Ta’amu, Rebel defense combine for second-half resurgence

Posted on Nov 8 2017 - 7:59am by Ben Miller

Quarterback Jordan Ta’amu celebrates a touchdown during game against Arkansas earlier this season. Photo By Taylar Teel

In a dramatic game that came down to the wire in Lexington last Saturday, the Ole Miss Rebels walked away with a much-needed SEC win against the 6-2 Kentucky Wildcats. In his second start, quarterback Jordan Ta’amu led a game winning two-minute drive that concluded with a highlight reel, touchdown catch from D.K. Metcalf. That reception ultimately sealed a 37-34 win for the visitors.

Versatile offensive lineman Jordan Sims, who has been playing center for the first time in his career this season due to injuries, was duly impressed but not shocked by the game’s explosive finish.

“It doesn’t surprise me at all,” Sims said. “It may shock some people, but I knew he had it in him. He knows what he’s doing, and he’s a great athlete.”

Sims spoke of a calm, collected offense that meshed seamlessly with a largely untested signal-caller.

“None of us panicked,” he said. “We’ll be in the huddle, and you look at (Ta’amu), and he’s just looking at you, talking all calm. We saw confidence in him, and it gave us confidence.”

According to Sims, this season was not his first encounter with Ta’amu. The two have known each other since before Ta’amu’s commitment to the University of Mississippi, and the junior took to him quickly.

“I actually hosted him,” Sims said. “I hosted him on his visit, and he was a great kid. And I knew he was special. I don’t think he had that many offers coming out, but when he came here, I watched his highlight tape myself just to see and learn about him. He’s a great athlete, he’s a great kid and he comes out every day ready to work.”

Being somewhat of a veteran on the team, and certainly a respected leader on the offensive line, Sims is proud of Ta’amu. Even though he, too, is a junior, Ta’amu is new to SEC football, and Sims was proud to take him under his wing. Ta’amu, Sims said, is beginning to develop not only his talent but also his leadership ability.

“He is (a good leader),” Sims said. “You know he’s pretty quiet, but as the season’s gone on, he’s started to be more vocal and open up to the O-line and the other positions. He’s coming along, and not just being a leader by example but a vocal leader, as well.”

Saturday’s result was, however, not all about offense. Much of the praise has fallen on the other side of the ball. As inconsistent as they come, the Ole Miss defense finally seemed to click in the second half against Kentucky. After allowing a great deal of points in the first, the Rebel defenders held the Wildcats to four three-and-outs.

“We just played a phenomenal half,” sophomore defensive tackle Benito Jones said. “We did kind of get tired with our back against the wall. We let them score a touchdown, but we just need to stay locked in.”

Approaching a winnable game next weekend against Sun Belt opponents University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Ole Miss could dominate if it produces two halves of consistent football. It will not be easy — just look at this season’s somewhat surprising loss to Cal for proof of that, but head coach Matt Luke and his team have an opportunity to salvage a shred of momentum heading into the final stretch of 2017. And while a bowl game is off the table for now, the Rebels know there’s still plenty to play for.