Matt Luke: Rebels Have Their Work Cut Out for Them Against Aggies

Photo by Randall Haley

Twenty seniors will take the field as Ole Miss Rebels for the last time in Saturday night’s home game against the Texas A&M Aggies. The game airs at 6 p.m. on ESPN2.

Earlier in the week, Ole Miss Head Coach Matt Luke talked about the emotion of this game for his squad – and how he wants them to play.

“Let’s go have fun and finish this thing the right way, and let’s have something you’ll always remember,’” Luke said he told the players. “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.”

Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4) is coming off of a non-conference victory against Louisiana 50-22 last weekend. Junior quarterback Jordan Ta’amu threw for 418 yards in the win. He has become just the second-ever QB in program history to throw for 350 or more yards in three straight games.

Texas A&M currently sits at 6-4 overall and 3-3 in SEC play. The Aggies claimed a 55-14 non-conference win over New Mexico but have lost three of their last four SEC games after beating Arkansas and South Carolina to start 2-0 in conference play. Texas A&M averages 173.4 yards on the ground and 226.8 yards through the air.

A broken ankle kept A&M quarterback Nick Starkel off the field for six games, but the redshirt freshman is back and ready for action. Photo courtesy of Texas A&M Athletics

Redshirt-freshman quarterback Nick Starkel got the start at QB against New Mexico after missing six games earlier in the season due to a broken ankle. True freshman QB Kellen Mond has also provided a spark for the Aggies. He is the only Aggie true freshman to have a 300-yard passing game and a 200-yard pass/100-rush game.

Wideout Christian Kirk is A&M’s big-play threat, both on offense and special teams. Kirk has hauled in 46 catches on the year for 575 yards and six TDs. He also has returned both a kick and punt for a touchdown.

“He’s one of the best players in our league and has been for a long time,” Luke said. “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.”

Running back Keith Ford leads the Aggies with 10 rushing touchdowns.

“The biggest problem Texas A&M gives you offensively is they spread the field with very good players everywhere,” Luke said. “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.”

Linebacking duo Otaro Alaka and Tyrel Dodson lead the Texas A&M defense. Alaka is second in the SEC with 11 tackles for loss, all of which have come in the last seven games. Dodson leads A&M in tackles (84) and is fifth in the conference with 10 TFLs. Junior defensive end Landis Durham anchors a defensive line that ranks fifth in the country with 3.3 sacks per game. Armani Watts, a senior defensive back from Forney, Texas, is tops in the SEC with four interceptions.

“Defensively, Coach Chavis, he’s one of the best defensive coordinators in the country,” Luke said. “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.”

This will be the 10th meeting all-time between the Aggies and the Rebels. Texas A&M holds a three-game advantage in the series, but Ole Miss has a three-game winning streak in the series.

Fans can watch all the action of the game on ESPN2 or listen to the call on the Ole Miss Sports Radio Network.


Adam Brown is the sports editor of HottyToddy.com. He can be reached at adam.brown@hottytoddy.com.

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