An arduous season came to a close for Ole Miss on Thanksgiving night as the Rebels lost the Golden Egg trophy to Mississippi State after a 35-3 final score.
Thursday’s loss marked an end to the collegiate careers of many Rebels including seniors Jordan Ta’amu, DaMarkus Lodge and Ken Webster.
“I am really disappointed for the seniors,” head coach Matt Luke said. “They’ve been through a lot and I hate for them to go out this way. Several guys came back that had opportunities to leave and they didn’t. I am just really, really grateful for those guys.”
Ta’amu was injured during the first half when he dislocated his pinky finger on his throwing hand on a fumble. Although he played the majority of the first half after his injury, Ta’amu was relieved early in the second half by freshman Matt Corral after a third quarter interception.
Matt Luke was pleased with Corral’s performance against an elite SEC West defense.
“That was a really good defense to go against,” Luke said. “(Corral) didn’t look intimidated or scared. He was going around and making plays. He is going to be the quarterback of the future and we are really excited about him.”
Offensive coordinator Phil Longo was also pleased with the play of his freshman quarterback.
“Matt Corral is a competitor,” Longo said. “That’s something that we know already. Y’all are going to learn that here. He’s an incredible talent, and he does know the offense, and I think as soon as those two things gel, he’s going to do a lot of special things here.”
Although the Bulldogs held a comfortable lead for most of the night, tensions flared after A.J. Brown seemingly scored at the end of the third quarter. Benches cleared, and players on both teams received an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty.
Willie Gay, Cameron Dantzler and Jamal Peters (who pulled off the helmet of quarterback Matt Corral in the scuffle) were ejected for Mississippi State, and C.J. Moore was tossed from the Ole Miss sideline. The touchdown was reversed after replay showed that time had expired on the game clock before the snap.
Junior tight end Dawson Knox said the Rebels have to play smarter when tensions are as high as they were on Thanksgiving.
“Emotions just got the best of our guys,” Knox said. “We’ve got to be smarter than that. Obviously, this is a rivalry game and everyone is pretty hyped up going into it. We just have to be smarter.”
After another SEC game that saw the Ole Miss offense sputter, Phil Longo claims that a combination of recruiting and fixing issues in coaching and scheme can help the unit move forward.
“Now that the season’s over, you go back and look at all the things you did well, and you want to build on those,” Longo said, “and you look at the things where you were deficient, and you’ve got to be honest with yourself about why. Sometimes it’s schematic; sometimes it’s injuries; sometimes you need better players; sometimes I’m not doing a good job coaching Just whatever that is, we have to look at it, and you work on those answers in the spring, then you line up next fall and get after it.”
Longo was asked postgame if he plans to be on the Ole Miss sideline next season due to his aspirations to be a head coach.
“Right now, my focus was on Mississippi State,” Longo said. “Tomorrow I’m going to get up, and my focus is going to be on recruiting.”
Although the Ole Miss defense forced numerous three-and-outs on Thursday, the Bulldog offense still gashed the unit for 420 total yards, 309 of which came on the ground. Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, who was relieved of his duties on Friday, was proud of the effort of his players but claims that the key moments in the game came in the Rebels’ inability to stop the Bulldogs in the red zone.
“We’ve got to make plays on defense when we have the opportunity to make plays,” McGriff said. “I was certain that we were going to stop them in the red zone, (but Miss. State) just made plays when they had to. I think our guys played hard, but the critical moment is (that) we’ve got to stop them from scoring.”
After the Rebels finished the season at 5-7 and 1-7 in SEC play, many fans are calling for changes to be made on the coaching staff. Although McGriff’s fate has already been sealed as of Friday morning, the future for many other names on the staff remains up in the air as the Rebels head into the offseason.