Ole Miss fires McGriff, Metcalf heads to NFL in Egg Bowl aftermath

Published 8:00 am Sunday, November 25, 2018

The cleanup crew had barely finished its work in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium after Thursday’s Egg Bowl when the changes started coming.

Defensive coordinator Wesley McGriff fired.

Wide receiver D.K. Metcalf headed to the NFL.

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Fellow receiver A.J. Brown might follow him, and quarterback Jordan Ta’amu’s college career has also come to an end.

Every college football team will go through the same process in the coming weeks, but for Ole Miss it was a sudden shift into the next phase of its recovery from NCAA sanctions and an ongoing rebuilding process following a 5-7 finish.

“It’s a work in progress,” Ole Miss head coach Matt Luke said after the Rebels were blown out 35-3 by Mississippi State on Thursday night. “When you are down scholarships and with all of the things that have happened, we are just trying to recruit and get this thing back to full strength. We’ll continue to get better and continue to build that tough, hard-nosed, blue-collar football team that is what we want to get to. Nights like this will motivate them.”

The first domino to fall was McGriff, who was let go on Friday.

Ole Miss ranked 103rd in the country in points allowed per game (33.3) and 121st in yards allowed per game (483) entering the final weekend of the regular season. Mississippi State gashed the Rebels for 309 rushing yards and an average of 6.1 yards per carry.

McGriff has two years remaining on his contract. His $1.1 million salary will have to be bought out by the university for the remainder of his deal.

McGriff has coached for 29 years, spending the past two in Oxford as the defensive coordinator. He also coached at Ole Miss in 2012 as a co-defensive coordinator and cornerbacks coach.

“I want to thank Wesley for his hard work and dedication to Ole Miss,” Luke said. “Despite the challenges his unit faced this season, we can be better on that side of the ball, and I determined new leadership is needed.”

The defense won’t be the only side of the ball dealing with turnover heading into the 2019 season. Metcalf, who suffered a season-ending neck injury in October, announced Friday that he was leaving school to enter the NFL draft.

The 6-foot-4, 230-pound sophomore caught 26 passes for 569 yards and five touchdowns in seven games this season.

“I have enjoyed my time at Ole Miss, gaining brothers and a family, now it’s time for me to pursue my dreams of playing in the NFL,” Metcalf posted on Twitter. “I want to thank the University, my coaches, and teammates, but most importantly my family for helping me through this process.”

Brown, who set Ole Miss single-season records with 85 receptions and 1,320 yards this season, is widely considered one of the top receiver prospects in college football. He has another year of eligibility remaining, but would likely be a first-round draft pick if he turns pro.

The Egg Bowl also marked a moment of transition among the quarterbacks. Ta’amu left the game early in the second half after suffering a dislocated finger. He was 125 yards away from setting the single-season Ole Miss passing record.

Freshman Matt Corral played all but one series in the second half and was 5-of-8 passing for 65 yards, with no touchdowns and one interception on a jump ball at the goal line.

“He didn’t look intimidated or scared, he was going around and making plays,” Luke said. “He will just continue to get better. He is going to be the quarterback of the future and we are really excited about him.”

Corral also had a 41-yard touchdown to Brown taken away because he didn’t get the snap off before the third quarter ended. That was followed by an ugly fight that will be the enduring memory of the 2018 Egg Bowl.

Three Mississippi State players and one from Ole Miss were ejected and every player on both teams was given an unsportsmanlike conduct penalty after the benches cleared.

NCAA rules dictate Mississippi State cornerback Jamal Peters, defensive back Cameron Dantzler and linebacker Willie Gay, all of whom were ejected, will have to miss the first half of the bowl game.
Ole Miss defensive back C.J. Moore also was ejected.

“Emotions just got the best of our guys. We’ve got to be smarter than that,” Ole Miss tight end Dawson Knox said. “Obviously, this is a rivalry game and everyone is pretty hyped up going into it. We just have to be smarter.”

The tension settled down for the rest of the game, but picked up again afterward when Mississippi State players tried to plant a flag at midfield.

An Ole Miss athletic department official and several players tried to break up the celebration, leading to another skirmish and a shouting match between MSU head coach Joe Moorhead and the Ole Miss official as they left the field.

“I think the emotion of the night was what it was. We coach our kids to do the right thing and play with poise, play with confidence, play with class,” Moorhead said in his postgame press conference. “But at the same time we’re not going to take anyone’s (expletive) either.”

The Oxford Eagle contributed to this report.

About Ernest Bowker

Ernest Bowker is The Vicksburg Post's sports editor. He has been a member of The Vicksburg Post's sports staff since 1998, making him one of the longest-tenured reporters in the paper's 140-year history. The New Jersey native is a graduate of LSU. In his career, he has won more than 50 awards from the Mississippi Press Association and Associated Press for his coverage of local sports in Vicksburg.

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