Video: Ole Miss Preparing for One Final Ride in the 2017 Season at MSU
OXFORD, Miss. (WCBI/Ole Miss Athletics) – Ole Miss has known for a while where and when its season will culminate, and that day is almost here as the Rebels prepare for the season’s final game against Mississippi State in Starkville on Thanksgiving night.
Mississippi State’s biggest strength offensively has been the Rebels’ greatest weakness, and that is running the football. Quarterback Nick Fitzgerald and running back Aeris Williams are the centerpieces in a dynamic and athletic backfield for the Bulldogs that have the team averaging 245 yards per game. That is good for 17th in the country.
“That’s something we’ve struggled with, so we have our work cut out going there and stopping the run and forcing them to throw it,” head coach Matt Luke said.
One thing Ole Miss can build on in the loss to Texas A&M is how it defended the run. The Aggies ran the ball 44times for just 119 yards, gaining less than three yards per rush. The Rebels were able to effectively shed blocks and clog running lanes. It resulted in their best performance against the run this season.
“It was matter of getting off blocks, playing with energy and getting to the ball carrier,” defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “They did a better job of that and as a result we played the run a lot better.”
McGriff felt the run fits and reads were finally sinking into the team’s head. It will need to remain that way if the Rebels wish to neutralize the Bulldogs on a short week. Fitzgerald is the most elusive quarterback this team has faced this season and is 32 yards away from a 1,000 yard rushing season.
“Every week in this league the quarterbacks are so skilled,” McGriff said. “This is no different. We are going to pack the box and get him off schedule on first and second down and force him to throw it on third down.”
The Ole Miss offense inexplicably sputtered in the second half against Texas A&M, and it was a large reason the team was not able to pull out a win. Luke hopes to learn from that and make sure they are as efficient as they need to be to put points on the board.
“We got behind the chains a bunch,” Luke said. “Typically, we haven’t been very good when we’ve been behind the chains, and I don’t think any offense is. You can’t have penalties. You can’t have negative yardage plays. And obviously the turnover for a touchdown was the difference in the game.”
Ole Miss will not be at full strength, like most teams in late November. Alex Givens is in concussion protocol. Van Jefferson is likely out with a dislocated elbow. Luke said Markel Pack is probable and that Jalen Julius is still in concussion protocol and will be questionable.
Emotions will be running high when Ole Miss steps into Davis-Wade Stadium on Thursday night. An already competitive rivalry has been doused with gasoline over the last 12 months. Luke has grown up with this rivalry. When asked what number Egg Bowl this is for him, he quipped that he’s 41 years old so that makes it his 41st Egg Bowl. He is confident his teams will keep their emotions in check.
“You want to play and compete between the whistles,” Luke said. “You’re going to be on edge and the emotions will be high, but there’s a fine line there. You want to make sure you handle things the right way.”
The short week can be tricky to navigate through. This is the Rebels’ third football game in 12 days. Ole Miss will practice at night on Monday and Tuesday to simulate the game conditions before reverting to their Normal walk thru schedule on Wednesday.
“It’s already a Wednesday in terms of the process going to the game,” Luke said. “You can’t do as much in pads. You have to do a little more mental preparation. We have to do a little more toward the end of the week. The good thing for us is we don’t have school, so we can devote some more time watching tape and getting mentally ready for the game.”
Kickoff on Thursday is set for 6:30 p.m.
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