Matt Luke Weekly Press Conference

Luke Recaps Bye Week, Previews Alabama Game

Ole Miss Football Head Coach Matt Luke met with the media Monday recap the bye week preparations, and preview Saturday’s game at No. 1 Alabama (8 p.m. CT, ESPN).

Opening Statement…
“The open date was really good for us. We had a chance to get some guys healthy and work on us. As far as the injury report, Sean Rawlings is still in a boot and has not practiced yet. I think he’ll maybe have a chance to practice a little later in the week. He’s probably doubtful for the game but may be a game-time decision. A.J. Brown is also going to be a game-time decision. He’ll be limited in practice all week. Victor Evans I think will practice this week, and I think Gary Wunderlich will also kick some this week. He’ll be probable for the game. But we’ll find out more on Tuesday.”

On Alabama…
“(I have an) unbelievable respect for Alabama and for Coach Saban and the things they’ve been able to accomplish. They’re No. 1 in the country for a reason. They’re very good on offense, defense, and special teams. It was impressive to watch them against Vanderbilt. They ran the ball really well. They’re running for over 300 yards per game, and the most impressive thing is they haven’t turned the ball over yet. That’s very, very impressive. They have a really good quarterback and really good backs. Calvin Ridley on the outside can hurt you one-on-one. They’re very good on offense. Defense, they lost all of these players and you think they’re going to take a step back, but you turn the tape on and they’re every bit as good. Da’Ron Payne is a first-round draft pick. He’s really good inside. Shaun Dion Hamilton at linebacker, Minkah Fitzpatrick — they’ve got really good players all over the field. Like I said, they’re No. 1 in the country for a reason. I’m excited about the challenge and looking forward to going up there. It’s why you coach and why you play so you can play in these big games.”

On practicing with crowd noise and working on pre-snap communication…
“That’s obviously been an area of focus for us. The open date gave us a chance to work on some of that. We think we got those things corrected, but when you get out there in front of 100,000 people, you’ve got to go execute and do it. But it has been better.”

On preparing the team to play at Alabama…
“It helps when you’ve got guys who have been there and played in that environment. The thing about it is, two years ago doesn’t mean anything for this year. This team is the one that’s got to go to Tuscaloosa. Experience does help. Some of those offensive linemen have been in the stadium, so that does help some.”

On defending the Alabama running game…
“It’s going to be a challenge. Obviously, they’re running for 300 yards a game. We have to limit their direct runs, and we have to try to make them bounce the ball to where they can’t attack us straight downhill. That’s going to be a challenge. It’s going to be an area of focus for us, to try to stop the run and make them throw the ball to beat us.”

On what he’s telling Shea Patterson as he faces Alabama…
“Throw it fast. Play fast. We’ve got to play fast, try to keep them out of their comfort zone. We have very simple answers for him in the passing game. You can’t sit back there and hold it. They’ve got good pass rushers and good coverage guys. It’s very important to play fast and get them out of their comfort zone. We want to keep some of their guys on the field by going tempo. We’ll try to limit the looks they can give us with our tempo. It’s very important to just be on-time with the football, to scramble around and try to make plays with their feet; you have to do that some. But, we have to be smart about how long we hold the ball.”

On adding to the playbook against Alabama…
“I think the biggest thing you have to do is you have to stay on schedule. You can’t get behind the chains and live in third-and-long. Third-and-four is way different than third-and-eight against Alabama. You’ve got to stay on schedule so you can stay in your tempo, and you have to stay to stay ahead of the chains. That’s very important, especially for a tempo team. That’s a huge, huge deal.”

On what he’s seen from the Alabama front seven…
“They’re very talented. You thought, well they lost Jonathan Allen, Ryan Anderson, Tim Williams and Reuben Foster, you’re like, finally they may (take a step back). But when you turn the tape on, they’ve got guys stepping in who are just as good. You just have to be smart about having throws that you can throw on time. Then you have to run it and have a balance. Because if they can just attack the spot, and they know you’re throwing it, they can get after you. You have to have balance. They have to respect the run game. When you do that, if you run it well enough, you maybe can create some one-on-ones outside.”

On last year’s Alabama game…
“Turnovers, I think that was the issue. We had two turnovers for touchdowns and a special teams touchdown. That’s 21 non-offensive points they got in last year’s game. That was the difference in the game. Protecting the football is going to be important. Alabama is plus-six in turnover margin this year, and that’s going to be a big factor in the game. Hidden yardage, special teams — in big games on the road, special teams have to show up. We can’t turn the ball over. That’s the formula for us staying in the game and having a chance to win it in the fourth quarter. Last year and this year were totally different. We’re focused on our team from this year.”

On the Rebel defensive line against the Alabama ground game…
“I think they’re going to play hard. Josiah Coatney, Breeland Speaks, I think they’ll step in there and do a good job. They’ll go in there and fight their tails off. We have to do a good job of gap control. We have to attack those backs before they get going. Once those guys get going, they’re hard to stop. We have to do a good job of making them run laterally instead of just attacking us downhill. If we do that, we’ll have a chance.”

On having Shea run more often…
“I think you have to protect Shea some with how many times he can carry it. I do think there is a place for him to carry it to help out in the run game some. He’s a good enough athlete to do that, but you have to pick and choose your spots.”

On being balanced offensively against Alabama…
“You have to try to attack them and make somebody other than their front seven make a play. We have to make their safeties make tackles instead of their front seven. If their safeties start making tackles, that opens up some different things. Second-and-seven and running for three yards, that’s a good run. That’s what we have to be able to live with. You’re not going to get chunk plays all the time and have 80-yard touchdowns. You have to play field position and punt some and try to pin them deep. You have to play good sound, solid football. If you get caught up trying to go for a bunch of stuff and trying to change who you are, you can get behind a little bit. It’s important that we stay on schedule. If we run for three and run for three and it is third-and-four, that’s a good formula to stay out of those third-and-longs.”

On the center situation if Rawlings cannot play…
“It’s probably going to be Jordan Sims with Javon Patterson at left guard and Alex Givens at right guard. That’s the way we’ll start the game. If Sean can go, then we’d have Javon and Jordan back at guard.”

On Jalen Hurts and Tua Tagovailoa…
“I was very impressed with both of their quarterbacks in the last game. The biggest thing you see with Hurts is just how calm he is back there. He doesn’t get rattled. It almost looks effortless, making guys miss. Just how poised he is is very impressive for a guy that young. He’s been in a lot of big games and he’s a very good player. He can hurt you with his feet. He’s doing a great job in the passing game at getting the ball to guys when the opportunity presents itself. Obviously a very good player. But his poise sticks out the most.” – RN

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