Matt Luke led the Rebels through the Walk of Champions for the first time in his career Saturday. “Hotty Toddy” echoed through the tents in The Grove as he slapped hands with Rebel faithful and received constant words of encouragement.
A few minutes later, the Gulfport native walked across the playing field at Vaught-Hemingway Stadium, his young son, Cooper, not far away. He looked around at the empty stands, only just beginning to fill, and exhaled. He’d seen this vision before – but it was different Saturday.
Within a couple of hours, Luke was 1-0 as the lead Rebel; his head coaching debut a success — in a rout, no less.
Excluding a forgettable second quarter, the Rebels rolled visiting South Alabama to the tune of 47-27.
“It was long early on. I was just wanting the game to get here,” Luke said. “Coming through The Grove, very emotional walking onto the field for the first time. Very, very special.
“I really appreciate Rebel Nation. They have made this transition very easy and special.”
The Luke Era at Ole Miss got off to a dominant start. Not only did the Rebels mount a 78-yard scoring drive on it’s first possession, capped by a 5-yard touchdown pass from Shea Patterson to DaMarkus Lodge, but the defense forced two three-and-outs.
Gary Wunderlich gave Ole Miss a 10-0 lead with a 19-yard field goal late in the first quarter, but USA scored 10 unanswered on a 20-yard field goal by Gavin Patterson and a 30-yard touchdown pass from Cole Garvin to Jamarius Way.
Wunderlich pushed Ole Miss back ahead 13-10 just before half with a 29-yard field goal.
Patterson and A.J. Brown turned in two highlight reel touchdowns in the third quarter to extend the Rebels’ lead. On Ole Miss’ first possession of the second half, Brown caught a pass over the middle, made a USA defensive back miss and was off for a 71-yard score.
At the 12:07 mark of the frame, the Jaguars flushed Patterson toward the Ole Miss sideline. The Rebel quarterback lofted a pass toward Brown, who snatched the ball between two defenders and took off for a 77-yard touchdown.
USA’s Patterson converted a 20-yard field goal midway through the third quarter, but Jaylon Jones returned the ensuing kick off 97 yards to push Ole Miss back ahead 33-13.
Patterson connected with Lodge again to close out the third quarter, this time on a 14-yard touchdown.
Backup running back D’Vaughn Pennamon extended the Rebels’ rout to 47-13 early in the fourth on a 2-yard run.
Garvin tacked on rushing touchdowns of 1 and 14 yards in the final minutes.
Patterson finished his sophomore debut having completed 28 of 35 yards for 429 yards and four touchdowns. He also scrambled quite a bit but only finished with 6 yards due to several negative plays.
“That’s pretty good. He’s only a sophomore and going to get better and better,” Luke said. “In this offense he has the opportunity to make a lot of decisions. Love to see him scrambling around and making plays. That’s who he is and you want him to be able to do that.”
The Rebels rushed for 102 yards as a team, with Pennamon accumulating a team-high 34 yards.
Garvin completed 19 of 31 passes for 204 yards with one touchdown. Tra Minter led USA with 83 yards rushing on 12 carries.
Brown set an Ole Miss single-season record with his 233 yards receiving on eight catches, eclipsing Eddie Small’s 1993 mark of 210 yards.
Back at it
Ole Miss will host UT-Martin at 11 a.m. Saturday before traveling to Cal on Sept. 16 for a 9:30 p.m. kickoff.
South Alabama has a big test this week with a home game against Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. Sept. 8.