Ole Miss fights through injuries, prepares to take on Auburn

Mississippi's Javien Hamilton (21), Tariqious Tisdale (22) and Kweisi Fountain (39) celebrate after Mississippi defeated Arkansas 37-33 in an NCAA college football game Saturday, Oct. 13, 2018, in Little Rock, Ark. (AP Photo/Michael Woods)

OXFORD, Miss. — Mississippi has so many injuries on its defense that two running backs are now playing a significant role in the secondary.

On Monday, the school announced that wide receiver D.K. Metcalf would miss the rest of the season because of a neck injury and defensive end Markel Winters is out for about a month with an injured knee.

The bad news seems to be everywhere. Yet somehow, the Rebels still have a respectable 5-2 record.

Ole Miss may not be the most talented — or the healthiest — team in the Southeastern Conference, but demonstrated some resiliency in last weekend’s 37-33 win over Arkansas . The Rebels trailed 27-10 late in the second quarter before rallying for their first league win.

“It’s in the rain, you’re on the road and you’re down 17 points,” Ole Miss coach Matt Luke said. “They just kept fighting and kept competing. Just proud of a gutsy win that will give us some momentum going forward.”

Ole Miss gets a chance to build on that win when it returns home to face a reeling Auburn (4-3, 1-3 SEC) program on Saturday. The Tigers have lost three of their past five games, including the last two against Mississippi State and Tennessee.

Despite its injury issues, Ole Miss has stayed competitive thanks to one of the league’s most productive offenses. The Rebels are second in the SEC with 41.6 points per game and second in total offense with 550.9 yards per game.

Most of that damage has come against weaker foes in nonconference action, but the win against Arkansas proved the Rebels can put up big numbers against a conference opponent. Jordan Ta’amu threw for 387 yards and two touchdowns while also running for 141 yards and a touchdown.

Now Ole Miss must move forward without one of Ta’amu’s favorite targets. The 6-foot-4, 230-pound Metcalf currently ranks third in the SEC with 569 yards receiving and was part of an explosive trio that includes A.J. Brown and DaMarkus Lodge.

Younger receivers Braylon Sanders and Elijah Moore could see an expanded role in Metcalf’s absence.

“It’s just next man up,” Ole Miss offensive coordinator Phil Longo said. “You don’t replace D.K. We’re going to find the next best guy and line up our best 11 and keep playing football the way we do.”

The Ole Miss defense continues to absorb injuries as well. Winters is expected to miss the next four weeks because of a sprained knee.

The Rebels are especially thin in the secondary, where former running backs Armani Linton and Tylan Knight switched sides to add some depth. Junior Myles Hartsfield played every spot in the secondary at times against Arkansas.

Predictably, the Ole Miss defense has struggled. The Rebels gave up some big plays in the first half against Arkansas before clamping down and limiting the Razorbacks to just two field goals in the second half.

It wasn’t perfect, but at least the Rebels can build on the victory.

“It’s always easier to fix those problems after a win,” Luke said. “You can focus on the positives — this is what it looks like when we do it right. It goes back to consistency.”