HOOVER, Ala. - Now what?
Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke walked onto the stage Tuesday afternoon at SEC Media Days in what can be called the post-sanctions era of the Ole Miss football program. For multiple years now, former head coach Hugh Freeze and once interim, now head coach Matt Luke appeared at the SEC Media Days with an enormous cloud over the programs head – but not on Tuesday inside the Birmingham Hyatt Regency-The Wynfrey Hotel.
Still, it was mentioned on at least five occasions as Matt Luke made his case for the program and answered questions from the media in attendance.
“And then obviously we have an opportunity for the first time in two years to go back to the postseason,” said Luke. “I think our fans are excited about it. I know our players are excited about it. I’m excited about it. To have that opportunity to walk into a living room and not have a cloud hanging over your head, I think you’re seeing an immediate impact on the recruiting trail because of that.”
Though the threat of sanctions and the immediate impact of imposed sanctions are over with, it was something to be mentioned.
Why? Simple . . . the effects of that now-gone era will still affect the program.
Luke’s moves in the offseason that pushes the program in the right direction
After the 2018 college football season, Luke did the program a favor, something that will likely help the program move forward with favorable momentum. He hired two former National Coaches of the Year as coordinators. Rich Rodriquez – the former head coach at West Virginia, Michigan and Arizona – and Mike MacIntrye – the former head coach at San Jose State and Colorado – were hired to serve the Rebels as offensive and defensive coordinators. Both Rodriguez and MacIntyre received National Coach of the Year honors while in the PAC 12 Conference.
“I liked what we did with our coaching staff in the offseason,” Luke said. “We made changes on both sides of the ball, hiring Rich Rodriquez on offense and Mike MacIntyre on defense. I think when you hire two former National Coaches of the Year, I think that brings a wealth of knowledge to your staff, but I think it also makes a statement. I think it makes a statement to our commitment to winning and about what we’re trying to do at Ole Miss.”
Luke did what many head coaches are not willing to do: hire former head coaches, which can play on the ego of a head coach. He didn’t seem to care, hoping the additions would improve the program tremendously.
New starting quarterback moving forward
Ole Miss has had several consecutive successful quarterbacks to lead its program in recent years – Chad Kelly, Shea Patterson, and Jordan Ta’amu. One of the three players in attendance Tuesday was redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Corral, who is set to lead the program in the upcoming season.
“A lot of people asked me about bringing a freshman to Media Day, but his competitive fire and his competitive spirit, the players, gravitated toward him,” Luke said of Corral. “I think he was thrust into a leadership role, and I think he’s done a great job of competing and carrying himself the right way.
“As a former player, you want to be around guys that have that energy and that fire and that toughness, especially at that position,” the head coach added.
Corral is the youngest player and the only non-junior or senior to represent a school at the SEC Media Days.
The former four-star recruit, who was once committed to another SEC school, Florida, appeared in four games last season. Corral completed 16-of-22 pass attempts (72.7 percent) in 2018 for 239 yards and two touchdowns. He’ll have to adjust to the new offensive scheme Rodriguez is implementing, which relies more on the run, which is different from the pass-heavy offense the Rebels have been known for in years passed.
“So, we have four freshmen quarterbacks on our team,” said Luke. “Matt was the beneficiary of that four-game redshirt rule. So he was able to get those four games under his belt, and you can see that in the spring. It separated himself from the other quarterbacks.
“Matt’s a very, very talented guy. He can make all of the throws. He can throw off-platform. He’s accurate from a bunch of different odd angles. He’s got escapability in the pocket, and then all of the intangibles with the toughness that we’ve already talked about. So I think the combination of all of that made him the choice.”
Improving the defense
Last season, Ole Miss had one of the worst defenses in the nation by the numbers. It brought about the change Luke made in the offseason, parting ways with Wesley McGriff, who served the Rebels as defensive coordinator for three seasons, and hiring MacIntyre. MacIntyre served with Luke on the Rebels’ staff from 1999-2002.
“We got a lot of players on that side of the ball that have played a bunch of football, and (I was) just really pleased in the spring to see them buy into Mike MacIntyre’s system,” explained Luke. “Mike is a great coach. I saw their confidence grow. I saw them play with that chip on their shoulder. As you said, they’ve taken a lot of heat over the years.
“I think when we take the field against Memphis, I think you’ll see a fundamentally sound defense. They are lined up in the right spot. Their eyes are in the right spot. I think with Josiah Coatney, Benito Jones and Tariqious Tisdale and our front seven all coming back . . . a lot of experience in the secondary. I think you’ll see a much, much better defense against Memphis.”
With Luke on Tuesday was junior linebacker MoMo Sanogo. As a sophomore, Sanogo had 53 solo tackles and assisted with another 59 Rebel take-downs.
*Alongside Corral and Sanogo was senior offensive lineman Alex Givens. Givens is one of the few Rebel linemen with lots of game time experience. Ole Miss signed seven offensive linemen in their 2019 class that ranked 22nd nationally and 9th in the SEC.
*Ole Miss opens the 2019 NCAA College Football season on Aug. 21 at Memphis.