5 biggest takeaways: Rebels defense remains best in SEC
The Ole Miss Rebels backed up their No. 3 ranking in last week’s polls with a convincing 35-20 win over Texas A&M Saturday night in College Station. The Rebels silenced the largest crowd in SEC history by taking a 21-0 lead into halftime and a 35-7 lead into the fourth quarter, and are now one of two remaining undefeated teams in the SEC West (along with in-state rival Mississippi State).
Here are five takeaways from the Rebels’ lopsided victory over the Aggies:
- The Ole Miss defense remains the best in the SEC. Texas A&M entered Saturday’s game averaging more than 47 points per game in 2014, but Ole Miss held the Aggies to just 20 points, six of which game on a garbage time touchdown as time expired in the fourth quarter. Furthermore, the Rebels forced three Texas A&M turnovers, all by Kenny Hill (two interceptions and a lost fumble), and returned two of those turnovers for touchdowns. That’s right, Ole Miss’ defense matched A&M’s offense point for point until the final play of the game, which, when you really think about it, is incredible. The Rebels have only allowed three touchdowns through the air this season compared to a whopping 12 interceptions in six games, which is also incredible. I’ll save us all some time: this Ole Miss defense is incredible, and the remaining teams on the Rebels’ schedule are not looking forward to facing the fast, hard-hitting Ole Miss defense in the second half of the year.
- Bo Wallace has turned a corner. Wallace had more turnovers than 10 SEC teams through his first four games in 2014, but he’s played back to back turnover-free games the last two weeks, and Ole Miss subsequently won both games over top 15 opponents. Wallace’s numbers aren’t lighting the world on fire, but they don’t need to. He’s far from the most talented player on the team, and as long as he manages the offense and doesn’t let opponents off the hook with costly turnovers, Ole Miss will have a chance to win every one of its games. Wallace may not be a supreme talent, but he’s the leader of the offense, and as the leader of the offense playing turnover-free football is the best thing he can do to help his team. Wallace seems to have finally come to that understanding, and if he continues to play this well Ole Miss will continue to win big games against great teams.
- The Rebels played one of their most disciplined games of the year against A&M. Ole Miss did not commit a single turnover, and as a team the Rebels committed just two penalties for a total of 20 yards. The Rebels have been plagued by turnovers and penalties at times this season, most notably in the ugly win over Boise State to open the year, but neither was a factor in Saturday’s outcome. The Rebels have hit their stride as a collective team, and the improved discipline at every position is what elevates Ole Miss from a talented team to a national championship contender. As long as Hugh Freeze can keep his team playing smart football, Ole Miss will be in good shape.
- Senquez Golson and Cody Prewitt are the best corner and safety, respectively, in the SEC. Golson pulled in his fifth interception of the season in the Aggies’ end zone to kill an A&M scoring threat, and Prewitt recorded a 75-yard pick six early in the second quarter to help Ole Miss rout the No. 14 team in the country. Golson continues to lead the SEC in interceptions and passes defended, while Prewitt is on pace to top his numbers from his All-American 2013 campaign. The two stars are a big reason why Ole Miss boasts the best defense in the conference, and each player is the SEC’s best at his respective position through seven weeks. Texas A&M forced Ole Miss into a number of one on one matchups Saturday night, and thanks to the efforts of Golson and Prewitt, the defense was able to bend but not break against a potent Aggies passing offense. Holding that kind of an advantage in the secondary in what is quickly becoming a passing league is a huge advantage for Ole Miss as it aims to remain undefeated heading into its season finale against Mississippi State. Speaking of which…
- Ole Miss is a win over Auburn away from an 11-0 start to the season. The Rebels are currently 6-0, and aside from a home date with Auburn on Nov. 1, their remaining opponents before the Egg Bowl are as follows: Tennessee, at LSU, Presbyterian and at Arkansas. Those are four winnable games, and four games Ole Miss must win if it hopes to reach the College Football Playoff. Auburn should remain in the top 10 when it squares off with the Rebels, and because Ole Miss is still undefeated to this point it’ll have some margin for error entering that game. However, if Ole Miss can beat the Tigers, it’ll almost certainly be 11-0 when the Egg Bowl arrives. Can you imagine an 11-0 Ole Miss team playing a Mississippi State with a West division title on the line? That possibility is suddenly realistic now that the Rebels have cleared another hurdle in A&M. No win is guaranteed, but as long as Ole Miss takes every game seriously, it’s hard to imagine they’ll have more than one loss when Thanksgiving weekend rolls around.