Rebels set to take on Aggies in key SEC matchup
The No. 24 Ole Miss Rebels are looking to put last week’s non-conference loss to Memphis behind them, and Saturday’s Southeastern Conference game against Texas A&M will be a good time to do so.
The Rebels’ starting quarterback Chad Kelly commented earlier this week that his team still has a chance to make it to Atlanta for the SEC Championship game. To do so, Ole Miss needs to put together a consistent performance on both sides of the football, despite the numerous injuries that have taken place in the past three weeks.
“We are going to see Saturday night if the heart is there,” head coach Hugh Freeze said at his weekly press conference on Monday. “I am going to do everything within my power that I can to make sure that occurs.”
Ole Miss vs. A&M history
Ole Miss (5-2, 2-1 SEC) is 1-2 against ranked opponents this season. The Rebels have not always had the best of luck against the Aggies, as A&M holds a 6-1 all-time edge on Ole Miss, including a 2-0 record against them in Oxford. However, Ole Miss did defeat the Aggies last season in College Station in front of the largest crowd ever to see a football game in the state of Texas.
And with the SEC West race on the line, Ole Miss is ready to prove it is still a contender. Texas A&M, however, will be just as hungry for a win after losing to Alabama, 41-23, last weekend inside Kyle Field.
Scouting the Aggies
Texas A&M is 5-1 on the year and 2-1 in SEC play. Among the Aggies’ victories are wins over then nationally ranked No. 15 Arizona State (38-17) and then-No. 21 Mississippi State (30-17).
Then A&M offense ranks No. 2 in the SEC in passing (behind Ole Miss) at 291.0 yards per game and No. 4 in the conference in scoring at 36.5 points per outing.
Aggie QB Kyle Allen is second in the league behind Ole Miss’ Chad Kelly with 256.2 passing ypg and 14 TD passes (to five INTs). The Aggies’ leading rusher is Tra Carson with 476 yards and four TDs, while freshman standout Christian Kirk tops the receiving corps with 39 catches, 609 yards and four TDs. Kirk also has two punt return TDs.
The A&M defense, led by defensive end Myles Garrett, tops the SEC in sacks (3.33/game) and tackles for loss (9.5/game) and ranks in the top 10 nationally in both categories. Garrett ranks No. 2 in the nation with 1.42 sacks per game and fifth with 1.9 TFLs per outing.
Aggies’ head coach Kevin Sumlin insisted he does not intend to make changes to his team’s game plan after losing his first contest of the season. “Our message remains consistent,” he said. “We lost one football game.”
Ole Miss needs to get back to playing Landshark defense
Freeze knows Texas A&M (5-2, 2-1) will come to play on Saturday after suffering the 35-20 loss to the Rebels last season in Aggieland. In that game, the Landshark defense forced Aggies’ quarterback Kenny Hill to throw two interceptions. Ole Miss is at its best when notching turnovers—and the Rebels currently rank second behind the No. 8 Crimson Tide (12) with 10 interceptions. Trae Elston has four interceptions for Ole Miss.
Against Memphis, the Rebels had 30 missed tackles, something Coach Freeze knows his team must improve upon. It’s ironic that an Ole Miss defense that has recorded 568 tackles and 11 sacks is having problems tackling, but Freeze quickly pointed it out after Saturday’s loss to the Tigers.
“I don’t know how else to describe it,” the Ole Miss head coach said. “When you miss tackles, your fundamentals are bad. That was the case Saturday. We need to go back to our tackling circuit and improve on it.”
The defense’s identity is up in the air as well, but Freeze has no doubt that it will return to top form Saturday night. When asked what Ole Miss needs to do to get back the defensive identity it once had, Freeze answered by saying his team has “got to return the swagger a little bit, return the enthusiasm in practice. Got to get back to Landshark defense.”
Tunsil returns for A&M game
After missing the first seven games of the 2015 season, offensive lineman Laremy Tunsil will make his return to the gridiron Saturday night against Texas A&M. Freeze believes having Tunsil back on the line is providing some added enthusiasm to the offense.
“We had a great Tuesday and a great Sunday. The offensive practice (Tuesday) was quite enthusiastic and I think he is a part of the reason,” Freeze said of the future first round NFL draft pick. “I think it’s also getting some other people back to where they were slotted to play. Justin Bell is back at center and Fahn Cooper is back to right tackle. We seemed to have a little extra pep, and I would guess that he is a part of the reason for sure.”
The Rebels will have linebacker C.J. Johnson back for the game Saturday with A&M. Johnson, who had surgery for a torn meniscus, will provide leadership and experience for the defense. Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche went through concussion protocols this week and has also been cleared to play, providing another huge lift for the Rebels. Defensive back Trae Elston and punter Will Gleeson are also expected back.
Television: 6:00 p.m., CT, ESPN
Brad Nessler, Play-by-Play
Todd Blackledge, Analyst
Holly Rowe, Sideline
Live Stats: OleMissSports.com
Live Audio: OleMissSports.com
Satellite Radio: Sirius 81, XM 81