The Rebels and Aggies are both coming off huge tests last week in Alabama and Mississippi State, respectively. That’s the joy (and misery) of the SEC West. Pass or fail one test, and there’s bound to be another one a week or so away. Four team’s in the West are currently in the top seven of the country, and Texas A&M is following close behind at No. 14.
It’s another game of “something has to give.” Ole Miss, statistically speaking, is the second most efficient defense in the country, which is saying something, because Hugh Freeze was often labeled an “offensive-minded” coach. Texas A&M, led by quarterback Kenny Hill, is scoring the fifth most points in the country behind just over 395 passing yards per contest.
Many will put a lot of focus on that matchup – Texas A&M offense vs. the Ole Miss defense – and rightfully so; it’s interesting, star-studded, and a ranked team will fall. That said, I think the converse side will be the one that decides the outcome of this one.
We know what we are getting from the Aggie offense and Rebel defense. At some point, Kenny Hill is going to make a big play to Josh Reynolds or Malcome Kennedy; it’s inevitable. The same can be said for Ole Miss: at some point, Cody Prewitt is going to have a big stop in pass coverage, C.J. Johnson or Robert Nkemdiche is going to have a big sack or fumble recovery.
I think the deciding factor will be on the opposite side of the ball. Who will show more constancy: the Ole Miss offense or the Texas A&M defense? With his performance last week, the Aggies are largely responsible for Dak Prescott’s jump up in the Heisman race. Though Bo Wallace may not be the dual-threat or efficient passer that Prescott is, the Rebel passing attack, averaging 318 yards per game, is more prolific than that of Mississippi State.
In three games, the Aggie defense only allowed 19 points against out-of-conference opponents. Conversely, in SEC play they are giving up an average of 35 points an outing. Ole Miss offense is streaky as well. In the second half of games, despite attempting half the passes, Bo Wallace has a QB rating nearly 80 points higher. In the first half, Bo has six TD’s to six INT’s, in the second, eight TDs and not one interception. His completion percentage is nine points higher, and he averages three yards more per attempt.
The play-makers are in place for the Rebs, but at some point the defense will falter – if only a little bit – and the offense will need to put together two complete halts, “play for 60 minutes,” as Freeze loves to say.
Special teams also played a big role for the Rebels in the win against Alabama. They started drives in great field position, forced a fumble on a kickoff and punter Will Gleeson shifted the field time and time again. The only notable miscue was in the kicking game when Andrew Fletcher had an extra point blocked and missed a chip shot. I expect to see freshman Gary Wunderlich, who nailed a 48-yard attempt last week, to see more opportunities. For Ole Miss to win on the road at Kyle Field, they have to perform error-free, and capitalize on every scoring opportunity.
As elementary as it may sound, minimizing mistakes will be the key to this one. On the road, Bo Wallace will have to be crisp and keep his team in the mix by not turning it over. On the road against a hungry Kevin Sumlin led team, a scoop-and-score with seconds left in the half (I don’t want to talk about the face-mask again) will lose a game. The same can be said for the A&M offense. Both teams would benefit greatly from having the running game established, but Kenny Hill will need to be sharp and not force balls trying to get his game back on track.
As a Rebel homer, I’m getting nervous as I type. The only problem with winning a big game like last week, is it just makes every game from now – barring a meltdown – to the end of the season that much bigger. If Ole Miss wants to stay in the hunt for the SEC West and potential playoff berth, this game is paramount, as four of the last six games will be played in the friendly confines of Vaught Hemingway Stadium in Oxford. For Texas A&M, it’s put up or shut up time. A sweep from the state of Mississippi would likely vault them out of playoff discussion, and make the path to Atlanta very narrow.
*Section Photo credit to Rogelio V. Selis, Associated Press ;Featured Photo (above) credit to Marvin Gentry, USA Today Sports