Though he arrives at it through nightmarish circumstances Matt Luke is fired up to take the field in his dream job.
When Luke jogs onto the Vaught-Hemingway Stadium turf with players Saturday night it won’t matter to him that he was rushed into the position after the forced resignation of former coach Hugh Freeze on July 20. It won’t matter that there’s an interim label attached to his title or that he has to win an unspecified number of games to have the job beyond this season.
A native of Gulfport, Luke’s father played defensive back at Ole Miss in the 1960s, his brother quarterback in the late ’80s and early ’90s.
“It’s going to be emotional. This is something I’ve been thinking about for a long time. I’m just excited about the opportunity, excited about walking through the Grove, excited about locking the Vaught, excited about representing my university and trying to put a team on the field that everyone can be proud of,” he said.
Luke has spent 14 years as a player or assistant coach at Ole Miss where he’s been a part of coaching staffs under David Cutcliffe, Ed Orgeron and Freeze.
As an Ole Miss offensive lineman, Luke was a four-year letterman from 1995-1998 and a captain on Tommy Tuberville’s final team.
The Rebels kick off at 6:30 p.m. against South Alabama, which spoiled Mississippi State’s opener last year with a 21-20 win in Starkville.
Luke used the word “excited” a half dozen times in his first game week press conference Monday.
One of his biggest challenges against South Alabama will be to channel his excitement in the right ways.
“I’ve got to control my emotions and be a very efficient and organized head coach. That’s going to be one of my biggest challenges, but I’m excited and prepared for it.”
Records Watch: Defensive end Marquis Haynes needs 2 ½ sacks and six tackles for loss to become the school’s career leader in both categories. Presently, Greg Hardy leads with 26 ½ sacks; Derrick Burgess leads with 42 tackles for loss.
Freshmen Watch: True freshmen who are expected to play include wide receiver Braylon Sanders, cornerback and special teams player D.D. Bowie, safety C.J. Miller, defensive end Ryder Anderson and nickel back Breon Dixon. Offensive lineman Ben Brown could also play.
Behind Wilkins: Sophomore running back D’Vaughn Pennamon has emerged as the top back-up to starting running back Jordan Wilkins. Luke said Pennamon’s camp – particularly when Wilkins was out with a knee injury – helped him separate from Eugene Brazley and Eric Swinney.
Return Game: Bowie and sophomore defensive back Jaylon Sanders are expected to be deep on kicks. Sophomore wide receiver A.J. Brown will field punts. Luke said Brown understands when to fair catch and when to try and make a play. Brown’s ability to break tackles helped him win the job. Redshirt freshman wide receiver Tre Nixon could also figure into either kick returns or punt returns.
What: South Alabama at Ole Miss
When: 6:30 p.m., Saturday