OXFORD, Miss. – All season long, the Ole Miss defense struggled to stop the run and limit explosive plays through the air. Well, until the A&M game, that is. But things changed in last Saturday’s 29-28, come-from-behind win over the then-No. 8 Aggies, thanks, in part, to a players-only meeting of the Rebels’ defense.
The meeting centered on every defensive player holding himself accountable, both on and off the field. Each player in the room listened and took to heart those things on which they needed to improve, especially with a berth to a bowl game at stake.
Junior defensive back A.J. Moore saw for himself how what was said in the meeting translated onto the field in the game against the Aggies.
The Bassfield, Miss. native finished the A&M game with four tackles, all four of which were solo, and one tackle for loss.
The defensive front got after Texas A&M’s junior quarterback Jake Hubenak, adding two quarterback hurries and one sack to its stat sheet. The Rebels also did something that would’ve seemed unlikely based on previous games this season; they stopped the run.
Ole Miss (5-5, 2-4 Southeastern Conference) held Aggies’ running back Trayveon Williams, who came in with 804 yards rushing under his belt, to only 72 yards rushing on 17 carries, averaging 4.2 yards per carry.
The defense held A&M’s ground attack to a total of 129 yards, over 100 yards fewer than the Aggies’ season average entering the game.
“Just being accountable,” Moore said, when asked what the Ole Miss defense did to stop the Aggies.
“Coach (Dave) Wommack and the defensive staff, they put us in great positions, and we just have to execute.”
Junior defensive back A.J. Moore
Execute was precisely what the Rebels’ defense did on Texas A&M’s final offensive drive after junior kicker Gary Wunderlich’s 39-yard field goal put Ole Miss up 29-28 late in the fourth quarter.
As Hubenak was looking to go deep downfield, freshman defensive back Deontay Anderson waited in the secondary for the pass and picked it off at the Rebels’ 46-yard line, returning it to the Aggies’ 46 and sealing the victory for Ole Miss.
It was a great moment for Anderson, who was playing in his home state of Texas. His interception was the first of his collegiate career and could be considered as one play that has given Ole Miss new life moving forward.
Moore was thrilled for his teammate’s game-winning pick.
“I want to give a big shout out to D Train. After the play at LSU, he’s really bounced back, stayed focused,” Moore said about the former four-star recruit out of Manvel High School.
(The play to which Moore refers was one in which LSU’s Leonard Fournette trucked over the Rebels’ freshman DB in Ole Miss’ loss to the Tigers three weeks ago in Baton Rouge.)
“That was a huge play for him to make in that big game. I’m glad he was able to do that on his birthday, and back in his hometown state.”
A.J. Moore on Deontay Anderson’s interception of Hubenak
Rebels’ head coach Hugh Freeze has also seen improvements in Anderson since Ole Miss’ loss to the Tigers. “Deontay is coming on,” Freeze said. “…Once he starts learning everything, it just puts him in a position to get more reps.”
Moore on Wunderlich’s nickname after game-winning kick
“His nickname is G-Money,” Moore said of kicker Gary Wunderlich.
“Everybody knows he’s really about that action and is going to go out there and do his part. Everybody is confident in him. No problem. I knew he was going to make it from the jump. He’s a great kicker. They practice really hard.”
(Feature image credit: Dan Anderson, The Rebel Walk)