Rapid Reaction: Ole Miss defense suffocates potent A&M offense
The No. 3 Ole Miss Rebels recorded another statement win Saturday night, overcoming the largest SEC crowd in league history in a convincing 35-20 over No. 14 Texas A&M at Kyle Field in College Station. The Rebels had little trouble silencing a crowd of 110,633 Aggies fans, running up a 21-0 lead at halftime on their way to a 15-point win.
Here are some quick thoughts regarding the Rebels’ dominant win over Texas A&M:
What it means: Ole Miss proved it is capable of taking down top-flight teams in its win over Alabama last week, and it reinforced that statement Saturday against A&M. There was a lot working in the Rebels’ favor last week, including a home-field advantage heightened even further by College GameDay’s presence on campus. However, Ole Miss was on its own in a hostile road environment in College Station Saturday night. The way the Rebels handled the raucous crowd and a potent A&M offense showed this team is capable of beating any team in any environment on any stage, no matter how large. Those are the kinds of teams best-suited for the College Football Playoff, and the Rebels appear well on their way to a playoff bid if they continue their unbeaten streak.
What I liked: The Ole Miss defense. The Rebels had allowed just three touchdowns all season entering Saturday’s game, and although they allowed three to A&M on Saturday, they redeemed themselves with a pair of defensive touchdowns to counter. The Aggies closed the game nearly 28 points below their season average despite playing at home in front of an electric home crowd, and they committed three turnovers in their worst offensive performance of the year. The Rebels’ secondary has now recorded 12 interceptions while allowing just three touchdown passes this season — those numbers are not typos. Once again, Ole Miss proved it has the best defense in the SEC, and that’s going to carry the team in the second half of the season.
What I didn’t like: What’s not to like about this win? The defense scored as many points as the A&M offense, the run game was as productive as its been all season, Bo Wallace played another turnover-free game against a ranked opponent, and as a team Ole Miss committed just two penalties for 20 yards on the night. This was a one-sided affair from start to finish, and it’s tough to find anything wrong with the Rebels’ performance under the national spotlight.
Key play: The key play in this game was actually a pair of plays. Wallace ran for two touchdowns in the first half as Ole Miss was building its lead, and those touchdowns were significant for a number of reasons. First and foremost, it was huge to see Wallace running as well as he did against A&M, as it’ll add yet another threat to the Rebels offense going forward. Wallace found open field and was deliberate with his decision-making on those runs, showing the maturity many expect out of the senior signal caller. Second, the runs were a positive for an Ole Miss offense that hasn’t run the ball well all year. The Rebels racked up 160 yards on the ground in the victory, and Wallace set a new personal season-high with 50. If the Rebels can continue to add balance to their offense with an improved run game, it’ll only stand to benefit the offense, especially in the red zone. Third, the touchdowns were critical in allowing Ole Miss to build a 21-0 first half lead, putting the game out of A&M’s reach before halftime even arrived. Neither play will end up on future highlight reels, but both were meaningful to Saturday’s outcome.
What’s next: The Ole Miss defense is licking its chops in anticipation of a showdown with the Tennessee Volunteers next week in Oxford. Tennessee has one of the worst offensive lines in the nation, which is a great matchup from the Rebels perspective as they bring one of the nation’s best front sevens to this annual showdown. The Vols are also heavily dependent on underclassmen, and they’ve struggled to close out close SEC games so far this season. After back-to-back games against top 15 opponents, the Rebels will welcome a home date with a young team still learning how to win in college football’s toughest conference.