Texas A&M-Mississippi Preview
Texas A&M and Ole Miss entered last weekend with the SEC's highest-scoring offenses, but both were held in check en route to their first losses in league play.
That sets up Saturday night's meeting in Oxford between the 15th-ranked Aggies and 24th-ranked Rebels as a de facto West division elimination game.
A&M (5-1, 2-1 SEC) was averaging 39.2 points prior to a season-low tally and 316 total yards in Saturday's 41-23 loss at then-No. 10 Alabama. Ole Miss (5-2, 2-1) had scored 46.8 per game, fifth nationally, before a 37-24 upset at previously unranked Memphis.
They're two of three West teams with one loss, along with the Crimson Tide, while No. 5 LSU (6-0, 4-0) leads the division. The Aggies close their season with a visit to Baton Rouge and the Rebels host the Tigers in their second-to-last game Nov. 21, leaving both still with a chance to capture their first division title.
Unfazed by Ole Miss' second defeat by 13 or more points in three weeks - also falling 38-10 at then-No. 25 Florida on Oct. 3 - coach Hugh Freeze remains a picture of confidence.
"We know we're the best team in the land. I have no doubt about that," Freeze said. "We have the players and the coaches. As long as everyone believes in that, then we're tough to stop."
Aggie quarterback Kyle Allen may need his confidence restored after having all three of his interceptions returned for touchdowns against Alabama. He had been intercepted twice on 139 attempts all season.
"When you play a quality football team like that ... your mistakes are amplified," coach Kevin Sumlin said. "Instead of balls being on the ground, they're returned for touchdowns."
A&M committed four turnovers - one more than its previous four contests and was well off its season average of 480.4 yards. Allen was 20 of 40 for 263 yards with a 98.5 passer rating compared to a 169.0 mark coming in. .
"It's just learning from your mistakes and putting it in the past and moving on," he said of dealing with the poor performance. "I owe that to my teammates - not to dwell on something."
The Rebels' 480 yards of offense wasn't a huge slip from their 527.8 average, and their SEC-best passing attack (353.9) racked up a season-high 440 yards. They used a wide receiver pass to score a 68-yard TD on their second play and led 14-0 less than midway through the first quarter, but were inefficient as the game progressed
Ole Miss converted 4 of 13 third downs after entering with a 41.7 percent success rate, failed to convert on both its fourth-down tries and possessed the ball for only 8:25 in the second half. The Rebels' 40 rushing yards on 24 attempts were also a season-low.
"Those things are a part of life and this is a great teaching time," Freeze said. ''We've got five great opportunities left. That's 300 minutes. (Sunday's) team meeting was centered on how those minutes should look."
The return of All-America left tackle Laremy Tunsil, who served a seven-game suspension after the NCAA determined he received illegal benefits, could help Ole Miss reignite its ground attack against a vulnerable Aggies team that was gashed for a season-worst 258 rushing yards by Alabama.
The Rebels' own defense will also be short-handed. Defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche and safety Trae Elston are in concussion protocol and may be sidelined. Offensively, starting center Robert Conyers is out for the year after suffering a torn right ACL.
This is the latest A&M has played its first true road game since 1928, when it didn't open road play until Oct. 27. The Aggies have lost four of their last six SEC road contests, though Allen owns a 159.1 passer rating with five TDs and one interception in three career road games.
Ole Miss claimed its first victory in seven all-time meetings last year, winning 35-20 at Texas A&M. The Rebels capitalized on three turnovers to win despite being outgained 455-338.