mindset of our team.”
A defining season full of expectations is ahead for the Rebels. Many people are taking notice of the Rebels’ motivation under Coach Luke, and in the early signing period, Ole Miss already has a top-25 recruiting class. The Rebel season opens with a game against Texas Tech in Houston on Labor Day Weekend, and the Rebels look to come out fighting.