A year ago, Ole Miss Athletics Director Ross Bjork didn’t realize he had perfectly scheduled the football team’s bye week. But 12 months later, the Rebels’ week off could not have fallen at a better time.
The Rebels’ upcoming bye week will give players and coaches the chance to look back at last week’s tough loss to California and look forward to a weekend of recovery before starting a grueling SEC schedule.
Last week’s 27-16 loss took a significant physical and mental toll on both players and coaches. While the long travel and unfortunate injuries to team leaders like Sean Rawlings and A.J. Brown have been weighing heavily on the minds of those in the locker room, the real shock for Ole Miss was the loss itself, especially after jumping out to a 16-7 lead.
“Losing never even crossed my mind,” head coach Matt Luke said earlier in the week. “In my mind, everything was going according to script, and we were going to be 3-0 coming back, getting ready to play Alabama.”
This week provides an excellent opportunity for the team to fix mistakes and get back to the basics before preparing for the top-ranked Crimson Tide. The team has run through a few days of normal practice in which position groups have focused on basics like blocking and tackling while crowd noise pumps out of speakers to simulate the fans at Bryant-Denny Stadium. Players have taken their poor showing at Berkeley to heart, and the motivation among the team is noticeable.
“We’re really working on ourselves, and then we’re mixing in a little bit of Alabama, trying to get ahead,” Luke said. “I don’t think the guys have blinked.”
“We’re really going to take this week not as an off week but to get some of those mistakes corrected, and then we’ll be mentally prepared and ready to go next Saturday,” sophomore tight end Dawson Knox said, echoing Luke’s statements.
The players will get a break this weekend after a non-padded practice Thursday and will return to the field Sunday.
Key players such as Brown, Rawlings and Knox are recovering from injuries, and a week off gives their bodies a few days to get back near 100 percent. Many others on the team are just happy to have a small vacation from both the physical and mental grind. Football has been a part of their daily lives since Aug. 1, and stepping away for a day or two gives players a chance to visit family and catch up on schoolwork or social lives.
“It’ll be a good time,” junior linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes said. “I’ll probably take a trip back home to Atlanta and just chill with the family, stay off my feet and watch some film.”
The bye week has also given the Rebels a leg up on film while thinking ahead to the Alabama game. A possible padded practice Sunday could give players an extra day of rest in order to be fresh and focused for next Saturday in Tuscaloosa.