Ole Miss defensive swagger returns as No. 23 Rebels top No. 15 A&M, 23-3
Last week when Hugh Freeze was asked what his team needed to do to regain the defensive identity it once had, the Ole Miss head coach responded by saying the Rebels needed to “return the swagger a little bit” and “get back to Landshark defense.”
Let’s just say there was a feeding frenzy inside Vaught-Hemingway Stadium Saturday night as Ole Miss defeated Texas A&M 23-3 behind a valiant effort from the Rebels’ defense.
The crowd of 60,674 in Vaught-Hemingway Stadium watched as the high-flying Aggie offense was stymied and held to 192 yards of total offense and only three points.
Landshark defense returns
Entering the game, the Aggies were ranked No. 2 in the SEC in passing (behind Ole Miss) at 291 yards per game and No. 4 in the conference in scoring at 36.5 points per game. The Landsharks held Texas A&M to a meager 134 yards in the air, 157 yards under their average.
A&M quarterback Kyle Allen began the game second only to Rebels’ QB Chad Kelly in passing yardage in the conference. But he finished the game 12-of-34 for 88 yards and one interception—for a 51.2 rating.
Sophomore linebacker DeMarquis Gates led all Ole Miss defenders with six tackles, four of them solo. Junior defensive tackle D.J. Jones finished with five tackles against the Aggies, while Trae Elston was all over the field, breaking up five passes and notching three tackles and one tackle for loss. Marquis Haynes had three tackles for loss, two sacks, broke up a pass and forced one fumble.
The return of the defensive swagger coincides with the return of linebacker C.J. Johnson from a meniscus injury.
After the game, Ole Miss’ senior co-captain discussed the play of his defense: “One of the main things we tried to go back to this week was just having fun,” he said. “We wanted to make sure everyone was having fun and playing loose. We also wanted to make sure we pay attention to detail. It goes to show that when we play with that kind of emotion and energy how good we are.”
A&M’s 192 total yards, the lowest for the Aggies this season, were the fewest by an opponent this year and the fewest since Ole Miss limited Presbyterian to 156 last season.
Coach Freeze was obviously pleased with the effort shown by his team on both sides of the ball. “I’m extremely proud of our kids and coaches. During adversity in life you find out a lot about people, everyone, you find out who is really who,” he said in the post game press conference.
That is what we challenged our kids with this week. We said if you play out of love and passion for 60 minutes, then that will be good enough at the end of the day for us. We can look each other in the eyes and know we did it the way we were supposed to do it. Luckily the scoreboard validated that tonight, sometimes it doesn’t, but tonight it did.
Hugh Freeze, Ole Miss Head Coach
Rebels’ offensive superlatives
The defense was not the only stellar aspect of the Rebels’ game Saturday. The offense came to play—rushing for 230 yards, its highest total against an SEC foe this season. The last time Ole Miss rushed for over 200 yards against an SEC opponent was against Mississippi State, when the Rebels gained 205 yards en route to an Egg Bowl title.
There were many individual offensive superlatives for the Rebels in the win over A&M, including:
Junior tight end Evan Engram, who had four catches for 35 yards, broke the school record for career receiving yards by a tight end with 1,126 yards. (This topped Jim Poole’s previous mark of 1,113 yards from 1969-71.)
With his performance Saturday night, Engram also moved up to third in career receptions by a tight end (77) and second in career touchdown catches by a tight end (6).
Junior WR Laquon Treadwell caught five passes for 102 yards and a TD, moving him past Shay Hodge for second place on the career receptions list with 174.
Treadwell also moved past Mike Wallace for seventh place on the career receiving yards list with 1,996 yards.
Junior QB Chad Kelly completed 26 of 41 passes for 241 yards with two TDs and three INTs and added 23 yards on the ground. He started the game by completing his first 12 passes, which is the fourth-most consecutive completions in a game in school history.
When Engram was asked about breaking the school record for receiving yards by a tight end, he responded in his typical humble fashion:
It is a blessing and all glory goes to God, 100%. The people He has put me around in this great community are truly a blessing and an honor. So much talent especially at the TE spot has come through this university and I hope they approve of me taking the reins and holding the record.
Evan Engram, Ole Miss tight end
Staying alive in the SEC West
The Rebels needed this win to stay alive for a shot at the SEC West title. They are currently one game behind LSU, who is undefeated and comes to Vaught-Hemingway on November 21st.
When asked about his the performances of his team before this game, C.J. Johnson explained, “It was a combination of a lot of different things. A lot of people don’t talk about how big of a grind it is to go through a long stretch like this,” he said.
“I don’t know how many teams in the country play 10 straight games before a bye week. We got in the middle of the grind and the focus was lagging a little bit. Once everyone realized what we had at stake tonight showed we had to raise the bar a little bit,” Johnson added.
Unfortunately for an A&M team who was also competing for a shot at the SEC title game, the Rebels not only raised the bar…..they hammered the Aggies with it.
Feature image credit: Joshua McCoy, Ole Miss Athletics