Ole Miss channeling gladiator mindset for senior night

Posted on Nov 14 2017 - 7:59am by Billy Schuerman

“It’s going to be a special night,” head coach Matt Luke said about Saturday evening’s final home game against Texas A&M. “This is a special group of seniors, and what they’ve been involved in, they are one of the top offenses in school history. They have been to two New Year’s Six games, but even though they can’t go to a bowl this year, they continue to fight and fight.”

Luke’s team has faced a plethora of injuries and adversity over the course of the last year, and for the seniors, it all comes down to one final home game in front of their family, friends and student body.

“Daronte Bouldin is a fifth-year senior,” Luke said. “He already graduated, and he is the first person in his family to do so. I’m just grateful to these guys and this team, and it will be an emotional senior night, and we just really want to go out and perform well for them.”

However, when you play emotional games like this senior night during a whirlwind of a year, it is crucial to make sure that emotions don’t spill over and cause unnecessary mistakes. Although Luke has emphasized the importance of the senior class, he is stressing execution as well.

“I want them to know how important they are to the program,” Luke said. “But we still have to go out there and play football. We are going to focus more on enjoying these last few days together and playing as a team. We want to go out and enjoy this and finish this the right way and have something we will always remember.”

Emotions on Saturday will be at an all-time high, and while there certainly won’t be a shortage of heart, it often isn’t enough to win football games. The biggest test for Ole Miss comes with Texas A&M’s duo of dynamic quarterbacks. Nick Starkel, who threw for more than 400 yards before halftime last week, will split time with Kellen Mond, who went 5-2 as the starter while Starkel nursed a broken ankle earlier in the year.

“You have to prepare for two quarterbacks,” Luke said. “They have a runner and a thrower and a couple good running backs. They will spread the field with very, very good receivers everywhere and create space on you.”

Leading the charge for the Aggies’ receiving corps is Christian Kirk, who has 46 catches for 575 yards with six touchdowns this season. The 5-foot-11-inch junior wide receiver who exploded in last weekend’s game against New Mexico ran rampant after the catch and recorded 120 yards receiving and his sixth career punt return.

“He has been and is one of the best players in our league,” Luke said. “For a long time, he has been a very good player. He’s dynamic when he gets the ball in his hand. They do a great job of getting it to him and utilizing him out of the backfield, and he’s a great kick returner. You have to know where he is at on the field at all times. We are going to have our work cut out for us.”

Behind Kirk and the rest of a dynamic offense follows a defensive program that has turned itself around under defensive coordinator John Chavis. Luke noted the improvement and hopes to keep his offensive production on track.

“Coach Chavis is one of the best defensive coordinators in the country,” he said. “That defense plays with an edge, and they go after the ball. They’re aggressive, and they don’t really have a weakness upfront in that defensive line. All those guys are solid. They force you to make mistakes.”

The Rebels play host to Texas A&M in the final home game of 2017 and are hoping to come away with a fourth consecutive win over the Aggies. Kickoff is set for 6 p.m. Saturday, Nov. 18.