He grew up around it. His father, Tommy, was a defensive back for the Rebels in the 1960s, and LSU was and continues to be the most-important game on the schedule. In his pre-teen years, a picture of the 1961 10-7 Ole Miss loss hung in Matt’s room as a reminder of sorts. Ole Miss can’t lose to LSU.
The point was hammered home as Luke lettered in four seasons as a center at Ole Miss. He started in 33 career games and served as team captain in 1998. LSU is one of two games on the schedule that always carries more weight than the others.
And Ole Miss is preparing accordingly.
“It’s a huge game. It’s a rivalry game. It’s not just another game, it is a rivalry game,” Luke said. “It’s important. It’s important to our fans. To my dad, this one is the most important one. In that whole generation, this was something where I grew up with a picture of it in my bedroom. it is a huge game. We’re going to prepare that way and try to go out and go compete.”
Saturday will be the 105th all-time meeting between Ole Miss and LSU dating back to 1894. LSU is Ole Miss’ second-most played opponent behind Mississippi State, and the Tigers hold a 59-41-1 advantage in the series.
Since the inception of the Magnolia Bowl trophy in 2008, the series is tied at 4-4. Ole Miss has played more games in Baton Rouge (64) than any other opponent site.
“It’s loud. It’s a loud environment,” Luke said. “You’ve got to have poise. With a young team and the momentum swings, you’ve really got to be able to handle that. I think that’s a big part of it. The cadence is always a big issue and communication, just being able to talk to each other and handle it and not panic. We call it having poise for the noise. You gotta be able to do that. Having played two road games now, they’ll have some practice at it, but it won’t be the same atmosphere as an 8 o’clock game in Tiger Stadium. This will be the biggest challenge as far crowd noise, for sure.”
Ole Miss didn’t have the necessary poise last week. The Rebels suffered a 34-30 loss at Arkansas to move their overall season record to 3-3 (1-2 SEC), their playoff and SEC championship hopes all but dashed.
Disappointed as they may be, Luke said the Rebels have responded in practice. They’ve had no choice, really.
“That’s the best way to get a bad taste out of your mouth, is to go back to work,” he said. “Nobody in this league is going to feel sorry for you or feel bad for you. Everybody plays tough schedules. Everybody’s got to bounce back. That’s the only thing you can do, is go back to work. That’s the best way to get a bad taste out of your mouth.”
A win over LSU would certainly help. The Tigers, ranked No. 23 in the country, will be the fifth Top 25 opponent the Rebels have faced in seven games. Ole Miss is 1-3 against ranked foes this season. Since 2014, the Rebels are 7-1 coming off a loss, including 2-0 in 2016.
Of course, if Ole Miss is to bounce back again, it will have to do so — first and foremost — on the shoulders of its offensive line. Luke has been pleased with his group to this point.
“I’m proud of the way that they’re gelling and playing hard,” he said. “Got a really good group of guys. They fight for each other, they care about each other and they’re not selfish. They’ll go out there and compete. Still got a lot of getting better to do with a young group, but just pleased with the direction we’re moving. I just want to see us continue to have an aggressive mentality when we have the opportunities. That’s the hard part with our offense when we’re going tempo and throwing it. When we call a run, I want to make it count. I think we can do that and continue to get better at that and take advantage of every opportunity that we have to do that.”
On the development of freshman tackle Greg Little: “I’m really proud of him,” Luke said. “A true freshman, he’s out there competing. He plays about half the snaps and he’s grading out really well. Making some freshman mistakes, but really has been playing pretty good.”
On what Little is working on to improve: “Speed of the game, learning how to play fast. I think the proper technique when you go against really, really good players, you can’t always just go on sheer ability. You’ve got to put your hands in the right places. You’ve got to be able to move your feet and do the technical things really well. Just continuing to get better at that, I think, is really important.”