Mississippi’s shaky defense was easily the program’s biggest concern heading into the season.
An opening-weekend 47-27 victory over Texas Tech helped ease those worries a little , but coach Matt Luke said there’s still plenty of room for growth when Ole Miss (1-0) hosts Southern Illinois (1-0) on today in Oxford.
“I don’t want to sound cliché when I say this, but we get 12 opportunities together,” Luke said. “We want to make each one of them count. There are several things we have to work on getting better. I really want to approach it that way, where we focus on us and make sure we hold ourselves to a standard.”
The Ole Miss defense has already lost one experienced playmaker. Junior Jaylon Jones, a versatile piece in the secondary and on special teams, is out for the season after suffering a torn ACL against Texas Tech. He had a 94-yard touchdown on a kickoff return before the injury.
Luke said that will force Ole Miss to reshuffle its secondary, but that’s one place where the Rebels have several veterans.
Ole Miss was encouraged by the play of the defensive line and linebackers, which were usually trouble spots last season. Luke has opted to go young at linebacker, using freshman Kevontae’ Ruggs and sophomore Mohamed Sanogo in expanded roles.
At least for one game, Luke said the results were good.
“There was a lot of communication from the back end to the front end. I thought that was a big improvement,” Luke said. “A lot of that is having the continuity, being in the second year of the system. But the communication and everyone being on the same page was much better.”
Here’s a few more things to watch when the Rebels host Southern Illinois:
In his first game, Ole Miss’ Scottie Phillips became just the eighth running back in school history to rush for at least 200 yards in a game when he had 204 yards rushing against Texas Tech. The junior college transfer will certainly get some opportunities against Southern Illinois, but don’t be surprised if Ole Miss uses some backups in an effort to keep Phillips healthy for the Alabama game on Sept. 15.
FOUND A KICKER
Sophomore Luke Logan was 4-for-4 on field goal attempts vs. Texas Tech, giving the Rebels some comfort on special teams. Logan played some last year as the understudy to veteran Gary Wunderlich, but the Texas Tech game was the first time the Rebels were counting on him to consistently make important field goals.
BIG PLAY REBELS
Ole Miss had two touchdowns of 50 yards or more in the opener against Texas Tech. That’s not uncommon for the Rebels, who have been especially adept at using the vertical passing game over recent seasons. Ole Miss had 12 touchdowns of 50 or more yards one year ago.
Much has been made of the dominant Ole Miss receiving trio of A.J. Brown, DaMarkus Lodge and D.K. Metcalf. But sophomore Braylon Sanders is starting to make a case that the group called NWO (Nasty Wide Outs) is actually four deep. Sanders caught four passes for 60 yards against the Red Raiders.
SIU RUNS THE BALL
Southern Illinois should test the Ole Miss run defense on today. The Salukis ran for 295 yards in their 49-10 victory over Murray State last weekend. Southern Illinois also had three defensive touchdowns in the victory, two on fumble returns an one on an interception return. SIU has played Ole Miss twice before, losing 59-3 in 1994 and 42-24 in 2011.