What was a fabulous week of build-up to the Alabama game, punctuated by GameDay’s visit to the Grove, has become a fabulous two weeks for Ole Miss football because the Rebels won the game.
Scenes and memories were created that day that will never be forgotten. The aerial shots of people storming the field were impressive. Tearing down the goalposts became an action that ultimately paid for itself – and the SEC’s $50,000 fine – through private contributions.
All this because Ole Miss won the game. Because in spite of many plays they didn’t make – some dropped passes, missed passes, a turnover or misses in the kicking game – the Rebels made the right plays at the right time. The list includes three touchdown passes from Bo Wallace, Channing Ward’s forced fumble, Senquez Golson’s interception and more.
The sum total of the parts produced the Rebels’ first win over Alabama since 2003, their first win over a No. 1 ranked team ever.
They had been close. They had played well in big games before. Had anyone of those critical plays not been made this time they may only have been close again.
And had that been the case the euphoric feeling that exploded Saturday evening and much of what has followed this week would never have been.
Now No. 3 Ole Miss plays its first true road game of the season. They Rebels opened with a neutral site win over Boise State and followed with a neutral site win over Vanderbilt albeit in Vanderbilt’s city.
Texas A&M’s newly expanded Kyle Field, now up to 106,000 capacity will be loud and rocking.
Ole Miss players will benefit from having soundly beaten Texas in a large and loud venue last year. Maybe Kyle Field proves to be louder, but a decibel here, a decibel there and who can really tell the difference?
More than large and loud this game will be impacted by frame of mind and how the Rebels distance themselves from last week’s big win.
The Rebels said all the right things during the week about putting the Alabama game behind them.
Alabama had tormented Ole Miss for a long time. Prior to last week the Rebels had gone five straight in that series without coming within a touchdown of the Tide. Most of those had been decided by more than two touchdowns.
So the Alabama win was especially satisfying on several fronts, but the Rebels will face similarly talented teams on an almost weekly basis now.
A&M may be one of those, but at this point in the season I don’t think A&M has molded its talent into the proficiency that Alabama had when it arrived in Oxford.
Statistically the Aggies don’t appear to be much improved on defense though they will have talent at some positions. Defensive end Myles Garrett, a 6-5, 255-pound true freshman from Arlington, is second in the SEC in sacks at 6.5 and second in tackles for loss at 8.0.
He’ll be a handful to contend with for the Ole Miss OL, presumably right tackle Fahn Cooper, the Rebels’ first-year junior college transfer.
Even with Garrett the Aggies are currently 13th in the league in rushing defense with 178.8 yards per game allowed.
Ole Miss rushed for only 72 yards against Alabama, the league’s leader in that department. The Rebels were better on the ground against Memphis, and I don’t think the Alabama game is a true measure of how they’ve improved in the run. We’ll see if that’s true this week.
A nice run game would go along way toward balance on offense, play-action passing success, etc. If you have balance the Ole Miss offense could do some nice things on the scoreboard, and it may have to against A&M.
The Rebels lead the SEC in scoring defense at 10.2 points per game allowed. Last week they proved their numbers aren’t the produce of weak early-season scheduling by holding an explosive Alabama offense to only one touchdown.
A&M will bring a different style, passing on most every play. Rushing the passer against the Aggies will be a little easier because there’s no threat of a Johnny Manziel type of running game, although Kenny Hill is no stiff.
The Rebels have generated a nice pass rush this year, but they haven’t been as good at getting quarterback on the ground. Their 1.80 sacks per game are just 11th in the SEC. They need to get Hill to the ground when they have a chance. They will at least need to collapse the pocket and make him try to complete passes under duress.
He wasn’t very good at that in Starkville last week, at least not while the game was in the balance.
This could be where large and loud makes a difference, however.
The crowd will be behind Hill, and he’ll have a group of receivers who struggled with dropped passes against MSU out to prove their better than they showed a week ago.
It’s unclear whether A&M’s leading receiver, Malcome Kennedy, will be available for this game.
I’m giving the Rebels a shot to put the Alabama game to bed, to revive the run game and to make the plays they need to make when they need to make them in spite of large and loud.
Prediction: Ole Miss 30, Texas A&M 27