As the leaves begin to change and football season winds down, Ole Miss’ wealth of young, talented players has proved capable of performing at the highest level of college football and handling the pressures of the unusual circumstances that have come with it.
Last week, redshirt freshman D.K. Metcalf and sophomore Van Jefferson led the team in receiving yards. Metcalf also rose to the moment and jumped above a Kentucky defensive back to pull down the game-winning touchdown with five seconds left in the fourth quarter.
At the same time, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu, in his second start in his first year at Ole Miss, threw for more than 300 yards and four touchdowns on his way to earning SEC Offensive Player of the Week honors. The player Ta’amu replaced, injured sophomore Shea Patterson, also won SEC Offensive Player of the Week earlier this season in only his fifth start for the Rebels.
Head coach Matt Luke made a point to note the success of the team’s young players.
“People forget D.K. just won Freshman of the Week,” Luke said. “And Van seems like the old guy, but he’s a sophomore. I think that they’re going to be very, very good players in time but they’re only going to get better with experience.”
Nearly three-quarters of the Rebels’ receiving yards have been gained by sophomores and freshmen, accounting for almost 60 percent of the total offense.
Sophomore A.J. Brown leads the team in receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns, and sophomore tight end Dawson Knox has also come into his own, averaging almost 50 yards per game, despite dealing with a fractured foot for most of this season.
Even on the offensive line, younger players have met and exceeded expectations. Sophomore Greg Little has locked down the left tackle position all season, while sophomore Alex Givens has started at guard. Freshman Royce Newman has an opportunity to prove himself this Saturday as Givens battles a concussion and is questionable for Saturday’s game.
Louisiana-Lafayette will also rely on underclassmen Saturday. All three of its 100-yard rushing performances this season have been courtesy of freshmen.
One of those performances belongs to true freshman quarterback Levi Lewis, who, last week, threw for 110 yards and two touchdowns while gaining 129 yards on the ground to lead his team to victory in his first start.
“You know you only have one game to watch, but I do think that he can really, really hurt you with his legs,” Luke said. “He has a really good short area quickness and can make people miss, so that obviously concerns you because you can’t always account for the quarterback.”
With the season heading into the homestretch, Luke also stressed to his players the importance of effort and improvement.
“We’ve got 15 days left, and we just want to take advantage of every day that we have left,” Luke said. “That’s what we have promised to us, and we want to make sure that we just continue to work to get better.”