Rebels Rise to the Occasion in 29-19 win over A&M
OXFORD, Miss. — After Ole Miss’ 29-19 win over A&M Saturday, the Rebels improved their record to 8-2 overall, 4-2 in the SEC. Ole Miss certainly made the most of its day in the national spotlight, concluding with a win over an Aggie team that had won its last four games before entering Vaught-Hemingway Stadium and facing the partisan crowd of 64,425.
Rebels Rise to the Occasion
With all the outside hype surrounding the game, the Rebels were able to keep the main thing the main thing — and that was come out with a win.
With ESPN College GameDay in town for the top 15 matchup, and huge stakes at hand for the SEC West, no extra motivation was needed.
We support this choice. pic.twitter.com/l3OpyJJpKL
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) November 13, 2021
“That was cool.” head coach Lane Kiffin said after the game.
“I feel like usually when we win, I’m complaining about something normally, so I won’t complain about our red zone offense right now. That’s a cool win on just a cool day. I just kept thinking if we can just pull this off, I don’t care if it’s 2-0 or 52-51, just to get to 8-2. To end a day of College GameDay and with the Grove like it was and all the energy and everything, it would just be amazing for this setting and for that to happen and I’m not saying we’re great but it’s a step closer from good to great.”
Head coach Lane Kiffin
Kiffin was particularly proud of his defense’s performance.
“We know that we can play really good offense when everybody’s healthy, and we’ve seen that. We’ve seen that movie, so to play how we did on defense today was huge because I always look at the big picture of the season, not just the one game,” Kiffin said.
The Biggest Game
Quarterback Matt Corral spoke about what the victory over the Aggies means to him and the team.
“It was definitely a good win, regardless of how we won. We felt good, because for most of these guys in the locker room, including myself, that was probably the biggest game that we played here at Ole Miss. Just the timing, the matchup, College GameDay, that was the biggest game that I’ve seen in my football playing career, and a lot of the guys in the locker room felt good to come out on top. College GameDay did not change the way we approached the game, but it made it a bigger game.”
Jerrion Ealy also spoke with media and was asked what his reaction was to the win over A&M.
“Just like any other win, you know, we were all happy,” Ealy said. “We were happy for the weekend. I don’t know, this was a little bit different though with College GameDay being here. It was like [kissing noise]. We were just happy,” he added.
As mentioned in my “Four Keys to A Win Over Texas A&M,” scoring first and setting the tone was important.
The Rebels did just that; they scored first with a 33-yard field goal from Caden Costa on the opening drive. The offense would go on to put up 408 yards and 23 first downs in the first half on 59 plays.
“Sometimes I think (games) are going to be one way or not,” Coach Kiffin said. “I would not have thought we were going to have 400 yards at halftime (against A&M). That’s on pace for 800 yards in a game. Every game has its own deal and it’s different every week whoever you’re playing and you just never know. It’s hard to predict what’s going to happen,” Kiffin continued.
The Aggie defense had a very difficult time with the up-tempo offense in the first half, frequently struggling to get lined up and make calls before the Rebels were running their next play.
The Ole Miss offense averaged 6.9 yards per play in the first half. The defense followed suit, holding Texas A&M scoreless and to only 91 total yards in the first half.
They Aggies were forced to punt on their first five drives and the sixth ended with a safety.
Another key to beating the Aggies was finishing strong. Before Saturday, the Ole Miss offense had managed to score just three second-half points in each of the two prior games.
Although the Rebels’ offense only scored seven in the second half against A&M, they received some help from the defense.
OUR BALL‼️ pic.twitter.com/b50zMK0S3I
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) November 14, 2021
After falling behind Ole Miss 15-0 at halftime, the Aggies came roaring back in the second half, outscoring the Rebels 19-14 and out-gaining them 287-96.
But the defense stepped up when it mattered most, grabbing two takeaways in the fourth quarter.
“The defense stepped up.” Coach Kiffin explained. “Arguably our best or second-best defensive player goes out (when Jake Springer was ejected for targeting), and so you’re going, alright second half..boy they’re moving and we just lost our guy that has really made a big difference when [Jake] Springer is in there….”
Momentum shifted back in the Rebels’ favor when Ashanti Cistrunk, who was filling in for Jake Springer after his ejection, made two tremendous plays in a row, a batted pass at the line of scrimmage and a heads-up interception on the very next play.
Cistrunk’s interception set up Snoop Conner’s 13-yard touchdown run that gave the Rebels a 22-13 lead in the fourth quarter. The game was finally put away courtesy of AJ Finley’s 52-yard pick-six, the first interception return for a TD of his career.
“Yeah that was a crazy moment for me,” Finley said.
“That was my first pick-six since I’ve been here, so that was really big for me. We knew they were going to go for the out route with the down and distance in that situation, so I drove it and the rest is history. If I would’ve let the quarterback touch me or the quarterback catch me, I probably would’ve just walked off the field.“
“That was a great game by the defense,” Coach Kiffin reiterated.
“That is a team that was playing as well as anybody in America coming in with four wins in a row and beating Alabama, and we continued to stop them. We scored twice on defense, which is amazing, with the safety and the touchdown. It was really neat to not just stop them but to score like that. It was really cool. Guys stepped up, and what an awesome play by AJ [Finley], so it was really neat.“
Coach Kiffin on the defense
Matt Corral also sang the praises of the defense. “I’m definitely proud of the guys for stepping up on the defense; they did their thing for sure.”
Defensive back Deane Leonard led all Rebels with nine tackles, five of which were solo. Finley finished with 8 total tackles, while Otis Reese notched 7, and Sam Williams finished with 6.
Run, Rebs, Run
Once again, another key to the game was the Ole Miss rushing attack. Entering the contest, the Rebels were 5-0 when rushing for more than 200 yards and 2-2 when rushing for fewer than 200 yards.
Against the Aggies, Ole Miss ran for 257 yards, improving the Rebs’ record to 6-0 when running for more than 200 yards. “They (A&M) were giving us run looks.” Matt Corral said. “Hats off to them (Ole Miss running backs) because they got it done.”
Jerrion Ealy led the attack with 152 yards. Henry Parrish Jr. and Snoop Conner combined for 113 yards, 58 and 55 respectively.
Jerrion Ealy out here stealing souls. pic.twitter.com/s8s1A0jKxc
— Ole Miss Football (@OleMissFB) November 14, 2021
“We got the ball moving in the first half, but we couldn’t capitalize on some drives when we should have,” Ealy said. “We should have been up 24 or 30 to nothing at halftime. They played great defensively, and we just ran the ball really well tonight.”
As Ealy mentioned, there was one drive in the second quarter where they had the ball inside the Aggies’ 2-yard line and failed to punch it in.
Ole Miss hosts Vanderbilt at 6:30 p.m. (CT). The game will be televised on SEC Network.
(Feature image credit: Josh McCoy, Ole Miss)
Nick Filipich was born and raised in Biloxi, MS. He is an Ole Miss senior majoring in Sports and Recreation Administration. A sports junkie with a great passion for all things Ole Miss, Nick played baseball and football in high school — which is where he discovered his love for sports. He is an avid Braves and Saints fan, and in his free time enjoys spending time with family, friends and his black lab, Dixie.