Editor’s note: The following is a Q&A between Andrew Wild, sports editor of The Daily Californian, and Grayson Weir, a sports editor at the Daily Mississippian. The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Andrew Wild: With the late departure of Ole Miss head coach Hugh Freeze, how has the team reacted to its coaching change under Matt Luke?
Grayson Weir: Actually, the team has reacted exactly as one would hope. It’s been nothing but positive here in Oxford. The boys are fired and up and have embraced an underdog mentality and are 100 percent behind not only each other, but (Luke). Before the South Alabama game in week one, he said something along the lines of, “You don’t have to be blood to be family, it just has to be real.” That’s definitely carried over into the team and the guys in the locker room and Oxford in general.
Nothing has changed (scheme-wise) since Luke took over. That being said, over the summer we hired a new offensive coordinator in Phil Longo, who came from Sam Houston State, and defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff, who taught here a while ago before a short stint with the Saints and, most recently, Auburn. Those guys came in and changed up the schemes a little bit on offense and defense, but since Luke has come in, nothing has changed at all.
AW: What’s the best aspect of quarterback Shea Patterson’s game?
GW: The strongest part of Patterson’s game, and what makes him so special, is his ability to extend plays. Don’t get me wrong — of course his arm is unbelievable, and he’s pretty quick once he gets out of the pocket, but it’s his ability to make nothing into something. Last year, we specifically saw it against Texas A&M. Being against Texas A&M, people started hyping him up as the next Johnny Manziel, but I don’t like that comparison, just because they’re two different players. Manziel was a running quarterback … (Patterson) is more of a mobile guy rather than a running guy, which is kind of a different entity.
Rather than scampering for 5 yards and a first down, which he can do, he prefers to stay in the pocket, or at least the backfield, and when it appears the pocket has collapsed or he’s inches from being wrapped up, he can do something crazy and continue the play until one of our wide receivers gets open. (Ole Miss) actually practices when things go wrong. They have the defense run around doing crazy stuff, and the receivers get open. They’re preparing every week for what happens if (Patterson) doesn’t stay and everything goes wrong and all of a sudden Shea is 12 yards back field running away from a defender.
AW: The defense has struggled against middling opponents. What part of the defense is most vulnerable?
GW: Once you get past the defensive line (it starts). Our defensive line has been able to step up to some extent, between our defensive ends Victor Evans and DeMarquis Gates having good years so far. And we’ve got a big fella in Josiah Coatney in the middle, who can kind of blow up that offensive line. But once a running back gets to the second line of defense, it’s been pretty ugly when it comes to our linebackers and secondary being able to wrap up.
There’s been a couple times, one I can point to specifically last week against UT Martin, where the running back looked like he was taken down in the backfield, and then boom, all of a sudden, he was 67 yards downfield and into the end zone. So the most vulnerable part of our defense is the inability to wrap up, and it’s been a flaring issue the last two weeks. Both our defensive coordinator and Matt Luke have emphasized that this is kind of priority No. 1, “It needs to be fixed and it will be fixed,” but I don’t know if that’s true, so we’ll see, come Saturday.
AW: Who would be the guy on defense to step up on Saturday?
GW: So far, A.J. Moore has been the only bright spot within the secondary. He’s been able to step up and make some tackles coming off the edge, and by the edge I mean from the cornerback position. He’s been able to come in and find his way to the tailback. That being said, I’m going to be lame and say the entire secondary needs to step up. You can’t really point to one guy, just because it’s been pretty terrible across the board.
AW: What’s the most interesting coaching tendency you’ve noticed so far?
GW: When you look at the stat sheet, you can pick it out from a mile away. Longo comes in from Sam Houston State, which was the most efficient offense in the FCS level, and he brings this Air Raid offense into Oxford. We’ve thrown the ball a fair amount the last couple years with Chad Kelly and Bo Wallace before him, and all the way back to Eli Manning, we’ve always thrown the ball. To some extent, we’ve had a run game, whether that be an extension of the run game where we’re throwing quick outs to our tailback and he scampers for a couple yards up the field, or a true running game that can at least balance the passing attack to some extent.
This year, we’ve seen that our run game is pretty nonexistent. While the coordinators and coaching staff, and even the players themselves, are kind of saying they’re looking to increase the run game to take a little pressure off of the passing game, I don’t see that to be true. I think the tendency will be to throw the ball 80, 90 percent of the game downfield. To put it in layman’s term, the most interesting tendency has been that we’re all pass and no run.