SEC INSIDER

Ole Miss gets early gauge on ‘big stage’

The Sports Xchange

August 28, 2018 at 8:57 am.

Nov 18, 2017; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Jordan Ta'amu (10) passes the ball against Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Qualen Cunningham (9) during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Photo Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Nov 18, 2017; Oxford, MS, USA; Mississippi Rebels quarterback Jordan Ta’amu (10) passes the ball against Texas A&M Aggies defensive lineman Qualen Cunningham (9) during the first half at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium. Photo Credit: Justin Ford-USA TODAY Sports

Matt Luke figures the offense will carry its weight again. He’s hopeful the defense will start doing the same.

It won’t take Luke long to start finding out about his team when Ole Miss ushers in a new era under its first-time head coach.

Ole Miss will be tested immediately against Texas Tech at Houston’s NRG Stadium on Saturday. Luke had his interim tag removed shortly after leading the Rebels to a 6-6 record last season and inherits an offense that was one of the nation’s best last season and a defense that was anything but.

“Excited about game week,” Luke said. “This is an awesome opportunity on a big stage.”

Jordan Ta’amu is back at quarterback after taking the SEC by storm after taking over midway through last season for the injured Shea Patterson, who has since transferred to Michigan. Ta’amu completed nearly 67 percent of his passes for the SEC’s top passing offense, throwing for more than 1,600 yards and accounting for 15 touchdowns. The Rebels also boast arguably the nation’s top receiving corps, headlined by All-American A.J. Brown, and return every starting offensive lineman.

The question is whether Ole Miss will be able to hold up defensively against Texas Tech’s pass-happy offense after losing leading tackler DeMarquis Gates and draft picks Breeland Speaks and Marquis Haynes. Ole Miss spent most of preseason camp mixing and matching in the front seven as the Rebels look for replacements and have started a youth movement at linebacker with sophomore Mohamed Sanogo and true freshman Kevontae’ Ruggs set to make their first career starts Saturday.

They’ll try to help improve a defense that finished near the bottom in several defensive categories last season. Ole Miss was at its worst against the run, finishing 123rd nationally in that department.

“It’s big-time football right off the bat in an NFL stadium on national TV,” Luke said.

“Just excited to go out there and really see where we’re at. I think the guys are tired of hitting each other. They’re ready to go out and face an opponent. It’ll be a really, really great test to see where we are.”

NOTES

–DT Benito Jones is healthy again after playing through a concussion and a torn labrum last season. The former blue-chip recruit struggled to play with any explosiveness last year because of the injuries but could play a big part in helping slow down Texas Tech’s offense with push up the middle, which clogs running lanes and collapses the pocket against a team that’s notorious for airing it out.

–MLB Mohamed Sanogo will get a chance to show what he can do in his first career start. The sophomore has gotten rave reviews for his football IQ both before and after the snap, something that will be tested with the intricacies of Texas Tech’s run-and-gun offense. He’ll also be responsible for getting everybody else lined up correctly.

–Ole Miss leads the all-time series 3-2 against Texas Tech. The Rebels won the teams’ last meeting, 47-34, in the 2009 Cotton Bowl.

 

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