Oxford,Miss – Matt Luke grew up with posters plastered across his wall, some of them featuring the Ole Miss and LSU. He’s played in these games and understands the rivalry. He relishes the chance to coach in it now.
“For my dad, this was THE game,” Luke said. “I grew up with Ole Miss versus LSU poster in my room and I grew up hearing all the stories about Billy Cannon’s run and coming back and beating that team in the Sugar Bowl. You hear about all this and then have a chance to play in that game and what it means to all the Ole Miss people. It is really special.
Luke’s team is heading into the game with a bit of momentum after dropping 57 points in a win over Vanderbilt last week. A lot of the talk from the team has been geared towards carrying that positive energy into this week, one that will be a much more daunting challenge.
“It is always a challenge as you get to week seven or eight in terms of the monotony of practice, but I think having a big SEC game helps with their focus and getting prepared,” Luke said. “I think positive momentum and home field advantage and all of that stuff is part of it. The preparation every day is what is important and building habits.”
The Rebels will face an LSU offense that loves to run the football. Derrius Guice is one of the best backs in the SEC and first-year offensive coordinator Matt Canada has done a nice job using Guice in a variety of ways as well as using speed sweeps and misdirection to take the attention off of Guice.
“The hard part about it is simulating the speed of it, how fast it gets on you,” Luke said. “I think another things is it takes eyes of the main focus in Guice and some of those other guys. You have to constantly be aware and account for those people. It is a unique challenge and one we will have to be prepared for.”
Guice himself is hard to prepare for. It is nearly impossible to simulate the speed and power of the 5-foot-11, 218 pound junior. He will be quite the load to bring down for an Ole Miss defense that has struggled to defend the run at times this season.
“The positive thing is that in this league you face a lot of good backs,” Luke said. “He is another one that is very talented. I think playing several good running backs to this point.”
On the other side of the ball, Ole Miss will be forced to deal with a solid LSU pass rush led by outside linebacker Arden Key, who is one of the most dynamic defensive players in the conference. Key’s combination of power and speed makes him a hazard for opposing quarterbacks and a nightmare for offensive lineman to try to block.
Rebel left tackle Greg Little will spearhead the attempt to neutralize key. Little said after practice on Tuesday that he lost weight in the offseason and improved his footwork for moments like this.
“Greg has greatly improved his foot quickness and plays much more consistent than this time last year,” Luke said. “I think he has really improved and stepped up his consistency. He was always a good player. As a true freshman having to go against Arden Key and Miles Garrett and all of these other players, it will open your eyes to get better. I think he has done that.”
Luke said that kicker Gary Wunderlich has been kicking in practice and has looked pretty good. The senior kicker will again be a game time decision as he battles a nagging hamstring injury. The team feels a little better about this uncertainty considering the fact Luke Logan went 2-2 on field goals last week in Wunderlich’s absence. The decision will hinge on how Wunderlich feels in warm ups.
Kickoff on Saturday is set for 6:30 p.m.
By Brian Scott Rippee, OleMissSports.com