It’s all hands on deck as the Rebels prepare for their trip to Tuscaloosa, Alabama. Junior center Sean Rawlings, who was injured early in the game against Cal two weeks ago, and a number of other contributors are set to return for Saturday’s game against the Crimson Tide.
“He’s played enough where I feel confident that he could go play on Saturday without taking that many reps,” head coach Matt Luke said. “I think he is way further along than I thought he would be. He will have a chance to play, but he will have to do so without taking that many reps so we can give that ankle as much rest as possible.”
With players like Rawlings, who contributes significantly to Ole Miss’ offensive efficacy, caution is key. Luke made it clear he would not rush Rawlings back to the lineup.
“If he is out there hobbling around and can’t push off of it, we probably won’t play him,” Luke said. “If he is about 75-80 percent, then he can play if needed, and then if he is out there and just looks great, then we will play him more than that.”
But Rawlings isn’t the only starter slated for a big return. Receiver A.J. Brown, who led the SEC in receiving yards through week three, is nursing a knee injury that came in the first quarter against Cal. According to the Ole Miss coaching staff, Brown could contribute big minutes against Alabama.
“He has looked fine,” Luke said. “We have held him out some and tried to limit his pitch count a little bit just to try and get him as much rest as possible but I think he will be ready to go.”
During a point after attempt against Cal, kicker Gary Wunderlich pulled his hamstring. Freshman backup kicker Luke Logan replaced the veteran, eventually shanking a field goal attempt.
“(Wunderlich) kicked two or three times,” Luke said. “We limited his kicks, but he did still kick. Logan is still the backup plan.”
Off the edge, defensive end Victor Evans continues to heal and could join Marquis Haynes in the battle against the Crimson Tide’s fearsome line.
“He looked great today,” Luke said. “I am very excited about where he is at. He had a little knee problem, but overall, I am just very pleased with Victor.”
Though the Rebels suffered multiple injuries against Cal, perhaps their biggest obstacle was the crowd noise. Cal’s stadium is uniquely intimate; close seating allows sound to carry onto the field much more easily.
“We have done a lot of crowd noise work these last two weeks,” Luke said. “I think it bothered us a little more than I had anticipated going to Cal, so we worked really hard on the crowd noise and the communication.”
Luke applauded the Rebels’ improved defensive efforts while displaying a healthy sense of cautious optimism. Though plenty of room for improvement remains, Luke recognizes the potential in his defensive unit.
“I think you want improvement everywhere,” Luke said. “I just want to see us fill our gaps and make those guys bounce and run laterally. Everyone has a gap responsibility, and if we can make those running backs bounce and run laterally, that would be a win for us.”
The Rebels enter the belly of the beast Saturday night to square off with the Crimson Tide in Tuscaloosa. Kickoff is set for 8 p.m.