Luke previews Ole Miss-Texas A&M game

The Rebels host the Aggies on Saturday at 6 p.m.

Posted: Nov 13, 2017 5:32 PM
Updated: Nov 13, 2017 10:08 PM

OXFORD, Miss. (WTVA/Ole Miss Athletics) - Ole Miss Football Head Coach Matt Luke met with the media Monday to recap the win over Louisiana, and preview Saturday’s matchup with Texas A&M (6 p.m., ESPN2).

Opening Statement…
“Just want to start off by saying this is going to be a special night. This is a special group of seniors. This group has been a part of maybe the top three offenses in school history, two New Year’s Six bowl games and obviously they’re the most affected this year by the bowl ban. They didn’t have the opportunity to go to a bowl, but they’ve continued to fight, fighting through injuries. DeMarquis Gates comes to mind, Jordan Wilkins, fighting through injuries as seniors. Daronte Bouldin doesn’t get to play, but a fifth-year senior who already graduated, first person in his family to do so. I’m just grateful to these guys. It’ll be an emotional senior night. We really want to go out there and perform well for this group of seniors.”

Injury Report…
“Van Jefferson dislocated his elbow and he will be out this game. I don’t want to say he’ll be out for the season, because we do want to further evaluate him. But he’ll be out this game. Markell Pack and Trey Bledsoe also suffered concussions and they’re in concussion protocol for this week. Alex Givens is toward the end of his protocol. He’s in the lifting and running stage. He’s probable but he still has to clear some of the protocol hurdles. Jordan Wilkins will be the same. He’s limited during practice and will play. Defensively, Austrian Robinson should be back. Then we’ll look at Jalen Julius (concussion) and Ross Donelly (knee) as well. But they’re also questionable.

On Texas A&M…
“I’m very familiar with both these coordinators. Coach Noel Mazzone (offense) and coach John Chavis (defense), I’ve worked with both of them. They’re very good coaches. You’ve got to prepare for two quarterbacks — they have a runner and a thrower. They have two very good running backs, several good receivers, so they’re very talented on offense. Defensively, they’re really good at getting sacks and getting pressure on the quarterback. They’re one of the top teams in the country on third down, getting off the field, getting turnovers. They’re a very good team. They’re talented on both sides of the ball and in the kicking game. They’ve blocked kicks, returned kicks for touchdowns, so they’re very capable.”

On the evolution of the running game…
“I think the running game has been there, it’s just been the commitment, the decision to commit to the running game and let the O-linemen come off the ball and be aggressive and physical. I think it has helped our offense. We’ve become balanced. It opens some things in the pass game when you have to respect the run game and the safeties have to come down, it creates one-on-one matchups outside. I’m very pleased with where it’s at. Yards per carry is very important to us, not so much the total yardage. When we do hand it off, we want those runs to be efficient. I think he’s over six yards per carry (6.2), and that’s a positive thing.”

On the defensive line play…
“You have to earn the right to rush the passer. That’s what we’ve talked about and that’s been our deal. We’ve struggled stopping the run. But if we can get teams in 3rd-and-long, our third-down package is really good. Our issue has been getting to that situation. When we have gotten to that situation, we’ve been pretty good.”

On the run defense…
“When you watch tape, you’re looking for it. So you see some improvement. The overall depth and the injuries with Qaadir Sheppard and Victor Evans, people don’t even think about them anymore, but those guys have been out for a while, and Austrian has been out the last two games and the depth issues at linebacker. It takes a toll after a while. We’re just continuing to fight and compete and get better. We have to continue to do that and get guys off the field. We’re trying to get people to compete and get them in the right situations. At that point, I think we can compete at a high level.”

On finding D-line depth…
“Charles Wiley, he’s a little undersized to be in there in three technique. But he got in there and battled and competed. Ryder Anderson played probably his best game last week and did a lot of good things. Then Garrald McDowell is kind of a journeyman. He’s also a little undersized to be in there, but they gave us some quality snaps. Herbert Moore gave us some quality snaps. They’re more used to getting eight or nine snaps late in the game, but they were in there in the first quarter competing and battling.”

On Texas A&M receiver Christian Kirk…
“He’s one of the best players in our league and has been for a long time. He’s a very good player. He’s dynamic when he gets the ball in his hands. They do a great job utilizing him out of the backfield and as a receiver and kick returner. You’ve got to know where he’s at all the time and you have to be able to mark him. But he’s a great player and we’ll have our work cut out.”

On Ken Webster…
“He just has a nagging hamstring injury and doesn’t quite have his burst. He’s been battling it. Another one of those guys who is out there fighting through injuries. He just doesn’t have that normal burst. He doesn’t quite look like himself, but he’s improving each week, and hopefully these last 10 days, he can finish and do a great job. We’ll need him this week. They have a great receiving corps and he’ll have to play really well for us.”

On the Texas A&M pass rush…
“The biggest thing for us, I don’t want to sound like a broken record, but you don’t want to get in a drop-back game where you’re throwing it and they know you’re throwing it. As long as you can stay balanced and keep your third downs to a minimum, where you’re out of those one-on-one pass-rush scenarios. That’s the hardest thing to do in football being an offensive lineman when everyone in the stadium knows you’re throwing it and you’re on your heels. That’s a very tough scenario to be in. We want to limit the number of times we’re in that scenario. That’s the No. 1 way to combat it.”

On the Texas A&M run game…
“The biggest problem Texas A&M gives you offensively is they spread the field with very good players everywhere. They’ve got good receivers you have to account for. You have to think about putting two on some guys sometimes, and that gives you problems. It gives you a light box, and they have very capable running backs with Keith Ford and Trayveon Williams. They’re very good players. They just spread you out and create space on you. That’s tough.”

On the Texas A&M defense…
“Defensively, coach Chavis, he’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the country. They play with an edge. They go after the ball and they’re aggressive. They’re very solid. They have a sophomore linebacker who has made a bunch of tackles. Armani Watts seems like he’s been there forever and he’s made a bunch of tackles. They don’t have a weakness up front on the D-line. All those guys are solid and get a bunch of sacks. They do a lot of movement and stemming. They’re an aggressive, attacking defense and force you to make mistakes. It’s important we play really well and limit the negative plays.”

On handling the emotion of senior night…
“You’ve got to be careful. I want them to know how important they are to the program, but we’ve still got to go play football. We’re going to focus more on enjoying these 10 days together and enjoy the time we have guaranteed. It’s going to be, ‘Hey, let’s go enjoy this. Let’s go have fun and finish this thing the right way and let’s have something you’ll always remember.’ We’ve been on teams with better records, but they’ll always remember this season. The adversity and all the things they’ve battled through — they’ll be proud of this season for the rest of their lives.”

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