Ole Miss putting focus on itself against UT Martin

Published 7:42 am Friday, September 8, 2017

Ole Miss will try to keep its momentum going against a familiar opponent this week.

A week after winning interim coach Matt Luke’s head coaching debut, the Rebels will step out of the Football Bowl Subdivision against Tennessee Martin on Saturday at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium (11 a.m., SEC Network). The teams last met to begin the 2015 season when the Rebels won in a 76-3 rout.

UT Martin, which finished second in the Ohio Valley Conference last season, began its season with a 36-0 shutout of Clarion. It’s a step down in competition for the Rebels, who are focusing on themselves this week as much as they are their opponent.

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“I want to see us play with a little bit better tempo on offense,” Luke said. “I want to see us score touchdowns in the red zone. On defense, I want to see the tackling improved. I want to see guys when they get their opportunities to take advantage of it, especially guys that are fighting for playing time and fighting for depth.

“This week is about us trying to create a standard about how we want to prepare and how we want to practice. We’re looking forward to the challenge.”

The Skyhawks (1-0) ran for more than 200 yards in their season-opening win with Ladarius Galloway’s 157 yards setting the pace on the ground. It could challenge Ole Miss’ defense, which gave up 170 rushing yards in a 47-27 win over South Alabama with many of those coming after contact.

Regardless of the level of competition, the Rebels (1-0) have to do a better job of wrapping up if they want to improve on last week’s number. Players went through extensive tackling circuits during practice Tuesday and Wednesday.

“I thought we populated the football very well, but there’s too many leaky yardage,” first-year defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff said. “The first guy there, we’ve got to get a hand on his cloth or come up with a body part and not let him gain additional yardage.”

The defense will get a pair of reinforcements back this week in middle linebacker Detric Bing-Dukes and cornerback Ken Webster, who were suspended for the opener after being arrested on shoplifting charges last month. McGriff said there’s a possibility both could start, but the two will get plenty of snaps regardless in their season debuts.

The biggest schematic difference from what the Rebels saw last week will be on the defensive side of the ball, where UT Martin will line up in odd-man fronts in an attempt to disrupt the rhythm of Ole Miss’ offense, which churned out 531 yards against South Alabama with 429 of those coming through the air.

The Skyhawks held Clarion to 147 total yards and no first downs.

“They’re very efficient with what they do,” offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “They have some athletes that can run. … We’re going to get a completely different look this week from their 30 front with what they do schematically.”